Acumen Wines. China born, and Paris college educated founder of Acumen Wines, Eric Yuan (not to be confused with the Eric Yuan who founded Zoom Video Communications) divides his time between the San Francisco Bay area and Wuhan, China where he owns a development company and employs about 500 people. He was introduced to French wines while studying and living in Paris and since then, has long preferred a more restrained Bordeaux-esque style of wines as compared to the style of ‘riper’ red wines that are often produced in Napa Valley. When he decided to make wine in California he connected with Steven Rea (the President of the company from 2012-2017 and who we originally met with).
Steven was instrumental in building the early business – taking Eric’s vision and making the necessary connections to see it fulfilled including building a well-regarded team. Initially they searched for a specific type of property in both Sonoma and Napa focusing on vineyard land that would produce a more Bordeaux style of wine. Ultimately, they found property that was owned by Dr. Jan Krupp, the former owner and co-founder of Stagecoach Vineyard.
They purchased one vineyard in 2012 – and named it the Attelas Vineyard (the name comes from roughly combining the word Atlas with Attelier) – 41 acres of which 32 are planted to vine. This was Dr. Krupp’s original ‘home vineyard’ planted in 1992 – predating even his famed Stagecoach Vineyard by 3 years. In 2013 Acumen acquired another vineyard about a 1/2 mile away and renamed it to Edcora; 180 acres of which 84 are planted. The name Edcora in the jewelry world refers to a nearly 6 carat red pear-shaped diamond considered to be the largest red diamond in the world (whose location is known by a few but well-guarded). To some extent, this name makes perfect sense, alluding to their vineyard which is well off the beaten path and the reddish color of their soils (volcanic in nature).
The temperatures here are often 5-10 degrees cooler then on the valley floor; the vineyard site is above the fog line which often blankets the southern part of the valley. Heat spikes are rare with fairly moderate temperature over the growing season. They pick for ripeness but not for over ripeness, striving to produce balanced often lower alcohol wines. They do not shy away from qualities often found in red wines grown in Napa prior to the late 1970s such as herbal notes at times, sage, an earthiness if you will.
The vineyards are planted to mostly Bordeaux Red varietals but other varietals grow on site including Tempranillo, Zinfandel and Sauvignon Blanc. Both vineyards are farmed and are certified organic (CCOF). While they made wine prior to purchasing the vineyards – their first commercial release from the estate was the 2012 vintage.
Acumen founding winemaker Denis Malbec was hired (a strong connection to Bordeaux) but tragically he died in a very early morning car crash in Yountville in 2016. For a number of years, viticulturist Steve Matthiason oversaw their vineyards and also took over Denis’s role as winemaker for a short while (however Steve is no longer involved at Acumen). And in a tribute to Denis, a “DM” was added to the upper right-hand side of the front labels for their 2013 and 2014 Peak wines.
The Edcora estate ranges in elevation from 1300 to 1600 feet in Foss Valley – a part of Atlas Peak. While only approximately 6 miles from the Silverado Trail and the main Napa Valley floor, it feels worlds away. From the highest point in their vineyards the cars to the west on Highway 29 look like ants in the far distance. Views aside, the vineyard produces world class wines as well as plenty of rocks (we initially toured this part of Atlas Peak with Jan Krupp and were amazed by the millions of pounds of rock he had excavated from the various vineyard sites).
Rather than hire a vineyard management team from any of a number of vineyard management companies, they have elected to form their own in-house full-time vineyard management team. Their vineyard manager Jesus Gonzalez lives on site and the same crew of people continue to care for the vines year after year. In perhaps what is a rather unusual way for keeping an eye on the vines, Jesus and Steven would often ride through the vineyards on horseback – keeping an eye on the vines and perhaps spotting certain factors easier seen from horseback than from foot. Both of their estate vineyards are certified CCOF (organically farmed).
The 2019 Acumen PEAK Edcora Cabernet Sauvignon is a blend of 96% Cabernet Sauvignon and 4% Cabernet Franc. This wine is dark ruby and almost opaque in the glass; the bouquet offers a pleasing union of both primary and secondary aromas including blackberry, boysenberry, dark cherry along with dark olive, clove, old cedar wood and dark chocolate. This is a powerful and intense mountain Cabernet Sauvignon showing a noticeable tension between its depth of fruit and its big structure. It showcases a muscular and savory finish. This wine persists with grippy and pixelated tannins; its dark, dry, and earthy with notes of cigar paper, crushed black peppercorn and a woodsy spice.
The 2019 Acumen PEAK Attelas Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon is a blend of 88% Cabernet Sauvignon, 8% Merlot and 4% Malbec. This wine is dark ruby in the glass; the bouquet offers some woodsy spices, black olive, pepper and a hint of chocolate. The nose is expressive from the outset but as it evolves, the fruit becomes more dominating. The juicy palate shows primarily dark fruit including blackberry and a spicy plum skin character, especially noticeable on the finish. This is mouth filling richness and is clearly a mountain wine. The tannins are gravelly in texture, dusty and earthy and and anchor a remarkably long finish. Along with their Edcora Vineyard bottling, this is a serious Napa Valley Cabernet, showcasing intensity, density, richness and structure.
The 2015 Acumen Sauvignon Blanc initially shows some floral notes including jasmine, orange blossom and peaches – with hints of lemon zest. Clean and crisp on the palate this wine delivers plenty of flavor including grapefruit. Good acidity. A lively finish shows some mineral notes (flinty). This wine is balanced and easy to drink.
The 2021 Acumen Mountainside Sauvignon Blanc Sonoma Valley, Sonoma County is pale yellow in color; the bouquet offers bright and fresh aromatics including of spring flowers (jasmine and citrus blossom), lemon pith, lime, freshly mowed lawn and green apple. The aromatics show the varietal characteristic rather than any overripe tropical characteristics that sometimes shows with ripe expressions of this variety. The palate is a rich with long lasting fruit characteristics anchoring a persistent finish. Its texture is slightly rounded and is complemented nicely with energetic and mouth watering acidity. The palate is driven by its citrus flavors including of lemon, lime and grapefruit. This is a wine we would like to pop into the nearby Oxbow Public Market and Hog Island Oyster Company, grab a seat at the counter, make new friends and enjoy a glass with freshly shucked oysters.
The Acumen Mountainside Sparkling Rosé NV (tasted in 2023) is a blend of Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. This wine is salmon color; the bouquet offers delicate floral aromas, a flinty-minerality character and raspberry. The light creamy texture across the palate is complemented by a brightness of acidity. This is a very well balanced wine. The palate is dry but fruity, yet it is not a sweet showing. The finish lingers clean with flavors of citrus. We enjoyed this wine a second time as a palate cleanser after the robust Acumen single vineyard Atlas Peak Cabernet Sauvignon bottlings.
The 2019 Acumen Mountainside Cabernet Sauvignon is dark ruby in color; our first impression of the bouquet was of sage and violets followed by hints of white pepper, old cedar and blackberry. There is plenty of fruit on the palate including of dark cherry and blackberry. The finish lingers with flavors of plum, long-lasting and dry tannins. One could almost call the finish savory including notes of crushed black pepper. This is a fairly approachable Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon in its youth.
The 2014 Acumen Mountainside Cabernet Sauvignon (tasted 9 years post vintage) is deep ruby in color and nearly opaque in the glass; this wine is holding up very nicely at the time of our tasting both on the bouquet and the palate. It’s aromatics are still very much filled with fruit including blackberry, boysenberry and ripe Santa Rosa plum. Deeper in the aromas are layers of milk chocolate, espresso, pipe tobacco and chocolate brownie. The bouquet is highly expressive and perhaps stands out even more because we tasted this wine following a tasting of a number of approximately 20 year old wines. The palate offers flavors of dark ripe cherries, blackberries, chocolate and mocha. The tannins sport a moderate, rounded but long lasting grip along with a perceptible dryness.
The 2013 Acumen Mountainside Red Blend shows elegant and inviting aromas including sweet cassis mixed with herbal notes and a hint of cigar smoke. A very balanced wine – lighter in style it still delivers a richness of flavor including black currant, blueberry and lingers with a red cherry/cranberry tartness on the finish. Fine textured tannins persist for some time. And this wine is only 13.3% alcohol. Food friendly and a classic example of a more restrained style of wine they are farming for and one that well represents their particular site.
The 2013 Acumen Mountainside Cabernet Sauvignon reveals a bouquet that shows hints of smoke, dry ground, red licorice and pretty chocolate aromas. Supple on the entry through the mid palate it gains in depth of flavor and structure. A diversity of fruit flavors show including cherry, plum, and red cherry – this is a wine with excellent acidity. Moderately gripping tannins anchor a long finish.
Their downtown Napa tasting room on First Street opened on Memorial Day weekend in 2017. This is the heart of downtown Napa; their space is literally surrounded by numerous wine and spirit purveyors and other spaces to imbibe. Parking is curbside on several of the nearby streets or in the parking garage behind the nearby Andaz Hotel. As of our latest update to this review, several tasting experiences are offered; Acumen includes their most produced wines and are wines that are selectively distributed (these are mainly made from their estate vineyards but may have some fruit blended in from other parts of the Napa Valley), Peak offers limited production 100% estate grown wines and Champagne offers Champagne by the glass or bottle, meant to be enjoyed while walking through the gallery.
The space is somewhat unique for downtown Napa tastings rooms; it used to be a hair salon which sustained damage during the 2014 Napa earthquake. It has since been completely renovated to offer a luxury but relaxed tasting experience. The feel here is luxury combining elements of rural Napa including oak and madrone wood from their estate (used in the design of their bar).
Artist and designer Vincent Xeus (formerly based in Napa Valley but now living in Manhattan) and his wife Stella were responsible for the original design and layout of the tasting room. After one look at Vincent’s work we immediately said, “damn this guy is incredibly talented”. The interior decoration themes are wine related, ranging from the heads of tanks which were hand painted with gold leaf and used as chandeliers – to another remarkable chandelier created as an homage to lab work featuring numerous test tubes. You just read that correctly, test tubes.
Unlike most of the stand-alone tasting rooms in downtown Napa, they have a dedicated space for fine art (most of the items are for sale). Not only was Vincent responsible for designing the tasting room but his paintings were used in their inaugural exhibition (a body of work that focused on vineyard workers and vineyard life). Eventually Vincent would like to donate a portion of the proceeds from the sales of his paintings to fund a college scholarship for children of vineyard workers.
And local artist, Penelope Moore is closely associated with the Acumen tasting room; some of her art is displayed here. She is most known for her painting by pallet style or painting abstract expressions where she translates ‘flavors’ onto the canvas and paints the way a wine tastes. Her works are colorful and bright and typically feature long and well-defined brush strokes.
In mid 2021, Acumen rolled out the Acumen PEAKeasy, a dedicated lounge to both Champagne and sparkling wines from non-Champagne regions. This experience is located in a private room off of the main gallery; guests can enjoy either by the glass or by the bottle service. Features iconic wines from Champagne as well as other more limited production offerings.
Visits can be made by reservation or walk-ins are also accepted and welcomed if they are not too busy. A tasting is a highly personalized experience with one of their hosts loosely curating, conducted at your own pace.
Acumen offers a wine club called the Red Diamond Club, with 6 bottles shipped three times per year. To join this club, signup for their mailing list, to purchase wine and for more information, visit: www.acumenwines.com
Acumen Wine + Gallery, Napa