What would you do next if you owned and operated a cult winery with a three-decade long track record? A winery where customers lined up frightfully early on release day to purchase your coveted wine? You’d certainly take pride in your success and, maybe best of all, you and your friends would surely enjoy drinking that great wine. But if you were the Raymond Duncan family, you’d also found another winery.
That first winery was Silver Oak Cellars, where the Duncans were partners with Justin Meyer, the former Christian Brothers winemaker (when Meyer retired in 2001, the Duncans acquired his interest in Silver Oak). In 1999, when a new source of Cabernet grapes was needed to augment existing supplies, the Duncan family purchased the Soda Canyon Ranch vineyard. In addition to Cabernet, Merlot came as a bonus on the well-drained volcanic soil. In fact, the Merlot vines were high-quality French clones.
Winemaker Daniel Baron soon convinced proprietor Raymond Duncan to let him “experiment” with the Merlot from Soda Canyon Ranch. So, in 1999, a new winery was born, named after Raymond Twomey Duncan, and its first Merlot was produced. As son David Duncan recalls, “It was really the acquisition of that Soda Canyon Ranch. Daniel saw the opportunity, with the fruit that existed there, to produce a wine totally separate from Silver Oak.”
The entire Duncan family is involved in the wine business; David and Tim, two of four Duncan sons, are managing partners of Twomey. Tim handles marketing and sales, while David oversees production, finance and human resources. This gives Dad and step mom Sally a bit more leisure time at this point, but Raymond still oversees the whole organization, and is counted on as an important information resource.
Tim went straight to work at Silver Oak after graduating with a business degree from Regis University in Colorado. David followed in 2002 when his father requested his help with the wine business. Kevin and Mike, the other Duncan sons, aren’t active managers but are partners in the organization.
Another key player at Twomey is winemaker Daniel Baron, who once worked at the famed Chateau Petrus in the Pomerol region of Bordeaux, France. The Petrus wine, one of the most revered wines in France, is heavily Merlot-based. Baron worked there during the 1982 vintage, which is among the most acclaimed of the past century, an experience that formed and evolved his philosophy about making wine, particularly Merlot-based wine.
As director of winemaking for both Silver Oak and Twomey, Baron is involved in winemaking and vineyard management, making decisions about blending and when to pick. Most winemaking decisions are made collaboratively by the respective winemaking teams to draw upon the members’ varied experience. Baron guides the vision for all the wines and relies on winemaker Christina Pallmann to oversee the Twomey team.
Baron’s winemaking philosophy centers on attention to detail. He credits a method called “soutirage traditional,” a racking technique he learned in Pomerol, with preserving the aromatic qualities of wine, which causes the Twomey Merlot to explode with aroma when it’s poured. This method was developed in 19th century France, when there was no electricity to drive pumps (which aren’t the most gentle with wine). First growth estates in Bordeaux and some estates in Pomerol and St. Emillion still employ this labor-intensive method. During aging, the wine is, essentially, decanted several times, from barrel to barrel, allowing oxygen to soften tannins and leave the wine brilliantly clear.
Soutirage traditional must work well. Twomey’s fruity Merlot is supple and well-delineated with a lovely aromatic quality. Characteristics don’t hide in the background, but rather spring forward in a vigorous-but-elegant manner.
Merlot isn’t the only wine made at Twomey. In 2000, the Duncans secured a nine-acre vineyard known as West Pin in the Russian River Valley, a region reputed for its extraordinary Pinot Noirs. The area is consistent with the Duncan philosophy, which, according to David Duncan, is “to produce wines of excellent quality that people will enjoy with their meals.”
By 2002, Twomey had produced its first Pinot Noir. The West Pin Pinot Noir clones include 115, 667, 828, 777 and Pommard. By 2006, Twomey augmented the West Pin fruit with Pinot Noir from a Forestville vineyard, near the Pacific with cooler temperatures and fine, sandy loam soils. The vineyard is planted with a clonal blend including Mt. Eden, Dijon 115, Dijon 777, Swan, Calera and Pommard; the microclimate and clonal variety add delicacy and complexity to the Twomey Pinot. Currently, Twomey is working out some variety in future offerings.
Assistant winemaker Ben Cane makes the Pinot Noir at Twomey’s Westside Road facility in Healdsburg. An Australian, Cane’s vast international experience includes work in Burgundy. In appropriate vintages, Cane adds whole clusters to the open-top fermentors and performs a cold soak lasting several days to extract the grapes’ delicate flavors. During fermentation, the cap is gently pushed down every six hours to obtain color and aroma.
When Twomey purchased its Calistoga estate in 2003, the property came with a 12-acre vineyard planted to a mixture of Sauvignon Blanc and Cabernet Sauvignon. (The Cabernet has since been t-budded to Sauvignon Blanc.) Clearly Twomey’s mission wasn’t complete. The loamy soils were ideal for growing the varietal, so Twomey made the refreshing white the latest addition to its portfolio with the 2006 vintage.
The Sauvignon Blanc is produced at the Westside Road facility to take advantage of specific fermentation controls there, which preserve the lively citrus flavors and tropical bouquet. The fermentation employs selected yeast strains and occurs in a combination of thin-staved French oak barrels and stainless steel drums. Malolactic fermentation is prevented to retain crispness, and four months of aging sur lies adds body and depth to the wine. Currently, fermentation capabilities are being refined even further.
You can taste Twomey wines at the estate, just south of Calistoga and a stone’s throw east of Highway 29—a noticeable, light-colored structure with an inviting courtyard. Or you can try the tasting room at the Healdsburg estate, which features glass walls that provide expansive views. The quality in Twomey’s vineyards, production and finished wines is clear. David Duncan says, “We think our site—and our winemaking technique—makes Twomey very unique and very special.” To most, whether the wines ever achieve cult status is relatively unimportant. What is important is to have a sip of these lovely wines and see for yourself.
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