One of the smallest estate vineyard in the Napa Valley, if not the smallest,…Wise Acre Vineyards is an incredibly small operation, farming only a half acre of vines on just a 2-acre estate on a rocky hillside a few hundred feet in elevation above the Napa Valley floor.
The setting is perfect for a vineyard started solely to fulfill a dream and live a philosophy for the people who operate it. That philosophy is to do only what is right by the land, farm responsibly, embrace the interconnectedness between all elements in nature, and let the land produce and sustain. And, if done right, the land will help you grow grapes that make some incredibly fine Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon.
In the playground of billionaires and surrounded by huge corporate Napa vineyard operations, Wise Acre Vineyards stands out, owned and operated by the massive vineyard staff of husband and wife team Kirk and Lynn Grace.
Kirk’s vineyard roots run deep in Napa Valley, reaching back to the 1970’s when he planted vines on his family land. After earning a degree in crop science from Cal Poly, Kirk started his career at St. Supéry Estate Vineyards and Winery. He followed that up at Robert Sinskey Vineyards, helping them transition to organic and biodynamic farming. For the better part of the last decade, Kirk has been at Stag’s Leap and is currently Director of Vineyard Operations. Add to this his farming responsibilities at Grace Family Vineyards and his immersion in Wise Acre and Kirk is literally knee deep in vineyard compost and soil.
Lynn learned the value of working with the land while growing up on a Napa Valley cattle ranch. After generations with cattle, Lynn’s family transitioned the Oakville land to grapevines and it was then that Lynn realized the interconnectedness of the land and the ecology. While working the soil, moving from animal to vine, planting and caring for the grapes, she noticed and embraced the changes that were happening all around her. Everything changed; the soil, the vegetation and all the native creatures. When one element changed, everything changed. It was almost a spiritual awakening.
Although associated with other operations over the years, Wise Acre is their dream and the two are uniquely qualified to operate what they call a “Bio-Correct” farm, combining sustainable, organic and biodynamic farming practices in an effort to create a stable and totally natural environment. According to them, only when the natural world is in order can things grow into what they are supposed to be.
They manage the soil. They cultivate ground cover crops and farm hops, make a home for bees, chickens and sheep. They collect and manage compost heaps and they manage a very limited irrigation schedule designed to take advantage of the slope of the land and the desire for the vines to struggle just the right amount. They talk to the vines (only positive conversations, of course). You don’t even have to ask nicely to smell the compost. Kirk will gladly grab a handful and let you shove your nose it it. They do what mindful farmers do to make the ecology right so their crop can thrive. And when your crop is Cabernet Sauvignon, thriving means producing really good wine.
Winemaker Helen Keplinger takes what the specific terroir and living energy givers her and produces less than 100 cases of estate Cabernet a year from this half-acre vineyard. Kirk, Lynn and Helen believe the wine should speak for itself, so they haven’t allowed the who’s who of the wine world powers-that-be to taste it, rate it and tell their following if it’s good or not.
You’ll have to do that yourself, if you can get your hands on any. But if you do, you’ll taste elements of the wine that can only be produced by mindfully farming. The wines have deep earth tones, luscious black and red berry notes, and follows with rich and roasted anise and dark chocolate tones. You can actually smell and taste the land. You can feel it, and it’s good.
Priced at $150 per bottle and sold only in packs of 3, Wise Acre is not quite self-sustainable, but it’s close.
The dream, according the Kirk and Lynn, is to grow it until it can support itself, but grow it mindfully. The processes they employ are much more labor intensive than other vineyards, and taking on more acreage and more vines would stress the staff (yeah, that’s Kirk and Lynn…and their 2 kids) that needs to be responsible and accountable for every step along the way. They say they can grow, but not much and still be able to hold on to the process.
Wise Acre wines sell out fast and being on their list is the only way to get any. It can be a tough sell, forcing people to plop down $450 without tasting it first. But, if you believe in the simple thought that having the right ingredients and doing right by the process produces the best result, then you should do what you can to get your paws on some Wise Acre Cabernet.