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California's Silver Oak Purchases Napa Cult Winery Ovid

In a deal sealed with a handshake at a kitchen table, the Duncan family buys a brand, a winery and 15 acres of Pritchard Hill vines
Silver Oak's owners have focused on controlling vineyard sources.
Photo by: Courtesy Silver Oak
Silver Oak's owners have focused on controlling vineyard sources.

Aaron Romano
Posted: April 21, 2017

Silver Oak, one of California's iconic wine brands, is expanding its holdings, purchasing Napa Valley's Ovid. The sale includes an ultramodern winery and 15 acres of vineyards located in one of the valley's priciest corners, Pritchard Hill. The sale price has not been disclosed.

Since the Duncan family established Silver Oak in 1972, the company has founded one other brand, Twomey Cellars, but has never acquired another brand or winery. According to CEO David Duncan, this deal wasn't strategic as much as it was opportunistic. "It really starts with our friendship [with Ovid's founders] and the quality of the brand they built," Duncan told Wine Spectator. "This was a great opportunity to perpetuate the brand."

Duncan first met Ovid's founders, Mark Nelson and Dana Johnson, 19 years ago, when the couple arrived in Napa and began an ambitious undertaking to build a winery and plant vineyards in the rugged Pritchard Hill terrain. The two families bonded over their love of wine and philanthropy, and their children were schoolmates. The deal to buy Ovid was sealed with a kitchen-table handshake.

David's father Raymond, a Denver-based entrepreneur and oilman, started Silver Oak in 1972 with winemaking partner Justin Meyer. The two decided to focus exclusively on Cabernet Sauvignon, aged entirely in American oak. Their signature style of wine led to success, and today the winery makes roughly 100,000 cases annually, priced at $75 to $125 a bottle. Silver Oak owns more than 400 acres of vines in Napa and Sonoma's Alexander Valley, producing a Cabernet from each appellation. Their Twomey brand focuses on Merlot, Pinot Noir and Sauvignon Blanc from both Napa and Sonoma counties.

Ovid's Johnson and Nelson moved to Napa from New York in 1998, lured by California's weather and wines. The couple plans to remain on the Pritchard Hill estate and continues to own more than 250 acres of the property.

Since its inception, a superstar team has led Ovid, including vineyard guru David Abreu, and its first winemaker, Andy Erickson, now consulting winemaker. Managing partner, Janet Pagano has been with the company since the first vintage in 2005, and Austin Peterson now makes the wines. Ovid produces around 2,000 cases annually of Bordeaux-style blends, priced at $285 per bottle, sold mostly direct-to-consumer.

According to a statement from the winery, Johnson and Nelson had become increasingly aware that for Ovid to continue to thrive, it would need to grow and evolve in the crowded Napa Valley landscape. They believe that the Duncans are an ideal fit to help transform the brand.

"It's nice to be partnering with a company with deep history and roots in the valley, and [that] offers Ovid tremendous potential for the future," winemaker Austin Peterson told Wine Spectator.

Some changes are in the works. Jack Bittner, former president of Cliff Lede Vineyards, will replace Pagano as managing partner, and Duncan believes there may be an opportunity to plant additional vines on the estate. But otherwise, the plan is to let Ovid be Ovid. "Our values align in that we want to continue the culture of curiosity and experimentation that we've established here, and we hope to carry that forward with more resources," said Peterson.

With land values continuing to rise in Napa and with Gallo's recent purchase of the nearby Stagecoach Vineyard, which included 600 acres of vines and cost more than $180 million, even midsized, luxury wineries like Silver Oak are looking for both vineyard and winery assets to secure a grape supply and also plan for the future.

"Our feeling is that expressive vineyard sites are rare," said Duncan, whose family owns more than 70 percent of its vineyard sources. "And for the last several years our focus has been on acquiring unique properties, and we will continue to try and acquire more vineyard sites as long as we're making wine."

John Eagan
Beverly Hills  —  April 23, 2017 10:11am ET
I hope SO doesn't change any of those responsible for making a terrific wine at Ovid; their experimentation produces very interesting wines.

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