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On Its 50th Anniversary, Silver Oak CEO David Duncan Explains How the Luxury Wine Brand Stays True to Its Heritage While Constantly Innovating

The hands-on CEO discusses how Silver Oak connects with loyal customers and new wine drinkers alike.

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Launched in 1972, Silver Oak continues to be one of the most popular American wines in the country — and the world. Silver Oak is the exclusive wine partner of the San Francisco Giants and the Golden State Warriors, and counts the likes of Oprah Winfrey, Matthew McConaughey and Lebron James as superfans. We caught up with CEO David Duncan on Silver Oak's silver anniversary to discover how the brand continues to thrive.

Silver Oak

How does a brand stay true to its heritage while continuing to innovate?

You've got to celebrate in a way that makes the roots proud but keeps moving the brand forward. First, we're updating the bottle, but our fans are insiders on our journey, so we hid the "est. 1972" as an Easter Egg in the mountain horizon of the illustration. We also updated the vineyard rows to reflect the more sustainable way we farm and irrigate today. It's a nod to our Alexander Valley winery being the first LEED-Platinum winery ever built and the first winery to receive "Living Building" certification.

What do you think separates you from other winemakers?

When we started Silver Oak, we decided to age the wine longer than any other American wine, so our 1972 vintage didn't get released until 1977. We wanted to invest in quality. We are also the only North American winery to own our cooperage, where our barrels are made. Owning your supply chain is an important way to ensure superior contents in the bottle — and also to avoid supply-chain disruptions. True reverence for craftsmanship is its own form of flywheel: Our emphasis on craft has brought us together with like-minded enthusiasts from other categories — food, the arts, music, spirits and sport — which further fueled our creativity and expansion.

Related: The CEO of Silver Oak Wine Breaks Down a Winning Ecommerce Strategy All Entrepreneurs Can Use

Who have you collaborated with?

We currently have a pop-up at our winery with Kyle and Katina Connaughton - we like to say that their SingleThread is not just one of the best restaurants in the world, it's also a showcase to one of the best duos of all time in any category (they are husband and wife - she is the farmer, he the chef).

We're launching a limited-edition beer in partnership with Russian River Brewing Company in the small-batch tradition of their Pliny The Younger. It was brewed in Silver Oak's American Oak barrels and used Silver Oak's grape pomace, and will be available for one night only at the restaurant of another 3-Michelin Star winner, Christopher Kostow's Charter Oak, during our 50th Anniversary Week of festivities in August.

What do you think is key to Silver Oak's longevity and popularity?

Don't make an analog in the existing category — create your own original. We didn't want to do a French analog; the goal was to create an American original. We used American Oak barrels to achieve this - it supports the unique American full-bodied Cabernet using the flavor profiles that are a key part of the American palate through categories like bourbon and tabasco. Our water-tower logo captured a key signature of American wineries and made it an icon.

What trends are you seeing in the global market?

American wines are leading the world in the growth of demand, quality, and investment — particularly among the premium American wines, where there's been a renaissance. This results from American winemakers continuing to evolve the craft and better farming and use of technology.

Related: The Strong Case for Wine as an Alternative Investment

As the American wine industry has stepped into a leadership role, the wines have become increasingly site-driven, much like France before us. Our regions like Napa, Sonoma County, Mendocino County and Oregon have become the American equivalents of Bordeaux and Burgundy, etc. Now we even see the French taking lessons from American wines — French wines are getting richer in taste, they're looking to incorporate our technology and sustainable practices, and they're even being produced to be drinkable upon release.

What is your approach to pricing?

We are an affordable luxury. Silver Oak found a unique lane of being the wine of choice for life moments. We are certainly a luxury item, but one that is accessible for special occasions. Put your product right in the sweet spot of a generous gift.

Where do you think the luxury consumer is heading?

Luxury products are heading to a digital waiting list model. We're doing this with all our wines, and the industry is on its way. I think this is more accessible; even if you're not able to buy the product today, you're able to start your journey, begin a one-on-one relationship with the brand, and even, to let the brand surprise you with an unexpected window to gain access.

What are millennials looking for in brands?

Millennials are incredible because they don't want to compromise on having the best of both worlds: They want modern approaches to sustainability, capsule collections, and private tastings. But they also value shared inspiration with their parents. We see an outsized percentage of multigenerational groups in our tasting rooms. Millennials care about community, which starts deeply with family and extends to coming together to dine with their friends. Wine has a unique place with this next generation because it's the truest beverage complement to a special meal.


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