Meet the New Winemaker Leading Napa Valley’s Legendary Silverado Estate

Silverado Vineyards’ bold estate-grown red wines and Tuscan style hilltop tasting room have been an iconic part of Napa Valley for more than 40 years. Founded in 1981 by Walt Disney’s wife Lillian—along with her daughter Diane Disney Miller and son-in-law Ron Miller—Silverado joined the Foley Family Wines portfolio in 2022, bringing in a new winemaker and a fresh vision for the future. Alison Rodriguez took the helm of the high-end legacy winery and its 325 acres of estate vineyards and will continue to craft Silverado’s iconic Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and white wines, the first of which are available now.

This new position offers Rodriguez a rare opportunity to craft wines with a true “estate grown, bottled, and produced” ethos in Napa Valley. Only the third winemaker in Silverado’s history, she just released her first vintage of white wines, with quality rivaling the winery’s famous reds. In addition to a classic Napa Chardonnay and an impressive single-vineyard Sauvignon Blanc, Rodriguez is embracing the “interesting white” trend with unique varieties such as the crisp, refreshing Kerner, a German grape widely grown in the Alto Adige that is almost a novelty in Napa. The new Silverado red bottlings including the signature single-vineyard Cabernets and Merlot will release in late summer or early fall.

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Rodriguez’s first challenge was familiarizing herself with Silverado’s vines in three different AVAs. Having studied and worked in Germany and Italy for seven years, she is at home in hillside vineyards, where she knows to pay close attention to literal the lay of the land. “When I returned to Napa, I continued to hone this part of my craft by working with vineyards in every AVA in the valley,” she tells Robb Report. “Silverado’s beautiful estate vineyards were new to me, but even at first glance they provided cues about where to find our best quality blocks.”

silverado Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Merlot, and Cabernet Sauvignon
A sampling of the styles you can find from the estate

She also had to acquaint herself with the winery’s previous vintages to honor Silverado’s history and legacy. “Since Silverado Vineyards is 100 percent estate sourced from our own vineyards it is an exercise in understanding how each vintage showcases different sides of our Stag’s Leap, Coombsville, and Yountville terroirs as well as the nuances of each previous winemaker’s style,” she says. Rodriguez is not interested in making huge changes in the winemaking profile, pointing out that her role is to “receive the strengths of each vintage, striving for fruit purity, richness, length, and balance,” and, like an artist with their brushstrokes, “leave an impression on the vintages” that she produces.

We agree with Rodriguez’s assessment that 2022 was “amazing” for the white wines. Silverado 2022 Miller Ranch Sauvignon Blanc has a gorgeous texture with flavors of honeydew melon and lemon zest and a clean, mineral-driven finish. Rodriguez calls out the “beautiful Meyer lemon meringue character” in her Estate Grown Chardonnay. Silverado 2022 Borreo Ranch Kerner offers vivid acidity and flavors of peach and lime zest with a hint of jasmine in the bright finish. Fortunately, Rodriguez has prior experience with Kerner, having worked with it in Alto Adige in Northern Italy, and in Germany’s Rheingau and Nahe regions. “Lower temperatures help Kerner hold onto its crisp acidity, delicate floral, citrus and apricot aromas, so we have it planted in a cooler creek bed area of a warmer vineyard,” she says. “I appreciate its bright personality, and its balance of acidity and minerality to make a terrific aperitif wine.”

Silverado Solo
Silverado Solo is made with a unique Cabernet Sauvignon clone.

Although it may be a few years out, there is another “interesting white” in Silverado’s future: Chenin Blanc from the Miller Ranch estate in Yountville. Rodriguez aspires to make “delicious” Chenin like those she’s tasted in Stellenbosch and Franschhoek in South Africa. And while they are not that far out in the future, Rodriguez’s first red wines for Silverado will be available later this year and in early 2025. Silverado Solo Cabernet Sauvignon, made with a unique clone called the Disney-Silverado Heritage Clone, comes from the Stags Leap District. Previous vintages have aged 16 months in about half new French oak. Other upcoming 2022 releases include Silverado Geo Cabernet Sauvignon from the Mt. George Vineyard in Coombsville and Silverado Merlot from the same site.

Bill Foley, Silverado’s owner, is excited about Rodriguez’s first vintages. “She has captured the brilliance of each of our four estate vineyards—showcasing Silverado’s incredible terroir from Stag’s Leap to Coombsville,” he says. And while we have yet to taste her first Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot releases, we believe, like Rodriguez, that “patience will be rewarded.”

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