10.07.2008  
 

Silver Oak Rebuilds Napa Valley Winery

Noted Cabernet producer started from scratch after 2006 fire

 
by Paul Franson
 
Silver Oak Cellars
 
Almost completed, Silver Oak's new winemaking facility seamlessly blends elements of old and new. The iconic water tower is the only major structure remaining from the former winery.
 
Oakville, Calif. -- When Silver Oak Cellars' venerable barrel chai burned in 2006, the cult winery could have rebuilt it to maintain the same comfortable look. Instead, the Duncan family decided to tear everything down and start from scratch.

With more than 35 years of experience making wine at the site, they decided to do things right.

REGION: CALIFORNIA

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Silver Oak Cellars
The result opened this week, a stunning complex that looks as if it could have been there for a century--unless you started looking more carefully. "We wanted the winery to have a similar look and feel, but be more efficient," said David Duncan, the winery's president.

It took chairman Ray Duncan, and his sons David and Tim, working with winemaker Daniel Baron and general manager Tony LeBlanc, a year to develop plans and get permits, then the project was completed in 18 months, allowing the winery to crush its 2008 vintage on-site.

One of the most notable features is that the 65,712-square-foot winery was built about 5 feet above its surrounding vineyards. The area is prone to flooding. It was reoriented so that grapes are received on the shady east side instead of the west, which has been converted from a truck parking area to a grassy lawn suitable for large events. A cantilevered roof supported without posts shelters part of the work area, a tribute to its steel construction. "There are no posts for anyone to run into," David Duncan noted.

The winery looks as if it had grown over the years, employing different materials for practicality and esthetics. The architect was Taylor Lombardo Architects of San Francisco, with the designing architect Michael Folwell of Boulder, Colo.

The visitors' center is primarily constructed of reclaimed stone from an 1893-vintage flour mill from Coffeeville, Kan., plus massive new Douglas fir beams. To meet current standards, the stones on the inside and outside face an interior structural wall. Totaling 18 inches thick, they provide substantial thermal mass to reduce heating and cooling bills.

Additional recycled wood from a barn in Kansas was used in the tasting room. A wood carving of the winery's water tower hangs above the tasting bar. Handcrafted by wood artist and master woodcarver Boris Khechoyan, this is the second version: The owners decided the original of reclaimed wood wasn't right.

The production facility is constructed of galvanized steel and steel beams faced on the outside with vertical virgin cedar board and battens. The floor is concrete, and to discourage TCA contamination, there is no wood inside the winemaking area. Stairs and catwalks are fabricated of aluminum and stainless steel.

Silver Oak Cellars
 
This panoramic view reveals that the entire facility was built five feet above the vineyard floor, which is prone to flooding.
 
Within the winery, there are 43 stainless steel fermenters, four Diemme presses and Vaucher-Beguet double sorting tables. The winery has a permit for 40,000 cases, but makes only about 30,000, and even less this year because of the "extremely light crop."

This enclosed fermentation area replaces an open area, providing superior climate control for the wine and workers. Its walls and metal roof are heavily insulated, too.

The barrel chai, which David Duncan described as an above-ground cave--the site has a very high water table--was built of tilt-up concrete with thick insulation. The walls total 11 inches thick. It, too has cedar facing.

The only major structure remaining from the past is the water tower, which underwent considerable renovation as it was moved and raised to the new mesa in front of the visitors' center.

In addition to the many passive efforts taken to conserve energy, the winery contains 1,464 solar panels on the southwestern barrel chai roof, out of sight of visitors. Redwood reclaimed from Silver Oak's original winery lines the walls of the History Gallery.

The visitors' areas include spaces with soaring ceilings, a glass-covered library and four stained glass windows (two from original winery; two created for the new incarnation) depicting the seasons of the vine, by local Napa Valley artist Diane Peterson. Duncan admitted that experts have pointed out that the fall panel, with its beautiful reds and yellows reflects vines contaminated with leafroll virus; most visitors simply admire the colors.

The owners were happy to install two additions mandated by the county: sprinklers and a 100,000-gallon water tank. When the old winery burned, firefighters quickly ran out of water.

The new tasting room is open, but a little work remains at the site before everything is perfect. The contractor for the job was Cello & Maudru of Napa, and GM LeBlanc said, while he'll be glad to see them leave, they do so on very good terms.

Silver Oak Cellars was founded in 1972 by Ray Duncan and the late Justin Meyer. Meyer sold his share to the Duncan family in 2001. It makes only one wine, a blend that's primarily Cabernet Sauvignon aged in American oak (It owns a forest and cooperage in Missouri). It also has a winery and vineyards in Alexander Valley.

The family also owns, with winemaker Baron, Twomey Cellars, with facilities in Calistoga and the Russian River Valley.
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