Life is a Cabernet

May 03, 2019

There’s a motto at Silver Oak, seen everywhere from its iconic license plate frames to cycling jerseys: “Life is a Cabernet.” This simple phrase, dating back to the 1970s, exemplifies the spirit of Silver Oak—its culture of casual elegance and singular focus on Cabernet Sauvignon. In other words, like a Cabernet, life is joyous, complex, rich and meant to be enjoyed with good company.

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Beginning with a handshake in 1972 between co-founders Ray Duncan and Justin Meyer, Silver Oak has since grown in prestige and fan base, while remaining family owned and true to its tradition of excellence. In the modern era, David Duncan and Tim Duncan have made quality, innovation and sustainability their top priorities, acquiring prestigious vineyard sites and even an American oak barrel cooperage.

Since its inception in 1972, Silver Oak has aged its Cabernets in only American oak barrels sourced from Central Missouri. With the acquisition of The Oak Cooperage in 2015, Silver Oak became the first North American winery to own and operate an American oak cooperage. This allows Silver Oak to control its barrel production needs and maintain its standards in selection, aging and toasting.

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Silver Oak is also known for its healthy workplace practices and green facilities. Both its Healdsburg and Oakville wineries are considered the greenest wineries in the world. With LEED Platinum certification from the U.S. Green Building Council, the two Silver Oak flagship wineries are the only wineries in the world to have achieved this stringent set of sustainable credentials. In Healdsburg, Silver Oak operates a Membrane Bioreactor (MBR) that treats and filters 100 percent of the water from its cellar with natural biological activity and reduces potable water needs by 37 percent.

The “net positive water, net positive energy” facility has been called “the world’s greenest winery” by The San Francisco Chronicle and is currently seeking Living Building Challenge (LBC) certification, a performance standard for buildings that give more than they take.

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The Duncan Family also founded Twomey Cellars in 1999 to explore new varietals and vineyards while maintaining Silver Oak’s exclusive focus on Cabernet Sauvignon. While founded around its single vineyard Merlot from Soda Canyon Ranch in Napa Valley, Twomey has evolved to specialize in Pinot Noir vineyards from Central California to Oregon, and annually releases a mouth-watering estate Sauvignon Blanc.

Together with Wine Warehouse, Silver Oak and Twomey Cellars are committed to both its legacy customers and the new, broad network of restaurant and retail relationships.

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SILVER OAK AND TWOMEY CELLARS TEAM

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Name: David R. Duncan

Title: Proprietor, Chairman & CEO

Hometown: Saint Helena, CA

Number of years working in the wine industry: 25

How did you come to the decision to pursue a career in wine? When was your “aha” moment?

When I completed my MBA at the University of Denver, I did my final thesis paper on Silver Oak. I built a financial model in Lotus 1-2-3. (Yes, it was that long ago: 1994!) That led directly to the Duncan family acquiring full ownership of Silver Oak from our founding partners and me moving to California to work with Tim to carry on the legacy and do more!

Silver Oak was started by your father and Justin Meyer nearly 50 years ago. What makes working in a family business special?

Our people. We all refer to ourselves as The Whole Bunch. We all work together toward a common goal: to serve our customers. Since we don’t have ownership outside the family, we can focus on the things that makes our customers happy.

Describe your typical day.

Behind the wheel and doing emails. We are spread out over three counties and it can be very normal for me to drive 75-100 miles in a day—in fact, for much of our team, too. If I am not headed to a vineyard or one of our wineries, I’ll be doing email—the bane of our modern world!

When it comes to achievements in the winery, what are you most proud of?

I am proud of our achievements in sustainability, both in our vineyards and at our LEED Platinum certified wineries. However, I think our biggest achievement is the culture inside the winery, which we work on in a very meaningful way, and how that reflects on our customers experience. Ultimately, we create a moment. It is a time of sharing when our customers open a bottle of our wine. That is what we work for.

Where did the idea to create Silver Oak’s sister winery Twomey – named for your father Raymond Twomey Duncan – come from?

The genesis for it came from our purchase of Soda Canyon Ranch. Daniel Baron had experience in Pomerol and wanted to make a wine informed and inspired by his experience there. Pinot followed the year after and since then we have had fun growing and making world class wines. This (2019) is our 20th year!

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What would people be surprised to know about you?

I am a backup singer in a band, The Silverado Pickups.

What has changed the most about the wine industry in the last ten years? What do you think is next for the industry?

Since the recession, one of the things is the proliferation of new wine labels. The consumer has so many choices. New wine regions are also coming on strong and solving the issues that take decades to understand. Oregon is my favorite example of this. Warning: World class wines on the way!

What is your personal go to Silver Oak or Twomey wine?

Any of them.

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Name: Tim Duncan

Title: Proprietor, Chief Revenue Officer

Hometown: Sonoma, CA

Number of years working in the wine industry: 33

How did you come to the decision to pursue a career in wine? When was your “aha” moment?

It came when I was out here in the 70’s and working in the dairy barn “Chai.” I began rinsing barrels at Justin’s direction. The aroma of wood and wine is still one of my favorite smells!

Silver Oak was started by your father and Justin Meyer nearly 50 years ago. What makes working in a family business special?

It would be our ability to build something for the future. Our third generation is already helping in daily roles as well as at our semi-annual events. I take great pride in seeing the legacy continue to the next generation.

Describe your typical day.

Most days have a few meetings and lots of emails and phone calls.The best part of the day is walking around the winery and talking to everyone from hospitality to our cellar workers. We have a great group of people.

When it comes to achievements in the winery, what are you most proud of?

I have the pleasure of representing our wines all around the world. It gives me great pride to know we are making an impact in peoples lives in over 50 countries.

Where did the idea to create Silver Oak’s sister winery Twomey – named for your father Raymond Twomey Duncan – come from?

We began the Twomey journey with the 1999 Merlot that Daniel Baron was inspired to make. A new label became a logical choice as we made wines from grapes other than Cabernet.

What would people be surprised to know about you?

I’m the president of the Rex Foundation, the Grateful Dead’s ongoing charity organization. Yes, I’m a lifelong Deadhead.

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What has changed the most about the wine industry in the last ten years? What do you think is next for the industry?

The sale of many family owned wineries has been a big change that most consumers don’t see. The wines are still being produced under familiar labels but many of the founders have sold their companies to larger players. That trend will probably continue.

What is your personal go to Silver Oak or Twomey wine?

My preference runs between an older Alexander Valley to our delicious Pinot Noirs.

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Name: Nate Weis

Title: VP of Winegrowing

Hometown: Saint Helena, CA

Number of years working in the wine industry: 18

How did you come to the decision to pursue a career in wine? When was your “aha” moment?

I was driving a tractor, using a manure spreader to disperse pomace and watching the sun set over the Mayacamas range one September evening during my first harvest. Jackrabbits were crossing my path, birds were chirping and I had a very strong feeling that I was exactly where I belonged. I never looked back after that.

Describe your typical day during harvest.

A lot of driving. I spend my days visiting vineyards, directing traffic and helping where I can. I also go to our active wineries, taste the fermentations and help the Winemaking teams make decisions about pressing and logistics.

What have you learned about winemaking that has surprised you the most?

The biggest surprise has been how much making wine can teach you about life and your personal relationships. Both require patience, resiliency, courage and passion.

What is your greatest challenge as a winemaker?

Our business is agricultural. As such, there’s always something to keep us up at night and complain about. Too hot, too cold, too much rain, not enough rain, etc. If I’m lucky, I’ll get a chance to take 30 shots at making Silver Oak and Twomey wines, which means there aren’t a lot of opportunities for mulligans. We need to find perfection and precision in an endeavor that just doesn’t lend itself to either. It’s quite a responsibility to bear, but we have all the support and resources in the world from the Duncan family.

What would people be surprised to know about you?

I have developed a great comfort speaking to groups about what we do and the Duncan family, but it is very much a learned skill. I’m a person who is terrified of public speaking! Also, I came from a very small family (one sibling and two first cousins) but married into and have started a big family (4 kids and dozens of nieces and nephews). The first statement and the second are probably related somehow.

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You’ve worked with 5+ wineries between the U.S. and New Zealand. What is the greatest lesson you have learned and how have you applied it to Silver Oak and Twomey?

I’ve learned that there are no right answers and are 1,000,000 ways to skin the cat. You have to find approaches that speak to and work for you. Know and stay true to yourself. One of the most important lessons I learned as a young winemaker is that your demeanor and approach to the inevitable problems you will encounter will determine your success—or failure. Always be calm, cool, and collected.

Your team needs to always see your confidence that it can be done and that we are the group to do it (even if you don’t always have the answer right away). Spend your early years as a professional on understanding everything, and I mean everything: about wineries, wines and vineyards. How they function, what critical touch points there are, what makes them what they are. The key to solving any problem is first understanding what the problem really *is*.

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How do you manage the process of winemaking for two different brands?

I empower the people who work for me to learn, grow and make decisions for themselves. We have a group of very talented people, and they’re focused on individual wineries, vineyards and wines. My role is to guide them through the endless decision matrix that is grapegrowing and winemaking and help them become better and more confident at what they do. When it comes to the personalities of the different wines, I let the wines tell *us* who they want to be.

What is your personal go to Silver Oak or Twomey wine?

My wife loves white wine (as do I) so that narrows it down! We go through A LOT of Sauvignon Blanc each year. I have a running bet with Rickie Pina, our CFO, on who’s the better customer.

SILVER OAK AND TWOMEY CELLARS WINES

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With a garnet color, this wine has an alluring nose of chocolate-covered strawberries, vanilla, nutmeg, truffle and sage. On the palate, it has a broad yet delicate entry and offers cranberry flavors. These flavors are complemented by raspberry and pluot with savory black olive characters on the mid-palate.

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This full-bodied wine with aromas of cassis, black cherry, pipe tobacco, salted caramel, cocoa beans and fresh strawberry offers mouth-coating, velvety tannins and flavors of cream soda and red fruit. Black currant and vanilla notes crescendo through the palate to the lengthy finish.

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This wine has tropical aromas of kiwi, guava and passionfruit with a dense bouquet of pithy citrus and green mango. There’s a lively minerality on the mid-palate, and it has a refreshing finish.

Twomey 15 Merlot High Res

Racked using the gentle, old world technique of soutirage traditionnel, the single vineyard Merlot has aromas of blackcurrant syrup, slow-cooked brisket, cumin and pepper. It has a fruit-forward attack of black cherry, plum and pomegranate and light floral notes of violet and dry chamomile.

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This wine has aromas of black cherry, wild strawberry, rose petals and brown sugar with a wet forest floor of cedar, sorrel and pollen. It’s bright and energetic with an elegant finish.

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A concentrated tapestry of flavors, this wine has a complex yet delicate nose of white pepper, fig reduction, black raspberry, cardamom and prosciutto. On the palate, it’s layered and packed with fruit. Its balanced and dense tannins carry the fruit for a lasting finish.

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Aromas of effusive forest floor and juicy red plum carry this wine. Plum, black cherry, licorice, mushroom, wet earth with touch of oak and chaparral can be identified on the palate. Immediately filling on entry, it has a bright energy and strong depth of character—a balance of fruit and acidity.

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