Silver Oak Cellars Heretic Winemaker — On the 40th Anniversary tour
Longtime winemaker Daniel Baron surprised me with some of his theories, when he was in town for dinner the other day on the Silver Oak 40th Anniversary tour. (They were towing a replica of the water tower symbol of Silver Oak around the country but we never got to see it… that’s another story.)
Baron is in charge of sister winery Twomey as well as Silver Oak (both wines I tend to enjoy), and he’s also a great frontman for the wineries. He gives the impression he’s seen it all – then gone home and distilled out the information he wants to use, For example, about four years ago he started a new program of tasting the grapes to see when they’re ready to harvest. He calls it “sensory berry analysis.” Probably what winemakers have been doing for the thousands of years before laboratories were the available.
This method must require plenty of vineyard experience, the kind that’s handed down from generation to generation. Now that Baron is in the older generation category, maybe he’s just trusting his own experience, rather than following the latest fad of, say, waiting to harvest till the grapes’ seeds are super-brown.
“We don’t make wine with seeds,” he points out. “We make wine with grapes, with skins.” He wants to “capture that moment when the grapes are ‘fresh fruit.’” He looks at technical ripeness, phenolic ripeness, sugar and acidy in the pulp, as well as factoring in seed ripeness, and puts this all together. Which is one reason that his wines are slightly lower in alcohol than many Napa reds, somewhere in the 13-14% range. And Baron claims the percentage listed on the bottle is the actual alcohol percentage, unlike at some other wineries.
As somewhat of a myth-buster, Baron also doesn’t believe that wines are damaged by pumping, so he’s not a convert to the vogue for gravity-flow wineries — purely for wine quality standards. I’m sure there are other reasons, like energy-saving, that make gravity-flow a good idea, but we didn’t have time to get into that.
He also doesn’t believe that crop thinning promotes concentration in the grapes. Is this heresy? It’s such a trend worldwide, I’m wondering how he knows this…