Silverado Vineyards is a venerable, well known name when it comes to Napa wineries. It’s story began in 1976 when Diane Disney and Ron Miller purchased their Stag’s Leap District vineyards. The iconic winery, which overlooks these vineyards and the Silverado Trail, followed in 1981. Cabernet from The Stag’s Leap area was not widespread, although it was certainly well known after Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars took home first prize in the 1976 Judgement of Paris. The Silverado vineyard was just the third in the district to be planted to Cabernet Sauvignon, that being back in 1968. The Miller’s ripped out the existing Riesling and Pinot Noir portions of the vineyard and turned that over to new Cabernet vines. They dealt with the phylloxera which devastated northern California in the 1980’s, replanting on more resistant rootstock. This 94 acres is the heart of Silverado, now planted to Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Malbec.
Over the decades, the careful tending of these vineyards has led to an entirely new clone of Cabernet Sauvignon, as the vines adapted to the steep, shale soils here. The clone has been designated a “Heritage” clone by the University of California at Davis, one of only three Cabernet Sauvignons to ever attain this designation, and the only one from Stag’s Leap. It’s official name is the Disney Silverado Heritage Clone.
As the years passed, other vineyards joined the family, including properties in Yountville, Coombsville, Carneros and other parts of Napa. While you probably think Cabernet Sauvignon when you think Silverado ( I certainly do), their portfolio is varied and includes Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Rosato, Merlot, Zinfandel, Cabernet Franc, Sangiovese and, of the course, the aforementioned Cabernet Sauvignon. Everything they make is from the estate; grown, produced and bottled by Silverado. Very few Napa Valley wineries can make that claim.
Winemaking is the domain of Jon Emmerich, who has a laid back approach that emphasizes a sense of place, and really acting as steward to the grapes which they have coaxed from the vines in a given year.
I spoke with Jon to get a little better idea of how he views the Stag’s Leap vineyards in particular, and also how the upcoming growing season looked after the previous five stellar vintages.
On his impressions of the defining characteristics of the Stag’s Leap AVA: In reality, Stag’s Leap has many varied growing conditions, from elevations to soil types. Jon joked you could throw a stone across the road and have a completely different soil type there. (Actually, I don’t really think he was joking) As such they don’t have the typicity that a more consistent AVA might. To him, though, the fresher fruit components mark Stag’s Leap, with blue and red fruit presenting. The higher acidity and lower pH result from the cooler temperatures, cooler than U. Cal. Davis considers ideal for growing Cabernet.
On the winter weather to date: There has been a lot of rain, 40 inches in Oakville. This has filled the water table and reservoirs, which is a good thing. It is also going to leave the soil rich. The soft, water laden ground delayed pruning a bit, and the bud break will be later than usual. Jon expects a lot of hand work in the vineyards as the rich soil leads to a lot of growth that will need to be managed to optimize sun exposure and air flow around the fruit. Still, there is nothing to indicate anything to worry about, as they will manage. As Jon said, this is not “their first rodeo. We’ve done this before.” This follows five excellent vintages from 2012 to 2016, so it will be interesting to see if the streak continues.
We are very lucky to have two wines from Silverado to review here, both Cabernets from the 2013 vintage. And not just your average, everyday Cabernets either. These are the single vineyard, SOLO Cabernet Sauvignon from the Stag’s Leap property, and the GEO, sourced from their Coombsville vineyards. To say we were eagerly anticipating opening these is an understatement. Let’s see what we found.
2013 Silverado SOLO Cabernet Sauvignon – 100% Heritage Clone Cabernet Sauvignon from the Stag’s Leap Silverado vineyard, this wine was macerated for 21 days and spent 18.5 months in oak barrels. The barrels were 47% new oak, and almost all French with just a small amount Hungarian wood mixed in. They produced just under 2500 cases. The 2013 vintage is hailed as a great one in Napa, maybe even better than the 2012. The summer was relatively mild and the harvest occurred in mid to late September. Here’s what we thought:
The wine is a dark, ruby red in the glass, clear and brilliant. At first the nose is a bit tight, but there is some berry fruit and a lot of subtle but complex notes, including caramel, vanilla, tobacco and a bit of a bramble. While full bodied, on the palate it presents a little lean and focused. It seemed a bit closed down, and then it gets really amazing. After swallowing a sip and beginning to think that it was somewhat disappointing, the wine kept going. It expanded in presence, the tannins continued to build and the fruit went on and on. The fresh acidity balanced out everything wonderfully. I stood there mesmerized for minutes. We came back the next day after using a Vacu Vin stopper and pump. The wine had fleshed out a little, but all the amazing stuff was still there. I absolutely love this, and something tells me it will be truly spectacular in a few years. This is a wine to watch over time. It is not inexpensive at $125, but what a wine.
2013 Silverado GEO Cabernet Sauvignon – here all the fruit is from their Mt. George Vineyard in Coombsville, on the slopes of an ancient volcano. This is a blend of 88% Cabernet Sauvignon and 12% Petit Verdot. A 17 day soak was followed by 17 months in barrel. This time the barrels were 38% new, with most being French oak and the remainder American oak. 2200 cases were produced. Our impressions:
This wine is dark ruby and translucent. Here there is a big nose of ripe fruit, red currants and other berries. It’s rich, with a touch of a wood. We also got leather. On the palate it is also rich, with the ripe fruit translating and exploding in your mouth. The tannins are brisk. Very different than its cousin above, this is much more fruit forward and lively. It is also incredibly long. This is still young, and is only going to get better. Another killer Cab, although in quite a different style and from a different vineyard. At $75 this will qualify for consideration in our annual Top 25 list later this year. It is a very high quality wine.
Both of these wines represent great examples of why Napa Cabernet Sauvignon is regarded by many as the best in the world. They were a joy to taste. Let’s not forget the rest of Silverado’s portfolio as well, as they have many other whites and reds which range in price from $25 to $150. There is something for everyone.
You can learn more about Silverado Vineyards on their website at: http://www.silveradovineyards.com/.
A votre santé!