These areas are ideally suited for growing grapes. Springs are wet. Summers are dry and warm. Pacific night fogs cool vineyards, allowing wine grapes to mature slowly and develop intense, unique flavors.
Summer night temperatures cool to the low 50s. Day temperatures reach mid-80s. Although this was not the case on Aug. 4, when I, along with 2,700 of my closest Silver Oak friends and family, celebrated the 40th anniversary of this iconic winery in Napa.
When David Duncan, president and CEO overseeing production and operations, officially declared the party open by raising a glass and inviting everybody to toast, “Life is a cabernet,” the temperature was in the low 60s. It remained there all day, prompting brisk gift shop sales of anything remotely offering warmth, such as long-sleeved T-shirts and wool sweaters.
Silver Oak Cellars is a remarkable achievement for founder Ray Duncan. Now in his 80s, Ray was on hand autographing bottles and chatting with members of his unofficial fan club.
A Colorado oil and gas exploration tycoon and an astute businessman, Ray recognized California’s wine potential in the early ’60s, wisely’ buying Napa land, including the site now occupied by Silver Oak.
Ray and his late partner, Justin Meyer, founded Silver Oak in 1972 with the express purpose of producing a 100-percent cabernet ready to drink upon release, but also capable of aging. They used only American oak barrels, a novelty at the time, and did not release their wine until five years after its vintage date, assuring drinkability upon release.
Silver Oak is now wholly owned by the Duncan family. Cabernets are still aged in American oak barrels. Alexander Valley cab is still 100-percent cabernet. The Napa cab now has merlot, petit verdot and cabernet franc added to the blend.
Daniel Baron succeeded Justin Meyer as winemaker and is now director of winemaking for four different Duncan winery operations, including the company’s newest label, Twomey.
I grabbed a moment with David Duncan before the party started. I asked how he stays motivated, considering Silver Oak’s obvious popularity as exhibited by the sheer number of fans gathered. He said he is driven by the philosophy that he has yet to make the best bottle of wine.
He is constantly looking for ways to improve Silver Oak by acquiring properties whose fruit reflects the unique flavors of their terroir. He works to maintain vineyard properties by farming sustainably, thus preserving Silver Oak’s heritage for future generations.
As to the state of the wine business, Duncan said he is seeing much improvement, but Silver Oak was not unscathed by the recession. He said 2008 and 2009 were especially difficult for all involved in the wine business. Restaurant wine sales were especially hard hit.
As to favorite Silver Oak pairings, one of his most memorable occurred on a hunting trip when he poured a bottle of Silver Oak into a pot of campfire chili. “You don’t cook with wine you wouldn’t drink,” he laughingly added.
There was no Silver Oak-laced campfire chili for hungry celebrants on this day, but there was plenty of just-released Alexander Valley 2008 cabernet, which paired beautifully with wood-fired pizzas prepared by Napa’s top chefs.
You don’t have to go to a release party to enjoy Silver Oak. They are widely distributed in Alabama.
The 2007 Napa Cabernet[ can be found for $97.50 at Tyson Fine Wines and Things in Golden Springs. The 2007 Alexander Valley Cabernet can be found at Tyson’s and at the Wine Cellar on Quintard in the $65 range.
Email Pat Kettles at firstname.lastname@example.org