Born in Denmark, the Director of Winemaking and Executive Manager of Acumen Wines, Henrik Poulsen, fell in love with wine at an early age (14). From here, he began working in a high-end wine retail shop in Copenhagen. While he enjoyed his work, he knew his ultimate aspiration was to be a winemaker — so he made a plan to spend a year in every major wine region.
After Poulsen’s stay in Bordeaux, Napa was the next stop on his list. But after being offered a Harvest Internship in 2000, 17 years later, he’s still here with no intention of leaving.
“When I talk to consumers, we have a tendency to put Bordeaux and France up on a little bit of a pedestal. It’s seems our reference point for some of the best wines in the world. I actually respectfully disagree. To be honest, I think Napa has way better potential,” said Poulsen.
Although Poulsen recently re-joined the Acumen team, he owes his position to one person, the late Denis Malbec. “One day, he asked me where do you see yourself in 5 years? I very candidly responded saying that I was going ‘to be up on the hillside, being a winemaker for a new, very ambitious project.’ Flash forward a few months, he called me to dinner and said ‘I think I have the project for you,’” Henrik said.
After the passing of Malbec, and after a short hiatus to focus on his own project Henrik again became the Director of Winemaking of Acumen Wines, which he willingly took because of the ambition and freedom that the new winery on the Atlas Peak AVA offered him.
“With me being in charge of winemaking for Acumen, I think outside of the box. I’m not stuck on numbers, I rarely pay attention to them. Everything is done by taste, both harvest decisions, winemaking and blending decisions. And I would like to say I’m probably untraditional in that context, because many of my colleagues out there are looking a little bit more at numbers than I am. Winemaking needs to be a natural process. It also needs to show mother nature’s product or produce of that year. It’s not just a commodified product.”
In addition to its high-quality wine, Acumen also makes the brand stand out by incorporating art into its existence. The new downtown Napa wine room has an art gallery currently featuring the work of Vincent Xeus — furthering the art and culture renaissance the area is experiencing at this time.
Acumen doesn’t want its interest in art to stop there though, and in the near future they are hoping to create a rotating gallery of artworks from local, acclaimed artists. This balance between the taste of wine and the vibrant paintings and sculptures for our eyes operate in service of Acumen wanting to fully engage all our senses.
Yet Acumen also knows that opening a new winery isn’t a slam-dunk success either. Henrik elaborated, candidly, with “We’ve been going through a lengthy approval process with Napa County, so of course, I hope that future brands won’t have to go through the same struggle as we have been to get this up and running.”
Henrik hopes people realize that many wine brands, as well as the whole industry is a beneficial element for the whole valley. “The two yearly auctions we have, Premiere Napa Valley and Auction Napa Valley, with the contribution those two local events are doing for the communities, I think it’s altruistic and very benefiting for this region.”
“While there have been grown grapes here since 1870’s Napa is a young wine industry. From 1960 to 1970, only three new wineries were founded. We are a fairly new industry, and I think we have done tremendously well in that short time. We can’t compare ourselves to Bordeaux’s 300 years of traditions, but for being such a new industry over here, I think it’s very prosperous for the future. And I hope we can all agree on the benefits of that.”
Acumen’s potential, as well as the whole Valley’s, seems very prosperous indeed.