In the run-up to last year’s first Oakland Wine Festival, I had the great pleasure of interviewing several of the leading winemakers and executives involved in the event as honorary Steering Committee Members. This year’s event seemed an appropriate time to revisit some of those conversations. Below are notes from my conversation with Russell Weis, General Manager of Silverado Vineyards:
“I would be in farming.”
Having grown up in farming community, if he hadn’t gone into wine, Weis would have made his living on a farm — a great life in his view. His career course changed, he says, when as a child he saw harvest workers moving around on bikes and thought being a winemaker must be a lot of fun.
Philippine de Rothschild
“The Valley has meant a lot to me and my family”
Weis has built deep roots within the community. As head of Napa Valley Vintners, the industry’s trade association, he had a front row seat to the damage the recent earthquake wrought, not just to physical structures, but to personal lives. He considered it a “sacred obligation” to be a good custodian of his community; and describes how that community quickly rallied, pledging $10 million to relief efforts. He soon found himself navigating a rapid learning curve in dealing with FEMA and disbursing aid funds, not exactly riding bikes all day but work he feels privileged to undertake given the personal impact Napa Valley has had on him.
Weis is equally animated on issues of sustainability and environmental impact. He considers himself blessed to work for a winery whose owners takes a multigenerational perspective. And he becomes tangibly more animated when talking about efforts to reduce consumption. To name one area, Silverado has achieved a thirty percent reduction in energy consumption by changing the lighting in its fermentation room. And by 2017, the winery will have reduced kilowatt usage by a further twenty percent.
Like many at the participating wineries I spoke to,Weis seemed excited to be welcoming new and existing wine enthusiasts in Oakland and to forging relationships both during Oakland Wine Festival and beyond. (For a description of Silverado’s wines, take a look at my Running for Parliament post from last year). As Oakland’s wine scene continues to gain recognition, that’s a sentiment I’m sure we can all toast to.