Brownie points if you knew that silver mining once rivaled winemaking in Napa County, and that Robert Louis Stevenson wrote a novel called The Silverado Squatters about the same trail that lent its name to Silverado Vineyards.
For three decades now, Silverado Vineyards has been hand-crafting solid, better-than-serviceable (and many, world class) wines from a knoll above the Silverado Trail in the heart of the Stags Leap District—one of the smallest but most highly regarded AVAs in California. It’s down to location (loam and clay sediments from the Napa River and volcanic soil deposits left over from erosion of the Vaca Mountains), grapes (from seven family-owned vineyards), but mostly to the dedication of Silverado squatters Ron and Diane Miller. The couple fell in love with the area in the nineteen seventies and decided that the winery they wanted to own would produce top end Stags Leap wines at a fair price—in 1976, recall, Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars Cabernet Sauvignon took top red wine nods at the Judgment of Paris wine tasting, beating out classified Bordeaux estates, so the area was under a pretty intense microscope at the time. Ron, a former Los Angeles Ram and later, creator of Touchstone Pictures, was used to a certain caché of success in life, and was not about to ride point at a Mickey Mouse operation.
When I mention Mickey Mouse, of course, I am in no way looking for a clever segue into the fact that Diane Miller is Walt Disney’s daughter. It was old Walt, however, who sweet-talked his son-in-law off the gridiron and into the boardroom—Ron was president and CEO of Walt Disney Productions for four years before being ousted in favor of Michael Eisner. Wine lovers, perhaps, may spend the next minute in silent prayer.
Another guy at Silverado with an upwardly mobile career path is winemaker Jon Emmerich. Having begun as a lowly lab tech, he paused at each rung on the juice-soused ladder as Assistant Winemaker, then Associate Winemaker, before seizing the top spot. Meanwhile, he managed to squeeze not only grapes but a formal degree program into his ambitious schedule. According to Jon,UniversityofCalifornia Davisoffers a BS in Fermentation Science—if Bluto had known, college might have turned out way differently for him.
Emmerich’s resume includes the aforementioned Stags Leap Wine Cellars as well as Sebastiani Vineyards, so he knows from both quality and quantity.
As a result, Silverado remains a Stags Leap lodestar, continuing to mine technique and style while producing reliable wines vintage after vintage. Sitting on the terrace with a valley-wide, enjoying a Silverado Vaca Mountain High, I’d rather think about that than what the Disney-pedigreed Millers might be doing otherwise… Haunted Mansion II.
Silverado Sauvignon Blanc, Miller Ranch, Single Vineyard, 2009, about $ 22: Brilliantine greenish gold color; luscious peach and honeysuckle on the nose along with a hint of juniper and chamomile. Ripe and full on the palate thanks to a small amount of semillon. An ‘all things to all people’ sauvignon blanc.
Silverado Chardonnay, Carneros, 2009, about $ 25: A youthful spritz clings to this nicely rounded, citrus-and-apple-profiled wine, with nicely integrated oak adding vanilla to the undertones. A perfect example of middle-roadNapa chardonnay, nearly flawless if somewhat single-dimensional.
Silverado Merlot, Napa Valley, 2006, about $30: Earthy and herbal in a good way, the luscious blackberry jam scents and flavors you expect in a merlot are there but the wine is wrapped in pleasant mineral package.
Silverado Sangiovese, Napa Valley, 2007, about $ 30 : Faintly floral with violet notes and plenty of varietal integrity, including strawberry, cherry and red currant spiced up by cinnamon and thyme. Moderate natural acidity, characteristic of the grape, keeps the wine bright and food-friendly.
Silverado Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley 2007, about $ 45: Cola, damp soil, cedar and green olives cover the non-fruit scents and tastes that animate this full, rich, beautifully-crafted red; plum, cherry, raspberry notes cover the rest.
Silverado ‘Solo’, Stags Leap District, 2007, about $ 90: Called ‘Solo’ because it is 100% cab—a gutsy move that proves itself out in an inky, intense wine jam-packed with black fruits and guilty-pleasure guzzles like cocoa and cherry cola and unusual nuances like pimento, ginger and green peppercorn. A pinnacle of the SLD cabernet experience, the wine will continue to evolve and deepen for decades.