By Virginie Boone
Country songs often talk about beer or whisky, only occasionally about wine. And typically, when wine is mentioned it’s a generic reference, not a specific producer, let alone vintage.
Country singer Scotty McCreery, the winner of “American Idol” in 2011, is mixing things up with his 2023 song, “Cab in a Solo,” not just specifying that he’s drinking Cabernet Sauvignon, but name checking Silver Oak, of which he actually is a fan.
As McCreery told Wine Spectator last year, “we knew we needed a wine to include in the lyrics. Both (co-writer) Frank Rogers and I enjoy the Silver Oak wine, and the name fit perfectly in the lyrics as if it was meant to be.”
“So now I’m finding out how a heartbreak tastes
With a Silver Oak, 1998
Drinking Cab in a solo
Solo in the cab of my truck”
Rogers elaborated, calling Silver Oak “a really nice wine that any wine drinker knows, but it’s not a wine that you’re going to drink daily. It’s a special occasion wine for most.” Not only is the heartbroken McCreery drinking a Silver Oak, he’s gone library, drinking a 1998.
Made from 100% Cabernet Sauvignon, the 1998 Alexander Valley Silver Oak Cabernet is a relatively light wine but juicy, balanced and soft, according to notes from a 2021 tasting. Enough to get through heartbreak? Only McCreery knows – the team at Silver Oak sent him a bottle after they heard the song.
While Silver Oak, a stalwart name in California wine for some 50 years, famously maintains wineries in both the Napa Valley and Alexander Valley, the story begins in Sonoma County, where in 1970 Raymond Twomey Duncan bought his first land, in partnership with Jack Novak, who soon after founded Spottswoode Estate Vineyard and Winery in St. Helena.
The two men established the 100-acre Los Amigos Vineyard in the Alexander Valley on Highway 128 based on a Bank of America projection that wine consumption in America was due to grow significantly. It was a good bet.
Two years later, Duncan bought a 258-acre dairy barn in Oakville, partnering with winemaker Justin Meyer, who had been making wine at the Christian Brothers monastery. They initially called the brand Duncan-Meyer. It was Meyer’s wife Bonny who suggested Silver Oak (after the dairy barn’s location between the Silverado Trail and Oakville).
The first North Coast vintage was released in 1977 after three years of aging in American oak and two additional years in bottle (Alexander Valley was not yet an official American Viticultural Area, something it would achieve in 1984).
That first release of Silver Oak cost $6/bottle at a time when most California Cabernets were priced at $3/bottle. By 1983 it was selling for $16/bottle. Over the next two decades, Silver Oak would grow exponentially, selling out quickly upon release and becoming a popular choice on restaurant wine lists as it developed a very loyal following.
In the early 1990s Silver Oak bought the former Lyeth Vineyards and Winery in Geyserville for $2 million, which included 18 acres of Cabernet Sauvignon grapes near Silver Oak’s 200 acres of Alexander Valley vineyards already in existence.
Daniel Baron took over winemaking in 1994 after Meyer’s retirement, when Meyer also sold his shares of Silver Oak back to the Duncans. The owners today are David and Tim Duncan, Ray’s sons.
In 2012 the Duncans bought the Sausal Vineyard and Winery, an historic 113-acre property in the benchlands of the Mayacamas Mountains in Alexander Valley, with 75 acres of grapes, most of them Zinfandel. The Demostene family had farmed Sausal since 1956, having at one point also owned Soda Rock Winery. The vineyards themselves date back to 1847 and Cyrus Alexander, who called the area “one of the most fertile posts in the whole country.”
Silver Oak soon replanted most of the Zin to Cabernet Sauvignon and bought additional vineyards in the area to boost its sourcing and add to the backbone of its holdings, the 80-acre Miraval Vineyard, owned since 1987. Crazy Creek Vineyard and Big River Vineyards were added in 2016 and 2017.
With Silver Oak now happy in its new digs, the former Silver Oak/Lyeth facility was then sold to Michael David Winery of Lodi in 2017.
In 2018, Silver Oak’s new Sonoma County winery became the world’s first to achieve Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) Platinum certification for building, design and construction, with a goal of zero net water and zero net energy use. In 2019 it received global recognition from the International Living Future Institute.
Since then, Silver Oak has added Big River and Crazy Creek vineyards to its Alexander Valley holdings, owning about 277 total acres in the region.
Whether it’s Silver Oak or something else in your solo cup or wine glass, like McCreery, remember to enjoy the good stuff this year.
(photo from Wine Spectator; Jeff Ray)