This article is a part of our inaugural Next Wave Awards. For the full list of 2021 winners, check out the whole series here.
Based in California’s Napa Valley, Brendel Wines is all about bringing an approachable modernity to the old-school, upscale region. Made for both the new wine drinker and the avid collector, the winery produces varieties not typically found in Napa, most notably a frizzante-style Grignolino.
The winery’s history is robust — rooted in the memory of the Heitz family, who bought the brand from its namesake Leon Brendel — but today, Brendel is all about thinking forward. The vineyards are entirely organic and biodynamically farmed, and provide inspiration for the brand’s collective of winemakers. As the brand states on its website, Brendel doesn’t make fine wine, it makes good wine, “because while fine wine brings some people together, good wine brings everyone together.” With an emphasis on terroir, Brendel makes all of its wines with grapes farmed in Napa and practices low-intervention winemaking.
As of this year, Brendel has been guided by brand director and advanced sommelier Cassandra Felix, formerly a head sommelier at numerous fine-dining restaurants. With a commitment to preserving the winery’s history, Felix — along with winemakers Brittany Sherwood and Aaron Huntsberger, who created the 2019 vintage, the brand’s first — continues to highlight the same Grignolino vines originally planted by Leon Brendel in the 1950s. The red varietal, indigenous to Piedmont, is light, vibrant, and crushable — challenging the perception that Napa Valley’s reds are all big, bold, and meant for pairing with food. Along with Grignolino, Brendel produces myriad nontraditional varieties, including Touriga Nacional, Tinta Madeira, and Tinta Cão, using vines originally planted in the early 1960s.
Launched in April 2020 by Master Sommelier Carlton McCoy Jr. and the Lawrence family, Brendel works to honor the land’s legacy while making forward-thinking wines. “We are passionate about refuting the status quo and changing the overall perception of Napa Valley (in terms of style and price point) without sacrificing quality,” Felix says. “As a creative outlet for the winemakers of our estates with Brittany Sherwood leading the way, it’s amazing to have the opportunity to showcase the diversity of wine styles that Napa Valley can produce.”
Those looking to try the brand’s wines for themselves can visit Brendel’s downtown Napa tasting room, opening this winter, which Felix says will embody the tenets of the brand “by being an accessible, laid-back, and inviting space.” Those who can’t make the trip can join Bloc Brendel, Brendel’s wine club, which offers a personally curated selection of six wines (plus the opportunity for virtual tastings with Brendel’s winemakers).
When it comes to American wine, there’s no question that Brendel is leading the charge toward a more welcoming, affordable, and exciting future. When it comes to what’s next for the brand, Felix says Brendel “will continue to be experimental in our approach and find fun ways to attract new wine drinkers by making wine approachable.”