Silenus Winery is located on Solano Ave parallel to Highway 29 on the west side of the highway just south of Yountville in the Oak Knoll District (about 10 minutes north of downtown Napa). Their name originates from Greek mythology, Silenus was the companion of Dionysus, the Greek god of Wine. He even left a lasting quote “The man who does not enjoy drinking wine is mad”.
Silenus is located on site of the old Newlan Vineyards and Winery (also used to be referred to as Alatera) – the valley’s 35th bonded winery, bonded in 1977. The property was originally purchased by Bruce Newlan in 1967 – a former Lockheed engineer who was living in San Jose but used to vacation in the Napa Valley. He planted the vineyard on site in 1969. In 1999 with a partnership with the Sato family, the winery name was changed to Koves Newlan.
One who visited that winery and who visits Silenus today, will not even recognize the current look of the property. Former proprietor, Bob Williamson and his family purchased the site and did an excellent job of remodeling, updating the landscaping, adding state of the art wine making equipment and opening the tasting room. The tasting room opened in mid 2007.
Prior to wine, Bob enjoyed a career in construction although he has been a fine wine enthusiast for many years. While living in foggy Half Moon Bay he and his wife decided to try to locate property inland in a warmer location. Enter the Napa Valley; Bob’s original purchase was a nearby 15 acre vineyard but when the old Koves-Newlan winery and property came on the market he bought the site – not yet knowing that it would lead to additional ventures including vineyards, a winery, a custom crush facility and a tasting room all wrapped up into one property.
In 2010, Silenus Winery (and tasting room) was purchased by a Chinese-American company, Silenus International Group – led by Veronica Wong. Veronica is also involved in major real estate developments in China including a number of high rises, a major hospital and is part of the group that owns Mooney Aviation Company.
The location of Silenus Winery was originally a walnut orchard – in 1968 the trees were removed and the site was planted to Cabernet Sauvignon vineyards. The grapes were then sold to Robert Mondavi Winery, Inglenook and Clos du Val. After noticing that the grapes consistently ended up in the various wineries’ reserve wines – the owners at the time decided to hold back some of the fruit for their own wine. The first vintage from the property dated from 1980 (a Newlan Cabernet Sauvignon).
Silenus is a “collection of artisan winemakers” – this is a custom crush facility for a number of small wineries (the number varies depending on the year). What separates Silenus from other area collectives is not only do these wineries taste their wine here but they also make it on site as well. These are wineries that do not own a physical winery.
Besides having the small winery to work in as well as other winemakers to bounce ideas off of, these small wineries have a public face (the tasting room), which is very rare at other area custom crush facilities. In addition, it is refreshing to find varietals poured here not often found at Napa wineries. The reason for this is several of the clients source fruit from outside of Napa for varieties not often grown in the Napa area.
Founder of Silenus Vintners, Bob Williams produces his own label Ideology at the winery – it is usually available for tasting. Be sure to try each of the two Ideology Chardonnays – each of which is created in completely different styles. Note: we have conducted a separate review of Ideology Cellars and you can visit our review of their wines on this site.
Much of the surrounding property extending to the base of the western Mayacamas mountains is planted to vines. Some of the fruit for the Silenus wines are sourced from the estate (planted to 10 acres of vines including Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc and Petit Verdot). The property contains bench-land and alluvial soils which have resulted partly from the erosion over many years from the mountains as well from the influence of nearby Dry Creek.
Tastings feature wines from boutique Napa producers (wineries who typically produce under 1000 cases annually). The wines available at the tasting counter vary from time to time depending on which wineries are represented. Tastings include options to sample both Silenus wines as well as select wines from their custom crush clients (referred to as their Artisan Vintners).
A number of tastings are offered; the Vintner’s tasting includes a mix of white and red wines, the White Only tasting and the Reserve Tasting (featuring a selection of their most premium wines). And one can also opt for the Barrel Ad-on, featuring a barrel sample from two hand-selected barrels chosen by their winemaker.
Tastings are either at the bar – or if weather permitting, seated outside on their tiny terrace. Several private rooms are also available for larger groups (strictly by appointment).
Two small parking lots are available – the first lot on your right has shade while the other one is mostly in the sun. Look for a winery dog or two sprawled out, possibly in the tasting room. The inside of the tasting room is elegant, modern and chic with a spacious curved tasting bar. The staff is friendly and very knowledgeable.
Silenus Vintners used to use the Cabernet Franc growing on site as a blending varietal. In 2011 they produced a barrel as a stand alone varietal for their club members. They have since increased production slightly to several barrels – this wine is still made for their club members but often they will have it available in the tasting room.
The 2014 Silenus Vintners Cabernet Franc smells like this varietal should – the bouquet has character revealing aromas of jalapenos, dried tobacco leaf, dust after a recent rain and other herbal notes. Interestingly, the herbal notes do not carry onto the palate. Seamless from start the finish the palate offers flavors of plum, cherry and other berry fruits – lingers with a mocha/cedar note – with fairly fine although still a bit tight tannins, at the time of our tasting – 4 years after the vintage date. Regardless, this wine has plenty of life ahead of it. Very food friendly.
Silenus has a coveted permit to allow guests to bring food on site and picnic (provided you do a tasting either before or after your lunch). Guests who picnic but do not do a tasting must order at least a bottle of wine. The lower grounds are quiet and a very relaxing space to enjoy part of your day (weather permitting). Several picnic tables are located in this shady grotto next to a bocce ball court.
For more information Visit: www.silenuswinery.com