Daniel Baron and Jean-Claude Berrouet
The story of Twomey Merlot is one of a friendship thirty years in the making.
It all began one fateful afternoon in 1981, when Daniel Baron, a recent UC Davis Viticulture & Enology graduate, met Chateau Pétrus winemaker Jean-Claude Berrouet and owner Christian Moueix. At the time, Christian Moueix was in the process of purchasing property in the Napa Valley for a new wine project that would become Dominus. With good wine, food and conversation flowing, the men hit it off and before Daniel knew it, he was offered an apprenticeship under Jean-Claude.
Before long Christian Moueix and Jean-Claude saw potential in the young protégé to return to the States and develop Dominus under their direction. As first winemaker and then general manager at Dominus, over the following twelve years Daniel and Jean-Claude became even closer friends.
Ready for a new challenge, in 1994 Daniel answered an ad placed by Justin Meyer at Silver Oak to name his successor, and was hired as the second winemaker in Silver Oak history.
In 1999 Silver Oak purchased Soda Canyon Ranch, a 115 acre vineyard site in Atlas Peak, as the primary site for its Cabernet Sauvignon. In walking the property, Daniel discovered 40 acres of world-class Merlot vines. With the eyes of a Bordeaux vingneron, he recognized the prospect to produce an expressive Merlot and worked with the Duncan family, co-owners of Silver Oak, to explore the varietal. Soon after Twomey Cellars was born, with the first wine being the 1999 Merlot.
Though Daniel enjoyed exercising his Bordeaux roots crafting Twomey Merlot, he missed the comradery and back-and-forth of making wine with Jean-Claude. In 2012, after Jean-Claude’s retirement from Chateau Pétrus, the Duncan family hired him in an exclusive North American agreement to assist Daniel in the production of Twomey's Napa Valley Merlot, which Wine Spectator described as “California’s answer to Pomerol.” Now, more than 30 years after their initial meeting, the two-men team is reunited, working together to create a blend that captures the best of California’s fruit-forward style with the subtlety and restraint of Bordeaux.
Jean-Claude is considered one the foremost proponents of classicist winemaking and the top Merlot winemaker in modern history. He was named esteemed winemaker and technical director for Établissements Jean-Pierre Moueix in 1964 by a then unknown Libourne négociant, Jean-Pierre Moueix, overseeing 44 vintages of the world’s most revered Merlot, Chateau Pétrus.
Daniel said of Jean-Claude's decision to join Twomey, "Much of my style of winemaking is based on his aesthetic. Jean-Claude knows how to combine subtlety, intensity and balance in a wine that remains true to its origins, and his joy of living comes through in every glass."
In a May 4, 2016 Forbes.com article, Daniel said, “Jean-Claude is an amazing inspiration and his wisdom affects everybody on the team. For example, he was walking the vineyard with my growers relations rep and Jean-Claude said to him, ‘These are some of the best grapes I’ve tasted in California.’ And the rep replied, ‘I agree, and we thought we’d start picking tomorrow.’ And Jean-Claude, in his thick French accent said, ‘I won’t tell you what to do, but you have an opportunity to make the most extraordinary merlot ever made in California. Or you can pick tomorrow.”
Daniel went on to say, “Jean Claude’s blend was a fairly radical departure from what we’ve been doing, but he said ‘Hey, if you bring me here to Twomey, let’s be original.’ And he reminded me that a great merlot is all about texture and mouthfeel.”
When describing the intent behind his winemaking role at Twomey, Jean-Claude elaborates, “Wine is a product that tells the story of its land. Merlot in California has a different expression than Pomerol, Italy or Switzerland – it’s own characteristics, and that is what I want to respect.”
Twomey and Silver Oak President & CEO David R. Duncan says, “When we acquired Soda Canyon Ranch as the primary estate fruit source for our Silver Oak Napa Valley Cabernet, we had no idea that it was also home to several blocks of world class Merlot vines. Through these two luminary winemakers we now possess a deeper understanding of this unique benchland vineyard and have become more precise and scientific in our viticulture practices and blending sessions. To me, 2013 is the vintage when everything came together.”