Phillip Titus, Winemaker
In California, less than 3% of the grapes come from vineyards above 1,000 feet in elevation. While these coveted sites are small in number due to the challenges that come with farming mountain vineyards, they are the source for many of America’s most famous wines. In 2020, Acumen cemented its commitment to building one of the New World’s great mountain wine estates when it appointed legendary Winemaker Phillip Titus to oversee its winemaking program. As the winemaker for Pritchard Hill’s iconic Chappellet Vineyard for the past 30 years, Phillip has earned renown as a master at crafting mountain wines. Today, building on the foundation established by winemakers Denis Malbec and Henrik Poulsen, Phillip is writing an exciting new chapter in the Acumen story, crafting wines that embody the grandeur and sophistication of Atlas Peak.
Raised in the Napa Valley, Phillip discovered his interest in viticulture when he began working alongside his father and brothers in his family’s St. Helena vineyard at the age of 12—an interest that was further kindled around the dinner table, where his father would often pour wines from Europe and California. After studying agronomy, viticulture, and enology at UC Davis, Phillip traveled to the vineyards of Burgundy and Bordeaux to gain a deeper understanding of the history of wine. In 1990, after working at such wineries as Quail Ridge, Stratford, and Cartlidge & Brown, Phillip was invited by legendary vintner, Donn Chappellet to guide the winemaking program at Chappellet Vineyards. That same year, Phillip also became the winemaker for his family’s acclaimed Titus Vineyards.
In the three decades since, Phillip has earned renown as one of Napa Valley’s most gifted winemakers, garnering numerous 100-point scores, and the respect of his peers for his encyclopedic knowledge of winemaking. Though Phillip is equally adept at making wines from both mountain and valley floor sites, his 30 years (and counting) of experience on Pritchard Hill have provided him with an unparalleled understanding of the intricacies and opportunities of mountain winemaking.
In early 2020, after years of working with grapes from Acumen’s acclaimed Edcora and Attelas vineyards, Phillip was invited to join the Acumen team as winemaker, where he works closely with Assistant Winemaker José Rodriguez and Viticulturist John Derr. “As a winemaker, and a wine lover, my fascination with Atlas Peak has only grown over the years,” says Phillip. “Those of us who know the mountain vineyards of Napa Valley intimately, know what an extraordinary terroir it offers for growing Bordeaux-varietals. What Acumen has already achieved on Atlas Peak is remarkable. I am excited to work alongside José, John, and the Acumen team to establish new benchmarks for the wines of Atlas Peak.”
José Rodriguez, Assistant Winemaker
A perfectionist with a gifted palate and meticulous attention to the details that define great winemaking, José Rodriquez joined the Acumen team as cellar master in 2013 and was quickly promoted to assistant winemaker the following year. Today, after a career spent learning from such winemaking luminaries as Jean Hoefliger and the late Denis Malbec, José oversees the day-to-day winemaking at Acumen, while working in collaboration with Winemaker Henrik Poulsen to create classically structured mountain-grown wines from Acumen’s acclaimed Edcora and Attelas vineyards.
A native of Napa Valley, José’s mother and father both worked in the vineyard management industry, giving him a deep understanding of the thoughtful viticulture required to make exceptional wines. José began his winemaking career in 2006, when he joined the founding team at Alpha Omega, along with Winemaker Jean Hoefliger and then-Assistant Winemaker Henrik Poulsen. In addition to being able to hone his craft working with Jean and Henrik, Jose had the opportunity to craft wines from some of Napa Valley’s most revered vineyards, including Stagecoach, Beckstoffer’s To Kalon, Dr. Crane, and Georges III. Eager to gain a more global winemaking perspective, José also traveled to South Africa to work a harvest at Rupert & Rothschild Vignerons—the acclaimed partnership between Bordeaux’s Rothschild family and vintner Dr. Anton Rupert.
In 2013, José left Alpha Omega, along with Henrik, to join the Acumen team as cellar master. There he embraced the collaborative spirit of the winery and its vision for establishing a new benchmark on Atlas Peak. After a year spent working alongside Henrik and then-Winemaker Denis Malbec, José was promoted to assistant winemaker. “I love the challenges and rewards of working with great mountain fruit,” says José. “There is a level of power and intensity that it is almost impossible to achieve on the valley floor, but when you understand how to tame the tannins, the wines have balance, beautiful structure, and an underlying elegance.”
In addition to his role at Acumen, José has been a member of the St. Helena volunteer fire department for more than two decades, where he currently serves as captain. He lives in St. Helena with his wife, Veronica, and his young son, José Jr.
John Derr, Viticulturist and Grower Relations Representative
Raised in the agricultural community of Visalia in California’s San Joaquin Valley, John Derr began farming in his early teens. Today, John is recognized as one of Napa Valley’s most respected and accomplished winegrowers, applying a lifetime of viticultural wisdom and experience to such acclaimed wineries as Kapcsandy Family Winery, Blankiet Vineyards, and his own high-mountain Lampyridae Vineyard. As Acumen’s viticulturist, John works alongside Winemaker Phillip Titus and Vineyard Manager Jesus Gonzalez to oversee the farming of Acumen’s 116 acres of CCOF certified organic, high-elevation vineyards on Atlas Peak. As grower relations representative, John also helps to oversee the Acumen grape sales program, providing such acclaimed clients as Spottswoode and Chappellet some of the finest mountain-grown grapes in Napa Valley.
After falling in love with farming at an early age, John earned a degree in fruit science from Cal Poly, where he helped to plan and develop the university’s student vineyard. From there, he spent several years as a regional manager for Crop Care Associates, overseeing more than 2,500 acres of premium vineyards in Napa Valley, Sonoma County, and Mendocino County, before joining the team at Piña Vineyard Management. During his 14 years as the senior viticulturist for Piña, John specialized in farming elite Napa Valley vineyards that included Piña and Bryant Estate, before establishing his own company, John Derr Farming, in 2014.
As the viticulturist for Acumen Estate, John brings a wealth of knowledge to his role, having farmed his family’s own mountain vineyard for almost two decades, along with other mountain vineyards, including the Altimeter Vineyard on Atlas Peak, which neighbors Acumen’s renowned Edcora Vineyard. “Atlas Peak is an incredible appellation,” says John. “While it has a number of similarities to nearby Pritchard Hill, it has its own unique charm and character. When cultivated with the respect and care that it deserves, it has the potential to rival any of the great appellations in Napa Valley.”
In partnership with Vineyard Manager Jesus Gonzalez, John tailors the farming techniques for each block of Acumen’s Edcora and Attelas vineyards to create overall vine balance and uniformity. To achieve this goal, John emphasizes an array of methods, including irrigation, fertilization, and pruning techniques designed specifically for Acumen. “My job is to understand what the vines need to reach their full potential, and then to develop methods to achieve that potential.” John takes special pride in working with one of Napa Valley’s largest organic-certified estate programs. “Farming organically takes real commitment, but in terms of quality and maintaining the vitality of our environment, the rewards are worth all of the hard work.”
Jesus Gonzalez, Vineyard Manager
As the vineyard manager for Acumen, growing winegrapes is more than just a job for Jesus Gonzalez; it is his calling. “I live here on Atlas Peak with my family, and walk or ride my horses, Cabernet and Diablo, through the vineyards every day. I feel the energy from the vines. Plants are like people. To be healthy, they need happiness and balance in their lives. On a weak vine, you need to lighten its load and help it become strong. When you do this, it can produce great things.”
Born in Michoacán, Mexico, Jesus learned to drive a tractor at the age of ten and moved to the United States at 15. In the three decades since, Jesus has earned a reputation as one of Napa Valley’s most skilled and passionate vineyard managers, having helped to oversee the planting of hundreds of acres in Napa Valley, and the farming of thousands. “When I first started working in vineyards, I did it to survive, but today I do it because it is the thing I love.” Jesus guides his team, which includes the 2018 Napa Valley pruning champion, with the same sense of appreciation. “I try to be fair and honest, and every day, we all sit down and share lunch together surrounded by the vineyard. When you have a happy crew, you have a happy vineyard, and that is something you can taste in the wine.” As part of his commitment to his team, Jesus was thrilled to oversee the conversion of Acumen’s estate vineyards to organic farming. “When you farm organically, you see how much life there in the vineyards. I am proud to help guide this beautiful little piece of Napa Valley, and to help create grapes that become wines you can share with family and friends.”
Diana Schweiger, Sales and Marketing Director
As the daughter of vintners, the sister of a winemaker, and a wine country native, Diana Schweiger brings a rare and unique skillset to Acumen—expertise that has been honed over the course of more than 25 years in the wine industry. As the sales and marketing director for Acumen, Diana views her role as a homecoming of sorts. “I spent years working alongside my family to build something special from the ground up on the slopes of Spring Mountain,” says Diana. “What we are striving to achieve here on Atlas Peak is very similar. It’s driven by our remarkable estate vineyards, a love of farming, and a commitment to crafting some of the world’s finest mountain-grown wines. I take incredible pride in being able to introduce this region, and its beautifully complex Cabernet Sauvignons to wine enthusiasts.”
Diana grew up in a home where wine was embraced as part of the fabric of family life. This connection only deepened when her family planted their first grapes on Spring Mountain in 1981, establishing Schweiger Vineyards. After earning degrees in both public relations and marketing from California State University, Chico, Diana began her career at Heublein before moving on to Paterno Imports, where she was the West Coast regional manager, and later Southcorp Wines, where she served as Western regional manager. In 2003, after more than a decade of working for some of the most respected wine companies in America, Diana brought her talents to her family’s winery as vice president of sales.
“My time at Heublein, Paterno, and Southcorp was like earning a master’s degree in sales and marketing,” says Diana. “It was exciting to apply that experience to my family’s winery.” Over the next dozen years, Diana helped to establish Schweiger Vineyards’ reputation for making exceptional mountain wines, while building a dynamic and successful sales program. In search of new challenges, Diana joined the Prestige Beverage Group in 2016, before being named the national sales manager for Fort Ross Vineyard & Winery the following year. There, she was able to triple the number of markets the winery was in while launching new brands and earning access to some of the most coveted wine lists in America.
In 2019, Diana returned to her mountain winery roots, when she joined Acumen as sales and marketing director. Working with Founder Eric Yuan, Diana is dedicated to establishing Acumen as Napa Valley’s next great wine estate. To achieve this goal, she applies a relationship-driven approach to her role in guiding sales and marketing and overseeing the winery’s DTC and wine club programs. “As a small, family-owned winery, Acumen has such a clear and exciting vision, and the values to achieve it. From the amazing team we’ve brought together to our commitment to organic farming to our belief in crafting mountain wines that authentically reflect the beauty and complexity of our terroir, we are creating something that will endure for generations.”
In addition to her extensive industry experience, Diana has served as a wine competition judge, a spokesperson for Napa Valley Vintners, and is a current member of Women of the Vine. She lives in St. Helena with her two teenage children.