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Interview, Part 1: Russ Weis, President, Silverado Vineyards

January 21, 2020

Founded by Ron and Diane Disney Miller nearly four decades ago, Silverado Vineyards is a fixture in the Napa Valley firmament. Today, Silverado’s 75,000-case production is made entirely from estate fruit, sourced from its six Napa Valley vineyards. With the two founders passing away in recent years (Ron died last February at the age of 85 and Diane passed in 2013 at age 79), their children Chris Miller, Tammy Miller, and Walt Miller and other siblings are carrying on the Silverado legacy. Russ Weis, a 16-year company veteran, serves as president. Shanken News Daily executive editor Daniel Marsteller recently caught up with Weis to discuss the outlook for Silverado and the Napa Valley as a whole.

SND: What do you see as the key challenges and opportunities moving forward for Silverado?

Weis: We’re in a fairly unique position for a winery as small as we are. If you look at the luxury category for Napa, we have three wines that rank in the top six of their respective segments: our Cabernet, Merlot, and Sauvignon Blanc. That makes us large enough to have relevance, but we’re also small enough to be agile in how we approach the market. From a category standpoint, Napa is bumping up against the ceiling in terms of supply. When we eventually get to the point where there’s no more dirt to plant on, it will be a really interesting inflection point on pricing and everything else. We have 370 acres across six vineyards, so we have our own supply locked in, and that gives us the luxury to think long-term. There is already a limited number of single-vineyard wines available from Napa at an approachable price.

SND: So you see the price-value equation as crucial looking ahead?

Weis: I think what we want to get away from is such irrational exuberance on price that we leave behind the key occasion. I don’t believe that Napa Valley can survive as a collector appellation. Once you move beyond enjoyment into investment, you’re in a market that’s much more volatile. We’re super well-positioned to deliver classic Cabernet at a price that people can still reach. It’s shocking to say that $50 is a value, but it really is if you’re talking about luxury Cabernet from a global perspective. Above our Estate Cab we have Geo, which is a single-vineyard expression from our Mount George vineyard. There’s a role for that wine to play in restaurants at just below $150. At the top end, Solo, our single-vineyard Cabernet from our own clone, is a whole different ballgame, retailing at $125.

SND: Do you see growth potential for the white wines in your portfolio?

Weis: Our Miller Ranch Sauvignon Blanc ($25 at retail) continues to grow, and it now represents about 30% of the business. We recently launched a one-liter Sauvignon Blanc for restaurants. We wanted to give them something that wouldn’t have a basis of comparison at retail. That rolled out to select markets last year, and based on its success, we’ll be taking it national this year.

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