Winemaker Joel Aiken is at it again, with the launch a personal project, appropriately named Aiken Wines
On January 6, 2009, winemaker Joel Aiken launched his wine consulting company, when he left the position of vice president of Winemaking at Beaulieu Vineyard (BV). Well known for producing award winning Cabernet Sauvignon wines, it was time for Aiken to branch out on his own.
Joel Aiken had developed an interest in winemaking as an undergraduate at UC Davis, where he earned his Masters of Science degree in Enology. Upon finishing his studies at Davis in 1982, he was named BV’s assistant winemaker. He then progressed steadily up through the company as winemaker, director of winemaking, and finally as VP of Winemaking, a position he held from 1999-2009. Throughout his career, Aiken’s earned the reputation as an innovator, an expert on barrel production, and Cabernet Sauvignon clonal selection and use.
FAST FORWARD to 2012
Now, Joel Aiken has launched of his own wine brand called Aiken Wines. His intention was to create an evolving portfolio of site-specific Cabernets and Pinot Noirs from Napa and Sonoma vineyards, which he’s personally selected, for their ability to produce wines of character and distinction. Now, he’s off doing just that.
Aiken explains, “I look for sites that inspire the ‘aha’ moment — where I say ‘Yes, this is the place, these are the grapes. These are the wines I want to make.’”
One of his first wines is a Pinot Noir from the Silver Pines Vineyard in the Sonoma Mountain AVA.
“Even with all of the Cabernet Sauvignon that we have in our cellar, more often than not, we have a bottle of Pinot Noir on our dinner table. Pinot Noir is a wonderful varietal that produces intriguing wines of great complexity. I’ve always loved the challenge of making a great Pinot Noir. Years ago I asked Andre Tchelistcheff what wine he was most proud of in the 35 years as was winemaker at Beaulieu. I fully expected to hear about one of the great vintages of Georges De Latour Private Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon, but Andre surprised me by saying, without any hesitation, that it was the 1946 Beaulieu Pinot Noir.”
In addition to his Pinot Noir, Aiken Wines is releasing a 2009 Rutherford Cabernet Sauvignon from Gary Morisoli’s vineyard, in the heart of the Rutherford Bench, and a 2009 Howell Mountain Cabernet Sauvignon.
“After nearly 30 years of making Rutherford Bench Cabernet, I absolutely had to make one for my own brand. I love the Rutherford AVA and feel it is one of the few appellations where Cabernet Sauvignon alone makes a full-bodied, balanced wine without any other varieties blended in. The Howell Mountain Cabernet Sauvignon comes from a block at nearly 1,600 ft. elevation with great exposure to the afternoon sun. The wine is a blend of Cabernet clones 4 and 337 with nine percent Petite Verdot. This is a classic mountain Cabernet that has incredible power and is built to age. “he Petite Verdot adds a beautiful blueberry character that complements the briary mountain Cabernet.
Aiken’s wines are all small production with limited distribution. Total production is less than 500 cases a year.
I really wish Joel well… He’s masterful at what he does, and if I’m going to search out a Napa Valley Cab, this is the man to chase down. Meanwhile, I’d really love to get my hands on a bottle of his Pinot. Anyone who was (and still is) inspired by Andre Tchelistcheff needs our full attention…
SIDEBAR: In addition to Aiken Wines, Joel is winemaker for Amici Cellars, Chase Cellars, RARECAT Wines and Spadarotto Family Wines’ Cabernet Sauvignon program. His wife, Amy, is owner and winemaker for Meander Cellars (www.meanderwines.com). They’re also partners in Palisades Winery in Calistoga, where they make their wines and where limited amounts of Aiken and Meander are available for tasting and purchase.
To schedule an appointment please call Desire Espinoza at (707) 287-4072. For more information call (707) 337-0584 or go online to www.aikenwines.com.