Skip to main content

Walnut Creek Magazine

Wheeler Farms: A Stellar Second Act for Daphne and Bart Araujo

Jan 17, 2018 06:24PM ● By Fran Miller

For 23 years Daphne and Bart Araujo lovingly and organically tended their 162-acres of Calistoga land and vines, building their Araujo Estate Winery to five-star cult status. Their Eisele Vineyard and the wines it produced attracted worldwide attention. When Frenchman François Pinault and his storied Château Latour wine estate came calling with a purchase proposal, the Araujos decided that perhaps it was time to try something new. They accepted a generous offer from this particularly esteemed buyer, with an acknowledgement that one never truly owns land of this uncommon legacy, and then they started over.

They turned their sights and energy to the creation of Wheeler Farms, an 11.5-acre parcel at the southern end of the St. Helena. Originally established in 1880 and owned by the Wheeler family until 2006, the Araujos acquired the property in 2014 and playfully dubbed it “Version 2.0.” Wheeler Farms features an organic and biodynamic farm with re-planted vineyards, orchards, gardens, bees, chickens, and state-of-the-art custom crush winemaking machinery.

The stunning facility includes a fermentation cellar with barrel storage, and temperature and humidity controlled red and white secondary barrel fermentation rooms below ground. The winery’s eco-design reduces wine loss, cuts normal wastewater in half, and will eventually be run entirely by solar power. By-appointment-only guests enjoy wine tasting in the elegant and inviting Hospitality House and on its patio that overlooks Mount St. Helena. An open chef’s kitchen takes center stage, where chef and garden curator Elisabeth Russell can be found whipping up nibbles created with ingredients from the organic garden.           

Featured wines include those from the Wheeler Farms proprietary label, as well as other wines produced on property via the Araujos unique business model – a collaborative of ‘top of their game’ wine makers who produce small lot, ultra-premium wines utilizing the Araujo’s cutting-edge facility and winemaking team led by consulting winemaker Nigel Kinsman and winemaker and production manager Sarah Donley. This on-site winery staff performs all the labor in making the wines, following detailed instructions provided by each winemaker. In choosing partners, the Araujos sought common values of integrity, excellence, professionalism, and 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. The diversity of producers and available wine types allows for customization of tasting experiences based on guest preferences. Tours and tastings start at $125 per person.

“Our winery partners have access to make wines in an amazing facility to their own specifications, and the knowledge and track record of Bart and Daphne’s experience making some of the most revered wines in Napa Valley,” says Donley. “They trust in our expertise to execute their winemaking specifications and along the way, we collaborate and share ideas and offer input. They also have the benefit of tasting and selling wines directly with customers in our hospitality house, which helps them grow their audience. For the consumer, 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. Each of our winemakers creates wine with a unique personality and distinction.”  

“Leaving Araujo Estate was not an easy decision,” says Bart. “But Daphne and I are extraordinarily pleased with what we’ve created at Wheeler Farms. We are honoring the Valley’s iconic past, just as we did at the Eisele Vineyard and Araujo Estate, and we feel fortunate to once again work with another historic property in providing a stellar environment for unique visitor experiences and for winemakers to produce and sell superior wines.”