Wheeler Farms:A Stellar Second Act for Daphne and Bart Araujo
By Fran Endicott Miller
For 23 years, Daphne and Bart Araujo lovingly and organically tended the acclaimed Eisele Vineyard in Calistoga, ultimately shepherding their Araujo Estate Winery to five-star cult status and attracting worldwide attention. When Frenchman François Pinault and his storied Château Latour wine estate came calling with a purchase proposal, the Araujos seized the opportunity to try something new. Proving wrong the fabled F. Scott Fitzgerald line that there are no second acts in American lives, the Araujos shifted gears and established Wheeler Farms, an 11.5–acre parcel located at the southern end of St. Helena in the Napa Valley. With an organic, biodynamic farm featuring replanted vineyards, orchards, gardens, bees, chickens, and custom crush winemaking machinery, Wheeler Farms serves a collaborative of top-notch partner winemakers who produce small-lot, ultra-premium wines.
Though Napa Valley is home to many custom crush wineries—bonded wineries that invite other wine brands to make wine at their facility, sometimes even carrying out the physicality of the process themselves—Wheeler Farms’ uniqueness is its focus on ultra-premium winemaking. Partners are provided state-of-the-art tools and the most advanced technology in the industry, allowing for the making of not just great but fabled wines. Winemaker and production manager Sarah Donley and consulting winemaker Nigel Kinsman make all of the wines, following detailed instructions provided by each winemaker. “Our winery partners have access to make wines in an amazing facility to their own specifications, and the knowledge and track record of the Araujos’ experience making some of the most revered wines in Napa Valley,” says Donley. “Our partners trust in our expertise to execute their vision, and along the way we collaborate and share ideas and offer input. It’s often a very collaborative process; many invite us to taste through the wines with them, and we start a discussion that leads us to really understand their goals and process.”
In choosing partners, the Araujos sought common values of integrity, excellence, professionalism, and dedication to the production of great wines. Current partners include Accendo, a Cabernet Sauvignon and Sauvignon Blanc produced by the Araujos and their children Jaime and Greg, Arrow&Branch, Booth Bella Oaks, Kinsman Wines, Tor, and Vice Versa. Each brand is distinct and boasts a unique personality.
“Working with Wheeler Farms has been a real charm,” says Patrice Breton, owner and founder of Vice Versa. “Everyone, from Bart and Daphne, to Nigel, Sarah, and the cellar workers, shares our dedication to exacting standards of quality and our passion for crafting fine wine. They really care, and it shows. The cooperative model is a real game changer. For a small, super luxury brand like Vice Versa, every detail counts, and this approach takes away many of the headaches, as it enables us to craft and showcase our wines without cutting corners on quality and without the high cost of owning a physical winery.”
By-appointment-only tastings are held daily, except Wednesdays, in the elegant and inviting Hospitality House and on a patio that overlooks Mount St. Helena. An open kitchen takes center stage, where garden curator and chef Elisabeth Russell can be found whipping up nibbles created with ingredients from the organic garden. “Our modern, innovative concept brings together a community of winemaking partners and consumers in a setting that honors the valley’s agricultural roots and highlights an immersive farm-to-bottle experience,” says Donley. “Wheeler Farms allows guests to taste hard-to-find wines from small winemakers in a beautiful and real agricultural setting that speaks to Napa Valley’s history.”