A self-described “beach rat” who grew up on Long Island, New York, Daniel Baron was about to start his second year lifeguarding at Jones Beach after his freshman year in college when he tested positive for mono and was turned down for the job. It was 1968, so naturally he hopped in a car with his buddies and drove out to San Francisco.
Daniel soon arrived in Knights Valley where he found work as a tractor driver and field hand at Chateau Montelena. The experience was enough to inspire him to return to college, and in the space of four years, 1974–1978, he earned both his bachelor’s and master’s degrees in viticulture and enology at UC Davis. After graduating Daniel worked as vineyard manager and assistant winemaker in Anderson Valley, but in 1981 when an opportunity to work in Bordeaux arose, he jumped at the chance. He worked in seven different chateaux over the course of six months, becoming fluent in French and learning the customs. “In France, you don’t do business until you share a meal,” he says.
Eventually Daniel landed a job at the legendary Chateau Petrus in Pomerol, and was befriended by owner Christian Moueix and winemaker Jean-Claude Berrouet, who Daniel credits with teaching him about wine as part of culture and how “history, quality and tradition are intertwined with the practical aspects of winemaking.” It was Daniel’s performance at Petrus in the legendary 1982 vintage that led Christian Moueix to put him in charge of his new winery in Napa Valley, Dominus Estate.
Daniel worked at Dominus from 1982 to 1994 when a quirky newspaper ad placed by Justin Meyer, the winemaker at Silver Oak Cellars, caught his attention. “Justin was looking to name his successor,” he says. Daniel took the job, and worked side by side with Justin until his retirement in 2001. “Justin instilled in me both pride in what Silver Oak had accomplished and the humility to realize there is always room to improve,” he says. “He constantly searched for ways to raise quality, and to this day that’s one of our core values at Silver Oak.”
After Justin retired Daniel continued as winemaker at Silver Oak under the leadership of the Duncan family and also became instrumental in the creation of Twomey Cellars. Drawing from his experience at Chateau Petrus, he introduced the labor-intensive Bordeaux method known as soutirage traditionnel, whereby wine is decanted from barrel to barrel instead of pumping. Today, Twomey is one of the only California Merlot producers to use this ancient technique.
Today, as Director of Winemaking for both Silver Oak and Twomey, Daniel oversees all of Twomey production, including Merlot, Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Noir. And though he is now a mentor to the winemakers who work for him, Daniel is still eager to learn and improve. In 2012, he was able to bring in his old friend, colleague and mentor, Jean-Claude Berrouet from Chateau Petrus, as a consultant, working alongside Daniel on the production of Twomey Merlot.