Meet Daniel Baron - Director of Winemaking for Silver Oak Cellars

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Meet Daniel Baron

Director of Winemaking for Silver Oak and Twomey Cellars

If it weren’t for a bout of mononucleosis, Daniel Baron might never have become a winemaker. A self-described “beach rat” who grew up on Long Island, New York, Daniel was set to start his second year as lifeguard at Jones Beach after his freshman year in college when he tested positive for mono and was turned down for the job. It was 1968, so naturally he hopped in a car with his buddies and drove out to San Francisco.

But Daniel soon moved to Knights Valley, where he met vineyard manager John Rolleri, his first mentor, with whom he apprenticed at two ranches before Rolleri hired him as a tractor driver and field hand at Chateau Montelena. Rolleri taught Daniel how to plant, prune and harvest, and that experience was enough to inspire him to return to college. In the space of four years, 1974–1978, he earned both his bachelor’s and master’s degrees in viticulture and enology at UC Davis. There, he met his second mentor, Professor Harold Olmo, who introduced Daniel to some of the great California vineyardists, like Rollin Wilkinson and Bob Steinhauer, who have remained great sources of knowledge and perspective to this day.

After UC Davis, Daniel worked as vineyard manager and assistant winemaker at Anderson Valley’s Navarro Vineyards, but in 1981, when an opportunity to work in Bordeaux came up, he jumped at the chance. Although that first opportunity didn’t pan out as expected, Daniel stayed in France, working in seven different chateaux over the course of six months to make ends meet. He became fluent in the language and learned the business and social customs. “In France, you don’t do business until you share a meal,” he says. “That made a big impression on me.”

Eventually Daniel landed a job at the legendary Chateau Petrus, and was befriended by owner Christian Moueix, winemaker Jean-Claude Berrouet, cellarmaster Jean Veyssiere and his son Francois. Daniel credits them with teaching him about wine as a part of culture and how “history, quality and tradition are intertwined with the practical aspects of winemaking.” And it was Daniel’s performance at Petrus in the legendary 1982 vintage that led Christian Moueix to put him in charge of his new winery in Napa Valley, Dominus Estate.

Daniel worked at Dominus from 1982 to 1994, rising to general manager, when a quirky newspaper ad placed by Justin Meyer of Silver Oak Cellars caught his attention. “Justin was looking to name his successor,” says Daniel. “We hit it off immediately, and although I wasn’t sure about leaving Dominus, Justin wouldn’t take no for an answer.” Daniel worked side by side with Justin until his retirement in 2001. “Justin instilled in me both pride in what Silver Oak had accomplished and the humility to realize that there is always room to improve,” he says. “He constantly searched for ways to raise quality, and that’s become one of our core values at Silver Oak.”

After Justin retired, Daniel continued as winemaker at Silver Oak under the leadership of the Duncan family, and was instrumental in the creation of Twomey Cellars in 1999, another Duncan family winery. As a producer of single-vineyard Napa Valley Merlot, the winery is based on his vision of creating a world-class California Merlot using the labor-intensive soutirage traditionnel method that he learned in Pomerol. More recently, Daniel oversaw the addition of a Napa Valley Sauvignon Blanc and several Pinot Noirs to Twomey’s offerings. In 2007, Daniel was named Director of Winemaking for Silver Oak and Twomey; it is now his turn to mentor winemaking teams at four facilities – and true to his roots in the vineyard – oversees approximately 280 acres of vines.

For Daniel, wine has always been more than something to drink. His family’s love and appreciation of good food, his time in France and the many mentors he’s had along the way have led Daniel to an appreciation of the role wine plays in daily life, as well as history and culture. “To me, creating wine is one of the ways people preserve civilization,” he says.

Daniel lives in Napa with his wife, Gwyneth, and their three children. Still a beach rat, he enjoys surfing and sailing, as well as snowboarding, playing the mandolin and practicing Japanese martial arts. He has served on the boards of the American Society of Enology and Viticulture, Napa Valley Wine Technical Group, Congregation Beth Sholom and the Napa Valley Youth Symphony.