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Russ Weis and the wines of Silverado, Napa 

The Napa Valley is one of the world’s great wine growing regions, but it’s also kind of crazy. Wine-loving Americans have plenty of disposable income, and they like their own wines, so even mediocre Californian Cabernets can fetch eye-watering prices, and the best ones are some of the world’s most expensive wines, many sold exclusively through mailing lists (usually with a lengthy queue to get on them).

As a result, you don’t see all that many Napa wines in the UK. We see a lot of Californian wine over here, but almost all of it at the bottom end – brands like Gallo and Blossom Hill. There’s hardly any representation of good quality Californian wine in the UK.

But some Napa producers are still keen to target the UK. One such estate is Silverado, and I was invited to lunch with general manager Russ Weis. Now Russ is one of those guys who you think might have missed his vocation. He’s incredibly engaging, warm and talkative, without being in your face. I reckon he’d have made a great chat show host. Also joining us for lunch, which was at the lovely Art Deco Bibendum restaurant, was the equally gregarious Lenz Moser, who worked with Russ at Mondavi before the sale to Constellation. The Russ and Lenz show – I reckon it would be a winner. 

‘The story is that there is life after Mondavi’, says Weis (pictured above). The last couple of years at Mondavi were quite difficult and so Russ spent more and more time at the small estate he’d purchased with a few partners in Spain’s Priorat region in 1999. ‘It was a lifelong ambition’, says Weis. ‘The vineyard we purchased was very old, and we had to rebuild terraces and do some replanting. During the last couple of years at Mondavi I spent a lot of time there. In 2004, once he’d set up the winery for the first vintage, he came back to the USA. Ron and Diane, the owners of Silverado, were looking to hire because their winemaker had just retired. So he took the job.

‘Silverado is a pleasure’, says Russ. ‘There are six vineyards, and it’s just under 400 acres. We get to control everything from berry to bottle’. The vineyards are in cool climate Napa regions, Carneros and Stag’s Leap. ‘All my life there has been some negotiation, so it’s great to have my own vineyard in Spain and to be running a great estate in Napa.’

Silverado makes around 85 000 cases each year, of which 22 000 cases are Chardonnay and the balance Bordeaux-style wines. There’s a tremendous following for these wines in the USA, but little knowledge of them elsewhere. Russ is keen to see the wines in export markets, even though they can sell everything in the USA. In part, this is because he’s keen that someone is flying the flag for Napa. Also, the perception of scarcity in the USA isn’t going to be bad for image and prices.

First we tried one of Russ’ Priorat wines. The main wine is Melis, but this wasn’t available, so we tried the second wine, Elix.

Elix 2005 Priorat
Wonderful tight spicy, savoury, dark fruited nose is ripe but balanced. The palate is powerful and bold but with smooth tannins. Nice structure here and a bit of earthy minerality. Dense and youthful now, this has real potential. A superb wine. 92/100

Then we tried a couple of the Silverado wines. I was really impressed by these.

Silverado Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon 2003 Napa Valley
Focused ripe nose is spicy and dense, with a lovely tarry focus to the black fruits. The palate is quite earthy and dense with good tannins, some spiciness and generous fruit. Lovely. 92/100

Silverado Vineyards ‘Solo’ Cabernet Sauvignon 2002 Stags Leap District, Napa
Lovely ripe, dark fruits on the nose. Smooth, sweet and pure but with nice dark minerality. The palate is ripe and smooth with lovely density and purity of fruit. There’s an elegance here, which carries through the smooth, firm tannins. A lovely wine. 14.7% alcohol, but not hot. 94/100  

You can see Russ on this video I found on YouTube, talking about the heritage vine selection at Silverado:

Wines tasted 06/07
Find these wines with wine-searcher.com

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