Wednesdays with Winemakers – David Duncan
If one thinks of one of the most successful Cabernet brands in California history, Silver Oak instantly leaps to mind. David Duncan is a son of Ray Duncan, an oil and wine executive and the original founder of Silver Oak, in partnership with Justin Meyer. The brand was established in 1972 and has been winning fierce consumer and trade loyalty ever since. Its cult status Cabernets from both Napa and Alexander Valleys are among the most recognized wines in the US.
Today David is the President and CEO of Duncan Oil, as well as the President and CEO of Silver Oak Cellars (along with being a Managing Partner of Twomey Cellars.) He is continuing his father’s legacy by striving for excellence, sound long term strategy and hands-on approach.
Why did you become a vintner?
My father was the founder of Silver Oak. In 2001 we bought out our other family partner and the Duncan family became sole owners of Silver Oak and Twomey. In 2002, I took over as GM and was later promoted to CEO. Fate!
If you weren’t a vintner what would you be and why?
I began my career in our family business working on the Oil & Gas exploration business. I suppose I would still be fully engaged there. If I had my choice, I think I’d work on a cattle ranch as a hand.
What is your greatest strength as a vintner?
I think, perhaps because I did not completely grow up at the winery, I have a healthy appreciation of thinking outside the proverbial box. Justin Meyer and my father had an expression, “We have yet to make our best bottle of wine”. This informs all the decisions we make and keeps us constantly asking questions, striving to improve, and looking for possibilities.
What is your biggest weakness as a vintner?
I never see a vineyard I don’t love!
What is your proudest achievement?
In 2006 we had a fire at our winery in Oakville. I think bouncing back from that, building our new facility and the changes that has brought to Silver Oak, is certainly one of my top thoughts. So many people impact all the things we do. I think my top one would be the team we have assembled and get to work with every day.
What was your scariest vintage to date?
2006. Fire, floods, crazy year!
What is your favorite saying?
“There is no such thing as stupid question” and “Life is a Cabernet.”
What is your most prized possession?
My wedding ring.
What’s the oddest thing about you?
That people think I am serious. I’m not! I swear!
What song best sums you up?
My Heroes Have Always Been Cowboys – Willie Nelson
What is your favorite memory?
All of them. I’ve had a pretty good run.
Which one of the five senses is your strongest?
What is your biggest motivation?
I LOVE hearing the “bottle stories” that people share about their life experiences with our wines.
Which bottle of wine would choose to be stranded with on a deserted island?
1985 Silver Oak Alexander Valley.
What is the difference between good and great wine?
Complexity. I do believe that, like art, wine can largely be a matter of personal taste. The more pertinent question might be what’s the difference between a $20 bottle of great wine and a $200 bottle of great wine.
Name any individuals you would like to have dinner with.
Who is your winemaking hero?
Justin Meyer and Robert Mondavi.
What does the concept of “balance” mean to you?
Finding balance in a wine means that the wine has a seamlessness, gives to you and has a beautiful long finish. Also, if the wine does not make your meal a better experience, it is probably not balanced.
What is the one thing that you want people to remember about your wine?
The memory or moment in their life they created over that bottle.
Best comment made about your wine? Was it by a consumer, trade or press?
Consumer. And I have many bests.