Private Dinner at Wheeler Farms

588 Zinfandel Lane

Saint Helena, CA 94574

Tel. (707) 200-8500


The Wines:

2014 Bollinger La Grande Année  98
2009 L’Église Clinet  99
2010 La Conseillante  97
2009 Blankiet Estate Rive Droite  96
2010 Kapcsándy Merlot Roberta’s Reserve  98
2010 Montrose  100
2009 Léoville-Poyferré  97
2010 Philip Togni Cabernet Sauvignon  98
2009 Dominus  ?
2005 Léoville-Las-Cases  98
2005 La Mission Haut-Brion  96
2005 Dunn Cabernet Sauvignon Howell Mountain    96
2005 Abreu Madrona Ranch  98
2021 Mayacamas Chardonnay  95

The Food:

Salad Lyonnaise; Red Wine Braised Lentils, Duck Confit, Seared Foie Gras & Banyuls Vinaigrette

Herb Crusted Wagyu Striploin; Sauce Bordelaise, Watercress & Shoestring Fries

Superior Farms Lamb; Roasted Rack, Braised Shoulder “Bon Bon,” Garlic Puree & Thyme Roasted Chanterelles

Artisanal Cheese Selection

This private event for one of our corporate clients brought together the best of Napa Valley and Bordeaux paired with a sumptuous dinner at Wheeler Farms in the peak of harvest, always the most exciting time to be in Napa Valley. This dinner was rescheduled several times because of COVID-19, but it was well worth the wait.

Bart and Daphne Araujo sold their Araujo Estate to Artemis Group in 2013. They wasted no time getting back in the game. Later that year, they launched a new wine brand, Accendo. In 2014, they teamed up with a group of investors to buy Wheeler Farms, a historic ranch on Zinfandel Lane at the southern end of St. Helena. Wheeler Farms has a rich legacy that stretches back to the 1800s. The Araujos quickly set to create their modern-day version of Wheeler Farms. They brought in winemaker Nigel Kinsman to design and build a new winery that doubles as one of the premier custom crush facilities in Napa Valley. The other side of the property is dedicated to hospitality, with a small open kitchen and a private dining room ideal for intimate dinners.

End of the day during harvest 2022 at Wheeler Farms.

I was delighted when one of our private clients reached out to schedule this celebratory dinner for a small group of friends and co-workers. Our guests took care of the arrangements with Wheeler Farms, and I chose several of my favorite wines, presented in thematic flights. Executive Chef Tom Harder, whom I had first met years ago at Mustard’s prepared a fabulous meal. The hospitality team led by Philip O’Conor and Patrick Memmott took care of every detail with the same precision that has always been evident in all of the Araujos’ endeavors.

Chilled oysters are fabulous pairing with Bollinger’s 2014 La Grande Année.

Bollinger’s 2014 La Grande Année is a great way to start the evening as guests mill around Wheeler Farms. It is early evening in Napa, but there is still plenty of action in the winery, where various lots are being pressed under the watchful eye of winemaker Nigel Kinsman. There are some moments where I would very much like to be a civilian, a regular person enjoying the night, but I am more concerned with our guests having a great night, so I quickly go back to check on our wines. The Bollinger 2014 is everything I expected: bright, focused and full of all the energy this late-ripening vintage conferred to the best wines.

For our first flight, I chose four Merlot-based wines. Merlot is one of the main varieties of Bordeaux’s Right Bank, but its potential for producing elite wines in Napa Valley has long been the subject of intense debate. The Salad Lyonnaise, essentially duck confit and foie gras with red wine-braised lentils, is a great starter with enough richness to accompany the wines but not overpower them.

A flight of four stellar Merlot-based wines to kick off the evening.

How many dinners start with a wine like the 2009 L’Église Clinet? Not many that I go to that is for sure. When we opened this bottle to check on its soundness, I knew right away it was going to be one of the wines of the night, and it is. Wow. Bold and seamless in the glass, the 2009 L’Église Clinet is a great example of the vintage. It is obviously quite opulent, yet all the elements are magically in the right place. It’s always good to start strong, and we sure do. The 2010 La Conseillante is stellar. Dense and extracted, the 2010 reflects the style of a decade ago, but that is merely an observation and not a complaint. Inky purplish fruit, lavender, spice, mocha and a kiss of French oak infuse the palate with remarkable depth. Our Napa pairing starts with the 2009 Rive Droite, Blankiet’s Merlot-based flagship wine. This is clearly Napa. Bottled sunshine, the 2009 is open-knit and incredibly sensual from the outset. Dark red cherry, kirsch, rose petal and sweet spice build into the creamy finish. My only quibble with the 2009 is that the oak remains a bit dominant, but that was the style back then at Blankiet. Today’s wines are better balanced, in my view. I remember tasting Kapcsándy 2010 Merlot Roberta’s Reserve when it was in barrel and later from bottle. It has never disappointed me. On this night, the 2010 is deep, savory, and so expressive. To me, the best 2010s combine the fruit richness of a warm year with the structure of a cool year. That is exactly what comes through here.

Herb Crusted Wagyu Striploin; Sauce Bordelaise, Watercress & Shoestring Fries.

Next up is a delectable herb-crusted Wagyu tenderloin that I watched the kitchen prepare with tremendous anticipation. I was not disappointed.

The 2010 Montrose is insanely beautiful. A vivid, eternal wine, the 2010 dazzles right out of the gate with its explosive energy. Soaring floral and mineral notes are immediately captivating on the bouquet. All that carries through to the palate, where the wine is dense and expansive. Readers lucky enough to own it should be thrilled. This really benefits from aeration. What a wine! The 2009 Léoville-Poyferré is a total pleasure bomb. Done in the more opulent style that was the norm then, the 2009 envelops the palate with plush dark fruit and soft contours. It is classic 2009. Our third flight is off with a bang. Philip Togni’s 2010 Cabernet Sauvignon is a great wine from a vintage that continues to show its profound beauty. Mind-blowing in intensity, the 2010 races across the palate with copious dark fruit mixed with hints of gravel, licorice and savory herbs. Because of Philip Togni’s Bordeaux training, his Cabernet Sauvignon is often said to be Old World-leaning. That may be the case next to Napa’s most flamboyant wines, but to me, the 2010 Togni is classic Napa all the way. The 2009 Dominus is the only wine of the night that is disappointing. It shows good depth but also comes across as more forward than I expected or than is the norm. I hope to taste another bottle soon.

A flight of 2010s and 2009s from Bordeaux and Napa Valley makes for fascinating comparisons and fabulous drinking.

A set of slightly more mature wines works perfectly with the richness and nuance of Chef Harder’s Superior Farms lamb. The 2005 Léoville-Las-Cases is one of my favorite wines of the night. Now, after 17 years, the 2005 is in a place where it is not a crime to open a bottle. Elegant and regal in bearing, the 2005 Las-Cases is simply everything Las-Cases can and should be. This is a great, great bottle. I loved it. The 2005 La Mission Haut-Brion is powerful and unyielding. Aeration brings out the aromatics and fruit, but La Miss does not have the charm of most other wines on this night. I have had better bottles. So it goes. The 2005 Dunn Cabernet Sauvignon Howell Mountain is another stellar wine. Almost shockingly opulent, the 2005 is perhaps not the archetype of the Howell Mountain bottling at Dunn, but it is nevertheless fabulous. All our guests enjoyed it, and so did I. This is an especially fine bottle. Abreu’s 2005 Madrona Ranch is just as great. Of course, it shows an entirely different side of Napa Valley, which is exactly why I chose it for this dinner. Inky, savory and earthy, the 2005 is classic Madrona Ranch as interpreted by Abreu and his gifted winemaker Brad Grimes. Two bottles disappeared before I even noticed!

Superior Farms Lamb; Roasted Rack, Braised Shoulder “Bon Bon,” Garlic Puree & Thyme Roasted Chanterelles.

My favorite end to a meal is cheese and aged white Burgundy. That isn’t always possible, so we got as close as possible. The cheeses are delicious, while the 2021 Mayacamas Chardonnay is wonderfully expressive (but naturally very young), especially with some air.

These 2005s are in the zone today for prime drinking.

The following day is a workday for me, so I leave early. The cool fall Napa Valley air is wonderfully energizing. This was a fabulous dinner that I will remember for a very long time. Many thanks to our guests for the spirited discussion and the Wheeler Farms team for a magical night.

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