Lunch with Russ Weis, President of Silverado Vineyards

I recently sat down for lunch at Hearth ’61 with the President of Silverado Vineyards, Russ Weis, when he was in Phoenix. We tasted 3 wines while Russ told us the Silverado story, about life in Napa Valley surviving recent wildfires and about the wines.

Russ was practically born into the wine business as the son of grape growers in Madera, California. Russ started his career in Napa Valley in 1987 at Christian Brothers Winery then went on to Robert Mondavi Winery in 1993. He joined Silverado Vineyards in 2004.

The Silverado Vineyards story

Silverado Vineyards was started in 1981 by Diane Disney and her husband, former football player and movie producer Ron Miller. The 6 historic vineyards owned by the winery date back to the 1800s and are located throughout Napa Valley. The winery is currently owned by Ron and his children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren, with plans to keep it in the family for several more generations.

The wines are made by winemaker Jon Emmerich and associate winemaker Elena Franceschi. All wines are “Grown, Produced and Bottled by” the winery, one of a few Napa Valley wineries that can say that. A small portion of grapes are sold to other wineries.

With over 300 acres of vineyards the wines express the differing terroirs, giving each wine its unique complexity and character. The winery and home vineyard are in the Stags Leap District along the Silverado Trail.

Tasting the wines

During our lunch we tasted the 2016 Carneros Chardonnay and proprietary Cabernet Sauvignons GEO and SOLO from the 2014 vintage.

The chardonnay comes from the Vineburg and Firetree vineyards in the cooler southern part of Napa Valley. The wine is aged in French oak barrels with some in new oak. The wine is clean and well-balanced with oak and acidity. Bright fruit that the Carneros region is known for makes this a great wine to drink by itself or paired with food. It made a nice complement to our shrimp cocktail. The chardonnay is the winery’s second largest produced wine, at just under 10,000 cases.

The GEO Cabernet Sauvignon uses grapes grown on the Mt. George vineyard in Coombsville. The Millers bought the vineyard in 1987 and was the first vineyard planted to grapes in the Coombsville AVA. A splash of Petit Verdot is blended before the wine was aged for almost 2 years in mostly French oak. The wine was soft and enjoyable with good tannins giving you the typical Cabernet mouthfeel taste of blackberries and cocoa and drinks well. Only 2,200 cases are made.

The SOLO Cabernet Sauvignon was the last of the 3 wines we tasted. Made with 100% Cabernet Sauvignon, the wine is named for the fact it’s made from a single clone. The Silverado- Disney Heritage clone was given “Heritage” status by UC Davis because the new clone was carefully observed and had adapted to the unique soil of the Stags Leap District. It’s one of only 3 Cabernets with this status and the only one from Stags Leap District.

The bold fruit comes from the Silverado Vineyard and offers currants, cassis and plum nuances. It’s aged in 100% French oak with 38% new oak. The wine pairs well with grilled red meats and roasts. 2,400 cases were produced.

Visiting the winery

Silverado Vineyards is open daily by appointment. The winery is at 6121 Silverado Trail, Napa CA. 94458. For reservations call 707-257-1770 or visit their website.

Dom. de la Patience Chardonnay

                                                                           
This family estate located in the Costières de Nîmes takes its name from a wild, aromatic herb “La Patience” that can be found throughout the vineyard. Costieres de Nimes is where Languedoc and Provence meet and is along the right bank of the Rhone River. In 1994, after a decade of managing the winemaking at the local cooperative Christophe Aguilar decided it was time to make his own wine. Today Christophe farms 60 hectares of vines, fifty-years ago his grandfather farmed the same soil, with a deep respect and understanding of the terroir. The winery is in the process of converting to organic having been sustainable. These Vin des Pays des Coteaux du Pont du Gard wines comes from the Southern Rhone valley known for its quarries and it’s stones that were used to build Roman aqueducts. In addition to making several blends using Syrah and Grenache they also make a Merlot and 2 Chardonnays, 1 aged in oak and 1 not. Below is some information on the  non- oaked Chardonnay.
The Chardonnay vines are 13 years old and the wine wine is vinified in tanks and aged in concrete for 3 months.On the palate the wine is dry and crisp with a sense of minerality. Citrus and peach show through and the the acidity makes this a great food wine to pair with salads, seafood, grilled vegetables and soft cheeses. The wine is meant to be drank in the next 3 years. This wine should retail for under $15.

Wines of Croatia & Slovenia



Some of the most exciting new wines coming to the United States are the delicious and racy wines from Eastern European countries such as Croatia & Slovenia. Situated on the north and eastern side of the Adriatic Sea and across from Italy both countries have centuries of wine making tradition that has only recently become evident in the U.S. Making both wines from grapes only found in their respected countries and grapes that are internationally known, both Croatia and Slovenia wines are being widely accepted by great retailers and restaurants around the country. Many are practicing natural methods of wine making using only grapes and natural yeast, which allows for the terroir to speak through the wine. So don’t be surprised to see some of these wines at your local wine shop or restaurant. And more importantly give them a try.

Coronica Malvasia is a crisp, acidic white wine that offers good fruit, minerality and is a well balanced food wine. Grown in nutrient rich soil & near the sea, it benefits from the Mediterranean climate found in the Istrian region of northern Croatia. This wine would go great with both fish and lighter fare foods. Retails for about $20.

Kabaj Sivi Pinot is known as pinot grigio outside of Slovenia and is made by Frenchman Jean Michel Morel and his wife Katja Kabaj at there western Slovenian winery, not far from Collio Italy. The Kabaj family has been selling grapes for generations and only started making wine in the 1993 after Slovenia disbanded from Yugoslavia. With vineyards near the Italian border, Kabaj makes wine in a very old world style using clay vats (called “Qveri amphora”) for fermenting and aging in some of their wines.
This full bodied pinot is crisp, lively and dry also shows good fruit and complexity rarely found in pinot grigio’s. It is aged for a year in oak and held back 3 years prior to release. It would go well with shellfish, cheese’s and fruits. Retail is about $20.

What is natural wine?

As the organic food movement has picked up speed over the last few years, there is also a movement with organic, biodynamic and natural wine. Organic & biodynamic happen in the grape growing process, for them to be natural the process must continue in the wine making process. By not using or using the least amount possible any of the 200 approved additives permitted in wine, this also includes the technological manipulation(spinning cones, laboratory cultivated yeast,etc) that will take away what the individual terror & what mother nature has provided. This is the way wine has been made for centuries before technology was introduced.

The definition is similar to the German Law of Purity for beer, where only water, barley and hops are used. Natural wine is just grape juice and nothing else.

Some aspects to consider in natural wine…
Avoiding chemical herbicides.
Using indigenous yeasts.
Hand picked grapes.
Low to no filtering & sulfites.
No chaptilization.
No adding of powdered tannins.
Respecting of the grapes including rough handling,pumping or micro-oxygenation.

Natural winemaking represents the true expression of terroir and prevents wine varietals from all tasting the same.

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