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Silver Oak Cellars Buys Zinfandel Specialist Sausal Winery

Plans to expand Cabernet Sauvignon acreage; future of Sausal brand uncertain

Augustus Weed
Posted: August 17, 2012

The owners of Silver Oak Cellars are buying Sausal Winery, a small Sonoma County producer that specializes in Zinfandel. The sale includes the winery, the Sausal brand and a 113-acre property planted to 75 acres of vines. The sale price was not disclosed.

Silver Oak CEO David Duncan, whose family owns the winery, said the goal of the purchase was to provide the winery with new sources of Cabernet Sauvignon. The Sausal property is located in Alexander Valley, about a half-mile south of Silver Oak’s 80-acre Miraval Vineyard, a key source for Silver Oak’s popular Alexander Valley Cabernet. “We think this is an equally or possibly even a better site to grow Cabernet long term, so we were excited about the site and the opportunity,” he said.

What will happen to the Sausal brand has yet to be determined. Sausal’s founders, the Demostene family, mainly focused on Zinfandel and the winery consistently turned out good values. The property includes some of the oldest Zinfandel vineyards in Sonoma, with histories that can be traced back nearly 130 years. Duncan said the Sausal tasting room and wine club will remain open for now.

Duncan said he plans to replant some of the Zinfandel vineyards to Cabernet Sauvignon but will keep the oldest vines. While Cabernet will be destined for the winery’s Alexander Valley bottling, Duncan said it is meant to replace other fruit sources, not to grow the brand. “We don’t look at it necessarily as a growth opportunity; It’s more of a quality opportunity,” he said.

There are no plans to add a Zinfandel to the Silver Oak lineup or its sister winery Twomey, which specializes in Merlot and Pinot Noir, Duncan said.

The Demostene family, which has been farming in Alexander Valley since the turn of the century, purchased the Sausal ranch in 1956. Originally planted to prunes, apples and Zinfandel, the family added additional vineyards on the ranch, including some Cabernet Sauvignon, and built a winery in the early 1970s.

Silver Oak has developed an avid following over the years for its Cabernet. Duncan’s father Raymond Duncan and the late Justin Meyer cofounded the winery in 1972. Today, the winery produces more than 100,000 cases a year from wineries in Geyserville in Sonoma County and Oakville in Napa Valley.

Terry Brown
Daphne, AL —  August 20, 2012 3:10pm ET
I am really sorry to hear this news. My wife "discovered" the Sausal Winery just driving around one day while I was taking a class. We went back the following day and met the nicest folks. We spent the afternoon driking Zinfandel and learning about the Demostene family. Call me crazy but I'd take one of Sausal's top notch Zins over Silver Oak any day.
Justin Jones
Metro-Detroit, Michigan —  August 22, 2012 10:00pm ET
Wouldn't call you crazy, I think Sausal's lowest priced zin's outperform Silver Oak Alexander Valley Cab. I think it is a shame too. Good affordable zin's can be tough to find. I hope Silver Oak allows some of the zin to still grow there.

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