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Tapping A Powerful Pedigree

James Laube
Posted: April 5, 2000

Daphne and Bart Araujo
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Tapping A Powerful Pedigree

Bart and Daphne Araujo were looking to buy a vineyard. So when they got a call in 1990 that Milt and Barbara Eisele wanted to sell, they didn't have to think long. "It was a chance to get one of the historic, famous vineyards in the Napa Valley," says Bart Araujo, 56 (Daphne is 53). "Opportunities like that come around once in a lifetime, if ever."

Connections help. Araujo had done business with real estate agent Jean Phillips (owner of Screaming Eagle), and he had asked her to call if any notable properties became available.

The Eisele Vineyard definitely qualifies as notable. Few California sites have the pedigree or track record to compare with the 35 acres at the foot of the Palisades Mountains, southeast of Calistoga. Planted to vines since 1884, the Eisele made its reputation in the seventies when Joseph Phelps Winery purchased the grapes and made wines of extraordinary richness and complexity.

"The Eisele wines have a distinct signature, more currant or cassis than blackberry or raspberry," says Araujo, who currently produces about 2,500 cases of the Cabernet. "There's a chocolate note, and a cedar tone that with bottle age becomes a cigar box aroma."

Araujo feels a sense of responsibility to fulfill the potential of the site, and quit his previous career in home construction to focus on the wine. "Daphne and I believe that this property is too important not to devote full attention to it," he says.

Little has been left to chance as Araujo has built a new winery (with extensive caves tunneled into the side) and enlisted the expertise of two of the industry's most respected consultants -- David Abreu (of Abreu Vineyards, Staglin and Spottswoode) to maintain the vineyards, and Tony Soter (of Etude Winery) who helped with the winemaking until Françoise Peschon took over in 1999.

Serendipity did play a part when Araujo and Soter discovered Syrah vines in an old block of Cabernet in 1991. They subsequently learned that Milt Eisele had planted the vines in 1978 when Joseph Phelps was experimenting with Rhône varietals. Although the vines were regrafted to Cabernet in the 1980s, 100 grafts didn't take.

Araujo was so pleased with the Syrah that he's planted several blocks around the property and plans to increase the current production of 400 cases to 1,000. Depending on the quality of recent plantings, he also hopes to make another 1,000 cases of the Cabernet.

Araujo Estate Wines
Calistoga, Napa Valley
Founded: 1990
Owners: Bart & Daphne Araujo
Winemaker: Françoise Peschon

94 Araujo Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley Eisele Vineyard 1996

Release Price: $100
Current Auction Average: $299
Production: 2,305 cases

Smooth and polished, with detailed flavors of ripe plum, black cherry, spice and light oak, this pedigreed red turns rich and elegant, with a long complex aftertaste. Best from 2001 through 2008.

-- J.L.


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