MEET THE WINEMAKER

The Art of Winemaking... Elevated

A History of Passion to Bring the Best Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon and Pinot Noir to Life

Though the idea of becoming a winemaker didn’t occur to Joel Aiken until later, the Fresno native had a healthy appreciation for agriculture by the time he was ten years old.  “We had about 30 Kim Elberta peach trees in an orchard out back,” says Joel, who grew up on a 15-acre ranch on the outskirts of town. “I would park our old wooden wagon out on Highway 168 and sell the peaches for 10 cents a pound. I usually made about $20 bucks a day, but one time I made $60. My brother was really jealous.” So long before working with the best Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon, Joel was well versed in peaches; the pursue of great winemaking was yet to be awakened in Joel.

Encouraged by his mother, an art professor, to go to UC Davis vs. Fresno State, where most of his friends were going, Joel pursued a Bachelor of Science degree in biology. But by his senior year, having seen Davis’ winemaking and viticulture programs and visited Napa wineries on the weekends, Joel’s sights were firmly set on a winemaking career. He worked the 1980 harvest at Inglenook, went back to Davis to get his Master’s degree, and in 1982 – while finishing his Master’s thesis comparing French and American oak barrels for the aging of Cabernet Sauvignon – joined Beaulieu Vineyard (BV) as Enologist.

Joel’s rise at BV was swift; in 1985 at the age of 28 Joel was promoted to Winemaker, making him the youngest Winemaker in BV’s history. His winemaking expertise and leadership skills subsequently led to a 27-year career at the winery, where he oversaw multiple wine programs both there and at BV’s sister brands. Joel’s penchant for research, creative thinking and willingness to innovate cemented BV’s reputation as one of Napa Valley’s most respected wineries. Over the years he implemented innovative winemaking techniques for Chardonnay and conducted an extensive Pinot Noir clonal research project in the winery’s Carneros vineyards. He also directed the replanting of BV’s historic vineyards in Rutherford to preferred Cabernet clones, designed and oversaw construction of a state of the art facility for the production of BV’s iconic Georges de Latour Private Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon, and worked closely with consultant Michel Rolland to evolve the style of that wine, resulting in 95 point scores from both The Wine Advocate and Wine Enthusiast.

“I’ve worked with over fifty different Cabernet vineyards in Napa Valley and elsewhere, and I have a pretty good feeling for what makes a site stand out from the rest,” says Joel. “Still, I’m constantly saying to myself, ‘This was great. Now how can I make it better?’”

It was also at BV that Joel met and worked with the legendary André Tchelistcheff, who – having left BV in 1974 after a 36-year career there – returned to consult in 1990. For several years Joel worked side-by-side with the great master, and together they shaped BV’s future with new blends such as Tapestry, a blend of red Bordeaux varietals, and by adding the influence of both Merlot and French oak barrel aging to the Georges de Latour Private Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon.

“What was amazing about André was that even at the age of 89, he was such a breath of fresh air,” recalls Joel. “He was so modest and humble, such a good person. But he was also a great teacher; he was never satisfied with what he’d done in the past. He was always pushing for something new and better.”

In addition to Aiken Wines, Joel runs Aiken Wine Consulting, LLC, having produced wines for a number of clients including Amici Cellars, Rare Cat Wines and Chase Cellars.

Joel is a Past President of the Napa Valley Vintners, serving on the board from 2001 – 2006, and chaired the 2004 Premiere Napa Valley Wine Auction. Joel is also a Past President of the Rutherford Dust Society and has been a member of the Board since its inception in 1994. Creating the best Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon is a challenge Joel accepts everyday and hopes to bring the valley some of the most unique wines.

READ OUR OUTSTANDING REVIEWS

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96 pts – 2014 Aiken Cabernet Sauvignon Oakville

True blockbuster stuff is the 2014 Cabernet Sauvignon Oakville, which comes from the Oakville Ranch on the west side of the Valley. Aged 20 months in 75% new French oak with a deep purple color and sumptuous notes of violets, crème de cassis, white chocolate, and...
Robert-Parker

95 pts. – 2013 Aiken Cabernet Sauvignon Rutherford

The superstar in the portfolio is the 2013 Cabernet Sauvignon Rutherford, which comes entirely from the well-known Morisoli Vineyard in Rutherford. Aged in 100% new French oak, it's not a big cuvée (only 105 cases), but exhibits a dense purple color and a beautiful...
Connoisseurs-Guide

92 pts, two puffs – 2013 Aiken Cabernet Sauvignon Oakville

In terms of its ample substance and tannic frame, this wine is not so much different than its accomplice below, but where the latter is comparatively tight-fisted with its fruit, this one is close to succulent and juicy with a generous dollop of sweet oak and savory...
Robert-Parker

92 pts. – 2013 Aiken Cabernet Sauvignon Oakville

The real stars are Aiken's Cabernet Sauvignons, of which there are two, one from Oakville and one from Rutherford. The 2013 Cabernet Sauvignon Oakville, which is 100% Oakville Ranch and 100% Cabernet Sauvignon aged in 70% new French oak, comes from the red hillside...
Connoisseurs-Guide

91 pts, two puffs – 2013 Aiken Fiddlestix Vineyard Sta. Rita Hills Pinot Noir

Boasting a generous measure of ripe red cherry fruitiness as its opening act, this full-bodied, nicely concentrated effort adds in notes of strawberry preserves and creamy oak in aromas that stay wholly on point and lead to potent, fully consistent flavors from entry...
PinotFile

92 pts. – 2013 Aiken Sonoma Mountain Pinot Noir

Moderate reddish purple color in the glass. Conservative aromas of black cherry, blackberry jam and toasty oak lead to plenty of ebullient black cherry and blackberry fruit flavors backed by matched fine-grain tannins and a waft of oak. More ripeness, sappiness, oak...
PinotFile

91 pts. – 2013 Aiken Fiddlestix Vineyard Sta. Rita Hills Pinot Noir

Moderate reddish purple color in the glass. An array of dark red and black berry aromas infused with graphite and woodland scents greet the nose. The middleweight flavors of dark red and purple berries are framed by wellhoned tannins and judicious oak. Noticeably...
Wine Spectator

90 pts. – 2012 Aiken Pinot Noir Sonoma Mountain

Dense and intense, pleasantly earthy and tarry, with crushed rock, graphite, blackberry, black licorice, cedar, anise and tar flavors remaining complex, distinctive and captivating. Drink now through 2023.  280 cases made.      –JL
Wine-Enthusiast

91 pts. – 2012 Aiken Pinot Noir Sonoma Mountain

Waxy cherry and pomegranate invite the senses before a taste of dried cranberry wafts in, layering itself on top of velvety, silky tannins. Juicy and well-composed, it hails from an appellation not known for the variety. In the hands of this producer, also a fine...
Robert-Parker

90 pts. – 2012 Aiken Cabernet Sauvignon Rutherford

The 2012 Cabernet Sauvignon Rutherford is a more elegant, downsized version compared to the Oakville. There are some dusty, loamy soil, cedarwood, tobacco leaf and red and blackcurrant fruit notes. It's lovely, ripe and can be drunk now or aged for up to a decade.