Joel Aiken and Scattered Peaks — the story behind the name

Scattered Peaks is a Napa Valley brand that I had the pleasure to taste with winemaker Joel Aiken just days before the lockdown. I wrote about Joel Aiken and the Scattered Peaks brand for the Napa Valley Register and share it here.

Imagine the moment when the waves in the ocean approach the shore and split, creating different wave peaks. Imaging flying over snow-capped mountain peaks and looking at the jagged tops. Now picture the mountains of Napa Valley covered with vineyards. What you are envisioning is what surfers call “scattered peaks,” and they are the inspiration behind the Napa Valley brand Scattered Peaks.

Just days before the lockdown because of the COVID-19 pandemic, I dined with winemaker Joel Aiken who introduced me to Scattered Peaks wines. Aiken needs little introduction. He has been making wine in the Napa Valley for more than 30 years and is considered one of great winemakers in California. Originally from Fresno, Joel studied at UC Davis and went to work at Beaulieu Vineyards where he was the youngest winemaker hired in company history. Today, Joel is one of the most knowledgeable people about Cabernet Sauvignon.

Joel has worked with more than 50 vineyards in the Napa Valley. During his tenure at Beaulieu Vineyards, he worked with winemaker Andre Tchelistcheff who made wines that were lean and tight with aging potential and continued to make wines that are restrained and built to last. But in the mid-1990s, Joel introduced many new innovations in the winery, ranging from new clones to rootstock selection, trellising, training, less acidifying and less filtration.

In 2009, after 27 years, Joel left Beaulieu Vineyards and launched his own label, Aiken. He also consults for other wineries and in 2016 he joined Scattered Peaks as the winemaker.

Scattered Peaks was created in 2015 by founder Derek Benham. Derek also needs little introduction as he has been in the wine industry since the 1980s and has created well-known brands such as Blackstone Merlot. In 2001, he launched Purple Wine Company, which has included brands such as Mark West and Four Vines. Scattered Peaks is one of his newest brands.

Derek’s greatest passion, aside from wine, is extreme sports. He is a surfer and loves to helicopter ski. That is where the name Scattered Peaks came from. But Scattered Peaks also references the mountain vineyards where Cabernet Sauvignon is sourced for the wine.

While the focus was to be on mountain fruit, Joel recommended that they also work with a vineyard he discovered while making wine at Beaulieu Vineyard. The Morisoli Vineyard is located on the valley floor on the Rutherford Bench. Fruit from this vineyard is blended with fruit from the Sage Ridge Vineyard located in the hills east of St. Helena to produce the Scattered Peaks Small Lot 2017 Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon.

The 2017 is the first release of this limited wine produced by Scattered Peaks. The wine is luscious and sexy with notes of dark fruit and spice and finishes with a firm structure that lets you know this wine can age. The wine retails for $125 and there were only 900 6-packs produced.

The other wine produced by Scattered Peaks is the Scattered Peaks 2017 Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon. The first vintage of this wine was produced in 2015 and Joel was involved with blending the 2016 but the 2017 was the first vintage that he made from start to finish. For this Cabernet Sauvignon, which retails for $35, fruit is sourced from vineyards across Napa Valley, including Rutherford, Pope Valley, and Gordon Valley. The wine has a plush nose of dark fruit, warm spices, licorice, chocolate and vanilla and finishes with firm tannins. This wine is definitely a steal at $35.

To conclude our dinner, Joel also shared a 2006 BV Beaulieu No 1 Rutherford Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon demonstrating the ageability of his Cabernet Sauvignons. The wine was beautiful and elegant and still had lots of acidity and tannins.

Read the original story in the Napa Valley Register.