What the 2014 Vintage Means to Me
by Nate Weis, Director of Winemaking, Silver Oak and Twomey Cellars
Vintage reflections are typically written to be impersonal, so imagine my joy when I was asked to write about what 2014 meant not only to Silver Oak, but to me personally.
The wine business is a small world, and in the winter of 2014, I was clued-in that Silver Oak would soon be seeking a replacement for its respected stalwart of a winemaker, Daniel Baron, who was planning his retirement. This was my chance to catch on with a legendary brand with a winemaking legacy beyond reproach, with only two winemakers in its 40+ year history. There were many other reasons such an opportunity was appealing.
The winemaking and vineyard teams were talented, engaged, and smart, and as I met more people from “The Bunch” (as they called themselves), it was astonishing to see just how fun the right group of people could make “work”. I vowed that, while I might not get the job, I was definitely going to make it hard for the Duncan family to say “No.”
Fast forward to spring, when I was honored to don a cap and gown and step foot on the campus of Sonoma State University for the final time as a student. My quest to become over-educated and under-qualified had finally come to fruition, with a Wine Business M.B.A., my second graduate degree after completing an M.S. at UC Davis in Viticulture & Enology almost a decade earlier. This time, I was especially gratified to show my triplet 6-year-olds how much I value education and lifelong learning. But the best week of 2014 was yet to come.
No one was more surprised than I when the Duncan family invited me to join their team, and I’ll never forget driving past the iconic Silver Oak water tower for the first time as an employee. Only eight days after my first on the job, my wife gave birth to our fourth child, a healthy and cherubic baby boy named Jake Jeffrey after my late stepfather. Ever since, I can’t help but notice how his development parallels my career at Silver Oak: I have gone from crawling to learning to walk and talk and jump and play, as has he. One day, I’ll become an adult professionally as well, although I wish I (and he) didn’t have to.
From a winemaking stance, 2014 marked the middle of a prolonged drought here in California. We were concerned about the mild winter and early budbreak from the get-go. These variables put us at risk for frost damage in the Spring and inclement weather during bloom (both of which can have deleterious effects on the crop size for multiple vintages). However, our concerns turned out to be unfounded. During the drought, we had very little frost pressure and surprisingly mild summers. In 2014, we also saw excellent and even bloom conditions. Summer saw very few extreme heat events, with only a handful of days exceeding 100 degrees. The crop was plentiful, but not gigantic, and the harvest window opened slowly and never rushed us, like a lazy Sunday afternoon barbeque by the pool. It was the third in a series of particularly high-quality vintages, and the resulting wines had aspects of both the luscious, generous 2012s and the dense, concentrated, and structured 2013s. Jake has more than a few of these stashed away in his cellar, waiting for him to come of age, if mom and dad can just resist them for that long.
I’ve now been at Silver Oak and Twomey for four years. Around here, that level of seniority is, well, unimpressive. Many employees have been working here for decades. Some (not naming names) had been working for Silver Oak for almost a decade when our youngest employees were born! I am still known in some circles here as, alternately, “the new guy” or “the kid” and feel as though I am probably doomed to those nicknames for at least another decade.
My enthusiasm has not waned, though, from the day I joined “The Bunch”. Sometimes, I feel like I just started yesterday, but the fact that Jake will soon start kindergarten reminds me that time has, indeed, passed.
Since 2014, we’ve added new vineyards in Napa and Sonoma counties, as well as in Oregon. We’ve built a new Alexander Valley winery. We’ve acquired a cooperage in Missouri. We’ve experienced some of the more significant local natural disasters of my lifetime between the South Napa earthquake in 2014 and the wildfires of 2017.
There’s been occasional blood, sweat and tears. There have also been a lot of laughs, smiles, and hugs...and even some singing and dancing. One day, when I sit back and reflect on a life well-lived over a glass from my first vintage as Silver Oak winemaker, I’ll note that 2014 was a life-changing vintage for me personally for so many reasons, not least of which because I was given the chance to join this inspiring group of people.
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