5 Questions with Silverado GM Russ Weis

5 Questions with Silverado GM Russ Weis

Russ Weis, general manager of Silverado Vineyards is a firm believer that wine is meant to be drunk.

And the Miller family, who owns the six properties, believes the same. “Ron Miller has an amazing cellar of wine — and he drinks all of it,” says Weis.

While the history of the property dates back over 125 years, Ron and Diane Disney Miller bought the vineyards over 35 years ago. And yes, Diane was Walt Disney’s daughter.

Silverado now makes around 17 different wines, produces approximately 65,000 cases a year and the wines are sold are in 35 countries.

One of the things that still sets Silverado apart is that their wines are “grown, produced and bottled all on their estates,” says Weis. So this allows the family to have complete control, from grape to finish.

Doing it all in-house is rare these days as production costs and limited land have become an issue in Napa Valley. But Silverado is keeping everything at home. And while Diane has since passed, the family is involved in every step. Even granddaughter Annabelle created their new label.

We caught up with Weis to learn more about the family’s philosophy, the property and his favorite Silverado wine.

How did Diane Disney Miller become a vineyard owner?

Walt and Lilly had taken Diane and her sister Sharon to Paris when they were teenagers and Diane had her first experience w wine there with her parents. They ordered a Rosé and Diane asked to smell it and was blown away that something that came from grapes could smell like strawberries.

Years later, after she married Ron Miller (a former president and CEO of what is now The Walt Disney Company. ) and they were living in LA with their 7 kids, Diane started reading all stuff about [Robert] Mondavi up there in Napa and in 1974, she went to see for herself.

And she fell in love with Napa’s beauty first. Sometimes its just about how beautiful a place is.

Diane and Ron started buying property in 1976. They made grapes to sell at first – and in 1979. They finally decided to make wine and they’re first vintage was in 1981.

And how did you end up there?

Jack Stuart was the founding winemaker and general manager and, after 25 years, he decide to retire. I was fortunate enough to get the job. That was in 2004.

The great part was they kept Jack on for two years to help me because they care so much about the continuity of the properties.

My favorite part of the job is that it has so many parts. I was blending Merlot this morning, have to go to a meeting become I am involved with Napa county to reduce our carbon footprint, and then I have to go out and sell some wine.

I love that everyday is different.

What keeps you up at night?

One of our big concerns and the family talks about it a lot it that many restaurants – are struggling. And that’s our core. So we are worried about that part of the business, so anything we can do to help. Because that’s where the wine is shown off. That’s where people drink it with food.

About 20% of our production is in restaurants. That has taken a dip. It used to be 40-45%. The other 20% has gone to directly to the consumer thankfully.

Lot’s of talk about Napa wines being overpriced. What do you think?

To start, people have to remember that Napa Valley has a limited amount of land. So that automatically adds a premium. And there is so much craftsmanship here. The wines are that good. And while a typical Napa cab is $50-$60, that has allowed people to have a wonderful farming career. They are making a living wage and have health care. All thanks to a bottle of wine.

What do you drink about a long day?

I love trying all different kinds of stuff. Working with Bob Mondavi [in the early part of my career] taught me that. I have met and gotten to know some of the greatest winemakers of the world because of him. And I want to try all their wines.

Our Solo Cabernet is probably one of my favorites though because it is a project I got to do w Diane [who passed away in 2013]. She named the wine and loved the fact that we used this historic clone. My memories of that, now that she’s gone, are so precious to me.

Tracy Byrnes, former FOX Business Network anchor and host of “Wine with Me” for Foxnews.com, is editor-in-chief and chief contributor of The Sip.

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