Aaron and Meredith Michaelis are the proprietors and masterminds behind the luxurious Napa Valley wine Flint Knoll. Both were born and raised in the Midwest; Aaron from Wichita, KS and Meredith from Naperville, IL. They take pride in their Midwestern heritage and credit their success in part to the hardworking culture of their hometowns. In fact, Meredith is still working a full-time position in addition to her contributions to the Flint Knoll business.
Aaron developed his love for wine at the early age of 18 while he was working at the Cigar Chateau. In hindsight, that turned out to be a felicitous job now that Flint Knoll has partnered with Macanudo to create a cigar together. The cigar –– called Macanudo Estate Reserve Flint Knoll –– features tobacco aged in the Flint Knoll French Oak barrels that once held the single vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon.
As a young man, Aaron’s entrepreneurial spirit inspired him to start a local wine tasting group, The Young Vines, at only 24 years old. Aaron took the necessary steps to make his dream a reality by working in the wine distribution industry and restaurant business. In 2016, Aaron and Meredith were able to harvest their first vintage of Flint Knoll.
The Napa Valley region is known for its fluctuations in temperature, but on the day we visited the Flint Knoll winery, the temperature swung wildly. It was in the low fifties in the morning but reached the scorching hot hundred plus temps by 11. The arid heat makes you feel a bit like you have been in the oven baking for an hour too long. The wind is slight but enough to cool the drops of sweat on your brow. It is dusty due to the lack of rainfall and humidity, so the light breeze contributes to collecting a light coating of dirt on your dewy skin.
Upon our early morning arrival, we encountered a sky filled with hot air balloons, a winding steep drive and two adorable wiener dogs, Picasso and Meursault. Aaron and Meredith were beyond accommodating and made us all feel welcome in their beautiful home. Speaking of their home, it was a perfect scene for wine lovers. Overlooking fields of grapevines was the first outdoor living area with plenty of seating for one of the Michaelis’s famous dinners. Out back, they have an inviting outdoor space with a fireplace and comfortable seating. Inside the house, the living room also encouraged community with a multitude of seating options and coffee tables that could be mistaken for a dance floor. All around were signs of the wine lover’s passions –– from the beautiful bottles of Flint Knoll to actual grape vines, wine racks, book and cork artwork.
Speaking to a Wine Master
We set up our gear on the front patio to interview Aaron. (You can view some of those interviews here!) He was patient and flexible as we perched him atop different surfaces so that we could have the best background option, surrounded him with lighting elements, screens and dozens of people, and then asked him to act natural! Aaron did even better than that. We were able to get to know more about Aaron, his love for wine and cigars, and how he was able to journey from Wichita to Napa Valley, living his dream beside the love of his life and soul mate, Meredith.
Aaron is a humble man who prides himself on working hard, never giving up and staying true to his values. He wants to leave the earth better than he found it, pay homage to the beauty and process of making wine, and bring the best products he can to his consumers. The Flint Knoll brand is unique in many of its elements. Like cigars, many wines are named after the families who create them, but in naming his wine, Aaron wanted to pay tribute to his home state of Kansas, where the rolling Flint Hills reside. Thus, the name: Flint Knoll. (A knoll is a small hill or grassy mound.)
The bottles are laser etched with a romantic filigree that was inspired by designs engraved on his family’s hunting rifles. One of his bottles has the Kansas White Tail Stag on it with sunflower eyes (sunflowers are the state flower for Kansas). The names of specific wines are also dear to Aaron since many of them come from old westerns that he watched with his grandfather. (Stagecoach, McClintock, etc.) We spent some time discussing Aaron’s love and interest in the cigar industry, how he feels it is very comparable to the wine making process and more.
An Evening at Flint Knoll
We were struck with pleasant surprise during our time with the Michaelis couple when Aaron opened up about the strength and courage it required to take the risks of entering this business. He was emotional when faced with questions that brought up feelings he had not anticipated. It was inspiring to see someone with such success able to welcome a moment of clarity for the long journey he had completed. Multiple times throughout the shoot, Aaron had to ask Meredith to step away because, “she makes me so nervous.” This couple is in love with each other, but not in an exhausting way. You can see how much respect they have for each other, and how they truly work as partners in everything they do –– from cooking, to caring for their fur babies and throwing dinner parties that border on perfection.
Speaking of dinner parties, when the shoot was finished, Aaron and Meredith were kind enough to invite the crew to their home for dinner later that evening. We were greeted with a charcuterie plate the size of a coffee table filled with locally sourced cheeses, meats, fruits, nuts, honey and snacks. This was just the first of many sensory experiences of the night. The sun was starting to dip below the horizon, and the scorching heat of the sun had finally calmed. The air had cooled, but it felt comfortable due to the heat still radiating from the ground. A candle-lit table was set overlooking the vineyard. A tastefully curated playlist was audible in the background, but not too loud so as to block out the comforting sounds of the light wind and chirping birds. The air smelled of soil, but in a way that made you feel connected to the earth. It wasn’t overpowering, but stronger than you would expect.
Our dinner included bright colored salads with hearty vegetables grown in the Michaelis’s own garden, deliciously cooked Hawaiian chicken and a beef tenderloin grilled to perfection. The caramelized carrots were a massive hit with the team –– as was the charcuterie board. We were all able to sit and enjoy this feast together like a family and share our stories. Wine was served with recommended pairings from Aaron to accompany each item. Meredith really topped out our night when she brought up freshly baked chocolate chip cookies, some warm and some chilled. Cigars were smoked, cookies were consumed, and wine was sipped.
We tasted through all of Flint Knoll's current releases, in addition to some past vintages Aaron pulled from the cellar. Flint Knoll wines are the embodiment of classical winemaking meeting Napa Valley fruit. Every bottle we opened showcased what Napa Valley can bring to the table. Exuberant, expressive Napa Valley fruit integrated perfectly with Aaron's use of the highest quality oak barrels. The wines are rich, sultry, and complex, yet still pay homage to classic winemaking styles remnant of Bordeaux, which give his wines a sense of balance and place.
With rosy cheeks, from either the heat of the earlier sun or the plentiful glasses of wine, we ended the night having gotten to experience the indulgence of a Michaelis dinner party.
Ready for more Masterful content? Then check out our Masters Series and hear Aaron Michaelis break down all things wine –– along with plenty about cigars too!