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Fire Damages Silver Oak Winery in Napa

Cabernet producer loses historic building and $2 million of wine

Tim Fish
Posted: February 3, 2006

About $2 million worth of wine was lost in a fire Thursday morning at Silver Oak Cellars' Napa Valley winery, where the flames destroyed a 7,000-square-foot historic building that served as the Cabernet producer's original home.

No one was in the Oakville winery at the time of the blaze, and there was only one minor injury. One firefighter was treated for burns to his hands, according to Gabrielle Avina, fire marshal for the California Department of Forestry in Napa County.

Winery general manager David Duncan said the stone building that now serves as Silver Oak's winemaking facility was nearly lost as well. "The fire burned right up to the eaves of the winery. The firefighters definitely saved it," Duncan said early Friday morning. "We look at it today and realize just how lucky we are." The flames did cause some minor heat and smoke damage.

The destroyed building, situated to the rear of the stone winery, was used for special events and barrel storage. About 70 barrels of the winery's 2004 Napa Valley Cabernet, which sells for about $100 a bottle, were lost in the fire, Duncan said. "That's probably about 10 percent of the vintage for that wine," he added, "and 2004 was already a light vintage."

The fire started in a dumpster and spread to the building, according to Duncan. Fire crews were dispatched at about 6:30 a.m., and seven engines, from as far away as Calistoga and American Canyon, responded to the call. The cause is still under investigation by local fire authorities, and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives is also on the scene.

Despite the fire, Silver Oak is going ahead with this weekend's semiannual open-house event, which draws thousands of customers. The 2001 Napa Valley Cabernet, which makes its debut this weekend, was stored in another facility, Duncan said.

Silver Oak was founded in 1972 by Ray Duncan and the late Justin Meyers. One of California's most popular high-end brands, Silver Oak makes just two wines, both Cabernet Sauvignons, one from Alexander Valley in Sonoma County and another from Napa Valley.

Only a month ago, during the widespread flooding in Northern California, Silver Oak's Napa winery was inundated with three feet of water, but the damage was minimized by advance preparations.

"We figure the next thing is either going to be famine or pestilence," Duncan said, trying to retain a sense of humor. "It hasn't been a good start to 2006."

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