From Petrus to Silver Oak - he's a Napa legend with the Bordeaux touch
- Daniel Baron is a wine world icon, full of more anecdotes than wine vintages – of which, he’s contributed to 50 – including an iconic year at Petrus and pioneering roles at Dominus Estate, Silver Oak & Twomey.
- Working for Angels, “I can gather many threads from the warp and woof of my life fabric – and pay homage to the many mentors who have informed my passion for winemaking over these decades,” Daniel says.
- His debut Napa Valley Cabernet for Angels is set to release in Fall 2021. “It is a dream come true for me to bring 50 years of winemaking into one bottle, and offer it to you."
Listen to Daniel’s lifetime of winemaking stories on his podcast, The Winemaker’s Journey – featuring interviews with fellow winemakers and friends in the Napa Valley.
Daniel Baron's Story
Iconic Napa and Bordeaux winemaker Daniel Baron is full of joyful laughs, winemaking wisdom, and more anecdotes than wine vintages – of which, he’s contributed to 50.
Take, for instance, the afternoon chat that had Daniel comparing the brotherhood of wine to baseball. "You can see a rookie sitting on the bench next to a batting coach who was Babe Ruth's roommate." Everywhere you look, you're surrounded by great practitioners of the craft – who learned from their own set of mentors that went back decades before. You learn something new each vintage – and if you’re lucky, you pass the bat to the next guy.
Learning from the hands of top winemakers (Christian Moueix, Petrus) wine scientists (Dr. Harold Olmo, UC Davis) and vineyard pioneers (John Rolleri, Chateau Montelena) – he’s worked for Babe Ruths in wine. And though he’d never liken it – leading wineries including Silver Oak and Dominus, he’s more than earned the Hall of Fame spot himself.
“All of this winemaking experience… the relationships I have developed over the decades… can make approachable, affordable, balanced wines. Now I want to give Angels the joy that I feel making wine.”
“My greatest compliment is an empty glass and a smiling face," Daniel said.
The cultivation years
The smiling – and the glass emptying – started in the 70s, when Daniel first learned to make wine from the great California artist Earl Thollander, who was an avid home winemaker. With a few missed vintages, winemaking has been pretty continuous since then.
When much of California was still farmland, Daniel dug his hands into vineyard soil in Knights Valley with the first of many mentors, John Rolleri. “He was a legend in the area,” Daniel said, adding that John soon moved onto Chateau Montelena – which, three years later, went on to famously champion Napa Chardonnay at the Judgment of Paris.
In 1973, John brought Daniel in as tractor driver and mechanic. “We pulled out the old prohibition varieties and planted the first Cabernet Sauvignon!” he said.
The following year, Daniel was accepted to the Department of Viticulture and Enology at UC Davis, where he was lucky enough to gain another career mentor – Harold Olmo – and became one of the renowned vineyard geneticist’s last graduate students. “We worked on a two year experiment to look at the relationship of microclimatic differences and wine quality in Napa Valley Cabernet together,” said Daniel.
Following graduation, Daniel moved to Anderson Valley to work as Assistant Winemaker and Vineyard Manager at Navarro Vineyards, leaving three years later for a sabbatical in Bordeaux.
That’s when a crossed path and a bonjour changed his trajectory.
A stroke of luck in Bordeaux
“My full time job fell through, so I bummed around France for 6 months, learning the language and customs. I worked at seven chateaux, following the harvest around the regions of Bordeaux.”
In October of that year, a chance encounter with Christian Moueix led to an unprecedented 12 month residency at Chateau Petrus for the 1982 vintage.
Dominus, Silver Oak – and the rest is Napa history
After working with Moueix, Daniel returned to Yountville, California as the first employee of the newly founded Dominus Estate. He left as General Manager in 1994 to accept a job as winemaker at Silver Oak Cellars, replacing founder Justin Meyer upon his retirement. In 1999, Daniel helped to found Twomey Cellars for Silver Oak partner, Ray Duncan, and led both brands before retiring as Silver Oak’s Director of Winemaking, following the 2016 vintage.
After all these years making wine for the icons of the wine world, you’ve got to wonder…
What does an icon want to make?
Daniel answers at the drop of a (signature Fedora) hat.
“My passion is for the Bordeaux red varieties, Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Merlot and Petit Verdot, made in a judicious, moderate style that allows vintage and site to speak through the wine."
Extremely ripe, high alcohol, high extract wines have their place, but Daniel doesn't enjoy making them or drinking them. "A wine with perfectly ripe fresh fruit characters, moderate alcohol and judicious oak allows the variety, vintage and vineyard to speak. They are more challenging to make and more interesting to drink.”
Daniel Baron, the Angel-funded winemaker
Naked funding gives him the chance to keep wine interesting. Daniel’s first release, a Napa Valley Cabernet called Francophone (“an homage for my love of Bordeaux and Napa Valley,”) launches in Fall 2021. It’s the first wine made with the help of wine drinkers like you – his latest of a lifetime set of teachers.
"Winemaking is the most fulfilling job I can imagine,” Daniel said.
“It is a passionate pursuit, wherein one never stops learning.” He’s looking forward to learning from you, too.
Listen to Daniel’s lifetime of winemaking stories on The Winemaker’s Journey – tune in wherever you get your podcasts.