Aileron Estates is a small family-owned winery established in 1983, located in the heart of the Niagara Peninsula. The winery was founded on the idea that quality wine can be made in small quantities.
While most vineyards produce sweet wines, a few make dry wines. These wines tend to be very dry and the grape varieties tend to be less sweet and more rustic. They are generally made for long aging, sometimes for years, with the wine remaining un-chaptalized and unfiltered.Aileron Estates. Inspiration comes in many forms. The owner, Shannon O’Shaughnessy, became seriously ill and nearly died when she was only 38 years old. Fortunately she recovered, but later, after reflecting on the seriousness of the situation, she felt like getting her pilot’s license, which she eventually did. However, this was not his first encounter with flying: Her father flew small planes, and Shannon even began studying for her pilot’s license in high school, but never finished the course at the time.
Shannon grew up in southern Minnesota in an agricultural community and began her passion for farming at a young age. She discovered the Napa Valley in 1990 when her parents bought land on the north side of Oakville Cross Road. They thought this land would be ideal for growing Cabernet Sauvignon, but soon discovered this was not the case and soon planted Sauvignon Blanc on this property. His family then established the O’Shaughnessy vineyard on Howell Mountain.
Shannon has worked in the wine industry for over twenty years in a variety of roles including sales, brand consulting, sales and her early years at O’Shaughnessy Estate.
An aileron is a hinged surface (small wing) on the main wings of an aircraft, used to control the trajectory or direction of the aircraft. These flaps are best visible when sitting on the wing of a commercial aircraft; during landing these flaps go up and down. In keeping with his love of aviation, the word spoiler is also associated with his life choice and path.
Aileron Estates is located in Coombsville, a sub-appellation located primarily east of the city of Napa. Coombsville’s climate is characterized as moderate to cooler than that of the upper valley, due to its proximity to the relatively flat surrounding countryside and its proximity to San Pablo Bay, with its cooling morning and afternoon breezes and frequent mists. The entire territory of Coombsville consists of low hills with a varied microclimate.
Aileron Estates is Coombsville’s quintessential estate, with several acres of land and a small vineyard at the front of the property. Approximately 0.86 hectares are entirely planted with Sauvignon Blanc. The site was previously owned by Andy Erickson and Annie Favia (Favia Wines); Shannon purchased the site in 2014. As we travel through the valley, sometimes things stay in our hearts immediately for one reason or another. That’s what happened when Shannon first visited the property, helped by the fact that part of the property was already planted with vines, and she knew she wanted to get back into the wine business.
Andy and Annie planted the Sauvignon Blanc vineyard in 2006, which is now farmed organically and dry. Atelier Melka, led by winemakers Philipp Melka and Maayan Koszczycki, created the first vintage wines (Cabernet Sauvignon in 2016 and Sauvignon Blanc in 2018). Interestingly enough, Maayan met winemaker Andy Erickson through his work at Screaming Eagle; Maayan even helped plant some of these vines when Andy and Annie were developing the vineyard. For several years, the fruit from this vineyard was part of the Favia Linnea vineyard, which is called Sauvignon Blanc. Shannon first met John when he helped develop the original O’Shaughnessy Vineyard at Pina Vineyard Management.
In 2019, Shannon acquired a second vineyard, now called Altimeter Vineyard, located on the slopes of the AVA Atlas Peak, near the iconic Stagecoach Vineyard. This 20-acre site is planted entirely with Cabernet Sauvignon (10.2 acres). Like the soil of nearby Pritchard Hill and this part of Atlas Peak, the vineyard has red, rocky, ferruginous volcanic soil.
Aileron Estates Estate Sauvignon Blanc 2019 is medium gold in color with enticing aromas of pomelo, and floral notes including citrus blossom and jasmine emerge upon opening. The wine also has aromas of lemon curd. The palate has a nice texture, not heavy or stringy, but rounded with a nice cadence. This texture glides across the palate and pairs well with the bright acidity. Delicious notes of apple and citrus with the bright acidity inherent in this variety. The wine is not acidic and does not have the nervousness inherent to this variety, which is often grown in cooler climates. Aging with notes of minerality. Coombsville’s record is pretty impressive.
Blended with a small number of other red Bordeaux varietals, the 2016 Cabernet Sauvignon Aileron comes from Rancho Del Oso Vineyard on Howell Mountain; an original block planted at O’Shaughnessy Estate Winery. The wine has black fruit on the nose, including plums, blackberries, and game, as well as hints of leather, dark chocolate, and some black earth. There are also notes of toasted cedar and deeper notes of cardamom in the aroma. Shows a nice interplay between the fruit and the oak additions. The tannins are round and finely tamed – they linger gently on the palate. It has a broad taste – accessible and tasty, without sharp edges. Transparent presentation.
The 2017 Cabernet Sauvignon Aileron is 100% grape variety, in large part because a number of grape varieties normally available for blending were contaminated by smoke from the devastating fires last October. Dark ruby color with aromas of plum, earth, toasted cedar and black olive. As it unfolds, the mocha flavors unfold. Lots of fruit on the palate, including black cherries. It’s well layered. Give this wine time to develop and it will become more expressive. Although it is a year younger, it has a different texture profile than 2016. The oaky, reasoned tannins persist – with more grip than in the 2016 vintage, but without being coarse in texture.
By appointment only, guests can taste wines at Brasswood Estate, north of St Helena (where the wines of Aileron Estates are produced). Shannon leads this private tasting, which lasts about 90 minutes. Brasswood Estate is both a winery and a living space (food, art, wine tasting) and a production facility for top producers. It is a very picturesque property.
Guests who want to share the adventurous lifestyle that comes with Aileron Estates are welcome. In May 2021, Aileron Estates is partnering with Vintage Aircraft at Carneros (located at Sonoma Skypark in Schellville) to create a very exciting event called Take Flight, combining a ride in a vintage Boeing PT-17 Stearman airplane with an open cockpit and wine tasting. These aircraft were used for training during the Second World War.
The flight takes about 20 minutes and includes a flight over the valley and hilly parts of the southern Napa Valley. Particularly intrepid guests can also opt for additional aerial acrobatics and associated thrills, including Flipping, Barrel Roll and Hammer Head. Those who want to experience a stunt maneuver (especially those who have never experienced one before) can do so at the end of the flight near the runway and soon be on the ground. Unlike the guests taking part in the normal flights, the acrobatic participants are equipped with a parachute. Bring your phone or camera with you, but make sure it’s secure (straps are available if needed).
You will be given a jacket if needed, as well as earplugs and vintage headphones. The pilot sits in the back and the passengers in the front. Flight can be loud, but not too loud. Passengers have excellent visibility on both sides of the aircraft.
After the flight, guests can sample some of the Aileron wines at a private tasting in the hangar next to the runway. This experience is offered year-round (weather permitting) and can accommodate 2 to 8 people (reservations required). The hangar usually accommodates three aircraft with an open cockpit. Lunch boxes are available on request.
And serious wine lovers who enjoy outdoor activities like sport shooting, fishing or just spending time at a private club (Wing & Barrel Ranch, on Highway 37 in Sonoma County) can book a private experience followed by a private tasting of some of their wines with Shannon.
The kitchen is an integral part of the Wing & Barrel operation. Acclaimed chef Charlie Palmer runs the restaurant, which has both indoor and outdoor patios and breathtaking views of the north side of the ranch. This experience is by appointment only and takes place in the morning – subject to Shannon’s availability.
The wines are largely sold directly to consumers, although very limited local marketing is done by ACME Fine Wines in St. Louis. Helena and Angele Restaurant in the center of Napa. For more information or to join the mailing list, go to: www.aileronestates.com.
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