Silverado Vineyards owner and ex-Disney CEO Ron Miller dies

Tributes have been paid to Ron Miller, son-in-law to Walt Disney and co-founder of Silverado Vineyards in Napa Valley, who has died aged 85.

ron miller, silverado
Ron Miller at a Walt Disney Family Museum gala dinner in San Francisco in 2017.

Ron Miller, who was also president of the board of directors at the Walt Disney Family Museum in San Francisco and had previously been Disney CEO, died in Napa, California, announced the team at Silverado Vineyards.

Miller and his wife, Diane Disney Miller, founded Silverado Vineyards in 1981, together with Disney Miller’s mother, Lillian Disney.

They built up the winery during a transformational period for California and its standing in the wine world.

‘Since its first vintage, Silverado has won a fine reputation for consistent and full-bodied Cabernets from Stags Leap District,’ wrote Decanter contributing editor Stephen Brook last year.

Miller is survived by his seven children, plus 13 grandchildren and four great-grandchildren. His wife, Diane, died in 2013.

ron miller, disney

Ron Miller, co-founder of Silverado Vineyards with his wife, Diane Disney Miller. Credit: Silverado Vineyards.

The Walt Disney connection

Miller was a 21-year-old American football player for the University of Southern California when he met 20-year-old Diane Disney on a blind date. They married in Santa Barbara on 9 May, 1954.

After a period in the army and playing football professionally for Los Angeles Rams, he was recruited by his father-in-law to work at Walt Disney studios.

Miller is credited with helping to lead the expansion of the business following Walt Disney’s death in 1966.

As CEO of the Walt Disney Co between between 1978 and 1984, he drove the creation of Disney home video, Touchstone Pictures and the Disney Channel, as well as a move into computer animation.

‘Everyone at The Walt Disney Company is deeply saddened by the passing of Ron Miller,’ said Bob Iger, chairman and CEO of The Walt Disney Co.

‘Few people had Ron’s understanding of our history, or a deeper appreciation and respect for our company, and he shared it generously with anyone who wanted to know more. I was fortunate to have known him, and even luckier to have called him a friend. My thoughts and prayers are with his family.’

In 2009, he helped to establish the Walt Disney Museum in San Francisco.

Silverado Vineyards said that the museum has set up a memorial fund to receive donations in tribute to Miller’s life.

Both Ron Miller and his wife were known for their philanthropy, notably in the areas of classical music and ballet.

Beyond film and wine, Miller also enjoyed skiing, fishing, hunting and golf.

See also: 

Travel guide: Riding Napa Valley’s Silverado Trail

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DRC helps Sotheby’s break sales records in 2018

Sotheby’s wine and spirits sales have broken through the $100 million barrier for the first time in a single year, driven by a world record auction price and the seemingly inexorable rise of Domaine de la Romanée-Conti.

DRC 1945 record
The 1945 DRC sold by Sotheby’s in 2018 set new records for wine at auction.

Burgundy, mature Bordeaux and Scotch whisky led Sotheby’s wine and spirits sales across auctions and retail to a new high of $100m in 2018, said the company this week. Auction sales ‘surged’ by around 50% versus 2017 to reach $98m, it said.

There was little surprise to see Burgundy’s Domaine de la Romanée-Conti (DRC) topping a list of the best-selling wine estates and distilleries for sixth consecutive year.

But, even for the fabled DRC, this was some demonstration of supremacy on the fine wine scene.

Total DRC sales across auctions and retail at Sotheby’s doubled versus 2017, rising to $24m in 2018 – more than the combined sales of its three nearest challengers. The other estates making the top 10 were:

  • Petrus, $8m in sales
  • Lafite Rothschild, $7m
  • Latour, $7m
  • Mouton Rothschild, $5m
  • Leroy, $4m
  • Margaux, $3m
  • Haut-Brion, $3m
  • The Macallan, $2m
  • Cheval Blanc, $2m

DRC accounted for 21% of Sotheby’s wine and spirits sales over the 12 months, or roughly one dollar out of every five spent.

Its performance was partly fuelled by Romanée-Conti 1945 setting a new world record for a bottle of wine sold at auction.

Seven Methuselahs of Romanée-Conti 1945 were also sold for $1.5m by Sotheby’s’ retail division in Hong Kong.

More generally, Sotheby’s results show that Bordeaux and Burgundy overshadowed other fine wine regions in its 2018 sales.

‘Both Bordeaux and Burgundy gained share at the expense of other categories, accounting for 88% of our worldwide sales, up from 80% in 2017,’ the auction house said.

Burgundy’s share rose to a record 42%, up from 39% in 2017.

Bordeaux’s share of sales recovered ground to reach 46%, having sunk to 40% in 2017; the first time it the region had fallen below a 50% share.

Sotheby’s said that mature vintages of Bordeaux had driven the revival.

The group also noted a resurgence in demand from Asia-based buyers, who accounted for 63% of purchases by value in 2018, up from 58% in 2017.

Three whiskies made the group’s top 10 lots sold at auction and retail for the year: The Macallan 1926 60 Year Old; The Macallan in Lalique Set and The Yamazaki 50 Year Old from Japan.

Sotheby’s plan highest-estimated wine auction in history

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Domaine de la Romanée-Conti 2016: Survivors in bottle

A pared-down range was presented at Corney & Barrow’s recent DRC 2016 launch…

Domaine de la Romanée-Conti 2016
DRC had to change its approach in 2016 due to the challenges brought by the weather.

It’s a little unusual to be offered Champagne after a trade and press tasting but Adam Brett Smith, le grand fromage at DRC’s UK importer, Corney & Barrow, is keen to keep social intercourse to a minimum at its posh city premises.


DRC 2016 vital statistics

Corton, Prince Florent de Merode

Average age of vines 46
Production 420 cases
Yield 22 hl/ha
Harvest date 22 September 2016
Bottling dates 27 February & 31 May 2018


Average age of vines 38
Production 1304 cases
Yield 27 hl/ha
Harvest date 27 & 28 September 2016
Bottling dates 1, 2, 6 & 7 March 2018


Average age of vines 46
Production 868 cases
Yield 24 hl/ha
Harvest date 23 & 24 September 2016
Bottling dates 28 March, 3 & 30 April 2018

La Tâche

Average age of vines 51
Production 1814 cases
Yield 31 hl/ha
Harvest date 24 & 25 September 2016
Bottling dates 20-25 April, 25-28 May 2018


Average age of vines 57
Production 440 cases
Yield 24 hl/ha
Harvest date 25 September 2016
Bottling date 19 April 2018

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Top Spanish Mencía wines: panel tasting results

Our judges were very impressed with consistency and quality in this tasting of Spanish Mencía wines…

Spanish Mencía wines

89 wines tasted, 35 wines highly recommended

The taster: Sarah Jane Evans MW, Simon Field MW, Pierre Mansour

Scroll down to see the scores and tasting notes

The verdict

What a fascinating tasting this was! In a number of ways it surpassed our expectations. While there were no wines in the Outstanding category, there were several that very nearly made it. The Highly Recommended section is impressively large, with many wines that we recommend strongly. Roughly half of all the Bierzo wines entered were rated Highly Recommended; and the same for Ribeira Sacra. Notably our scores were very consistent.

Bierzo, the established home of Mencía, produced some exceptional wines. It was no surprise to find wines from Raúl Pérez and Descendientes de J Palacios jostling for position at the top. The main revelation, however, was the rapid improvement of wines from Ribeira Sacra. Pierre Mansour noted: ‘Overall I was impressed by the quality – in particular of the wines from Ribeira Sacra, which had fragrance, freshness and juicy fruit. My highest-scoring wine was from Ribeira Sacra and the hit rate was high – there were fewer Ribeira Sacra wines in the tasting yet four made it into the top 10.’

There were also entries from all the Galician DOs, but because they were fewer in number it is hard to generalise about them.

In terms of wine quality, we found no faults and only rated five wines below Recommended. Within the selection of wines tasted, there was a wide range of styles. This is definitely a case of know your producer. Mencía is often recommended on wine lists as a lighter, Loire-style wine, and yet there were plenty of wines at 14.5% and two at 15%.

We were impressed by the general quality of the winemaking. Very few of the wines were overworked or ‘made’ wines. In general, oak was absent (often a bonus on young wines), or subtly handled. Mencía proved that it works best by itself. In general Garnacha, Alicante Bouschet (Garnacha Tintorera), and even in one case Tempranillo, were too dominant as blending partners, even in small quantities. Five of the wines in the top 10 had other varieties in the blend, but in no case was this more than 10%.

And that stylistic question? Is Mencía Spain’s Pinot? We repeatedly praised the fine aromatics of the wine, and the appealing fruit. The confident answer is no, it’s Spain’s Mencía. Or is it Cabernet Franc? ‘The wines were less Cabernet Franc-like than I had anticipated, with the benefit that there were few leafy, green examples,’ said Simon Field MW. As for ageability the wines were most pleasurable young. With a few exceptions, these are wines for drinking soon. Though there are some top Mencías (not in this tasting) which have years ahead.

A footnote on the finished wines – once the tasting was over and the scores agreed, then it was time for the ‘big reveal’. While Bierzo and Ribeira Sacra led the tasting in terms of wine quality, their wines deserving of widespread recognition, only the Bierzo wines looked the part, with bottle choice and label designs that are professional. Ribeira Sacra has still some way to go in this respect. We strongly recommend the best wines, but their labelling and bottles won’t yet encourage wine lovers to buy.

Mansour summed up: ‘I think Mencía offers a real “trump card” opportunity for Spanish reds – the wines are different in stature, weight and power compared to most of Spain’s warmer regions, so for drinkers seeking wines with lift, lighter alcohol and refreshment, Mencía will fit the bill exceedingly well.’

The scores

89 wines tasted

Entry criteria: producers and UK agents were invited to submit their latest release wines made from Mencía (85% minimum in blends)

Exceptional 0

Outstanding 0

Highly Recommended 35

Recommended 49

Commended 3

Fair 2

Poor 0

Faulty 0

The regions

Bierzo 53

Ribeira Sacra 21

Valdeorras 6

Ribeiro 5

Castilla y León 2

Monterrei 1

Rías Baixas 1

The judges

Sarah Jane Evans MW

Evans is an award-winning journalist who contributes to leading wine magazines, while also focusing on wine education and judging internationally. In 2006 she became a Master of Wine, writing her dissertation on Sherry. She is also a member of the Gran Orden de Caballeros de Vino for services to Spanish wine.

Simon Field MW

Field joined Berry Bros & Rudd in 1998 and worked with them for 20 years, as buyer for Spanish and fortified wines, as well as wines from Champagne, the Rhône, Loire Valley and Languedoc-Roussillon. He gained his MW qualification in October 2002 and in 2015 was admitted into the Gran Orden de Caballeros del Vino.

Pierre Mansour

Mansour has worked in the wine trade for his entire career, starting in 1995 with the Antique Wine Company. In 2000 he joined The Wine Society, taking on the role of buyer in 2004, covering Champagne, Australia, New Zealand and North America. He is currently head of buying and responsible for the Spanish range.

The top scoring Spanish Mencía wines from this tasting:

See all wines from this tasting

About Spanish Mencía

Among the pantheon of Spanish native red varieties, Mencía holds a special place. In contrast to the heavyweights of Tempranillo and Monastrell, Mencía can offer a seductive perfume, a lively freshness and appealing fruit that does not need to be obscured by oaking. At its very best it gives distinctive, glorious, ethereal wines.

Its home, in the far northwest of Spain, was long isolated geographically, socially and commercially, from the rest of Spain and internationally. For wine lovers this isolation had the benefit of preserving distinctively different local varieties.

Then, starting at the end of the 1990s, this isolation changed. The area’s arrival on the world stage was driven especially by three people. This is a definite case of the human factor being a key part of the definition of terroir, providing a way to understand the best expression of the place.

First is Raúl Pérez, a local from Bierzo, who in addition to making outstanding wines of his own has been an important ‘godfather’, guiding and giving cellar space to other winemakers. Ricardo Pérez Palacios and his uncle Alvaro Palacios, working in Bierzo at Descendientes de J Palacios, are also revealing the remarkable potential of the variety.

Grape character

Some say that Mencía can be seen as Spain’s Pinot, while others have suggested it’s more similar to Cabernet Franc. Genetically it is neither of these. Wine Grapes notes that the Portuguese Jaen from the Dão is the same variety. It goes on to say that Mencía’s genetic diversity versus the more homogenous Jaen suggests that pilgrims brought the vines to Portugal on their return from Santiago de Compostela, rather than vice versa.

The vine is early flowering and early ripening, with short oval berries. It flourishes on slate, which is what drew Ricardo Pérez to Bierzo in the first place. But it is susceptible to powdery and downy mildew and botrytis.

The best Mencías have a keynote freshness, but acidity can fall rapidly at the end of ripening, so the harvest needs careful management. It can offer a range of wine styles, from youthful and fruity with light tannins to concentrated and powerful with higher alcohol and fine tannins.

Notably it does not need blending. Until recently Mencía was often green in character, with rustic tannins, and where oak was used, excessively oaky. In just two decades, such has been the recognition of Mencía’s charm that it is has become more famous than Bierzo. Now Bierzo is known as the home of Mencía, not on its own account. Ribeira Sacra, on the other hand, where Mencía also dominates, is still better known for its exceptional beauty and its ‘heroic viticulture’.

Spanish Mencía: the facts

Plantings Mainly found in northern Castilla y León and in Galicia, specifically in the DOs of Bierzo, Monterrei, Ribeira Sacra and Valdeorras. Also permitted in Rías Baixas and Ribeiro DOs, with a little in Asturias and Catalunya

Production volume (2018) Bierzo 8.9m kg (80% of total production)

Ribeira Sacra* 5.2m kg (90% of red production)

Monterrei 1.6m kg (83% of red production)

Valdeorras* 1.5m kg

*Source: Galicia en Vinos

Spanish Mencía: know your vintages

Vintage assessments across a wide range of DOs are inevitably imprecise, so please note that this summary is a broad generalisation

2017 Monterrei was 35% down on 2016. Ribeira Sacra had an early harvest, with uneven ripening. Valdeorras saw some severe frost damage.

2016 In general, an excellent vintage. In Bierzo, production of Mencía was 18% lower than in the previous five vintages.

2015 Overall high quality, with higher yields. The inland DOs of Valdeorras and Bierzo flourished.

2014 Rainy year, an ‘Atlantic’ vintage similar to 2013. Strict selection needed in many areas.

2013 A cool and wet spring gave welcome rainfall after drought, though many growers needed to select the best grapes.


See all wines from this tasting

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Ornellaia reveals artist designs for 2016 vintage

American artist Shirin Neshat has been commissioned by Tuscan estate Ornellaia for limited edition designs of the 2016 bottles.

Ornellaia 2016 vintage
Ornellaia 2016 “La Tensione”, designed by American artist Shirin Neshat

This is the eleventh edition of Ornellaia’s Vendemmia d’Artista project, where an artist is commissioned each year to design limited edition bottles.

Neshat created an art installation for the estate, customised a limited series of 111 large format bottles and designed a special label that, one example of which, will be found in each Ornellaia 2016 case containing six 750ml bottles.

The theme of the 2016 is ‘La Tensione’ (tension), and Neshat’s concept centres around the idea of wine as a moment of social sharing.

‘In the work created for Ornellaia, I inscribed a poem by the legendary poet, Omar Khayyām (from 10th century,) titled: “Without pure wine I cannot exist.”,’ said Neshat.

‘He has written more than any other Persian poet about the relationship between wine and spirituality (Erfan).’

Neshat is a photographer, filmmaker and video-artist , and her early work focused on the political and social conditions of Iranian and Muslim life.

‘2016 represents another immensely successful vintage highlighting all the virtues of Bolgheri’s climate: abundant sunshine, without excessive heat, a dry summer to allow the grapes to achieve perfect ripeness and concentration, and just about enough rain to avoid stress,’ said Axel Heinz, Ornellaia’s estate director.

‘All these elements combine to yield a wine that shows lush ripeness and crisp firmness, opposing forces creating a sense of dense raciness we like to describe as ‘tension’”.’

The 2014 designs were by Brazilian artist Ernesto Neto and the 2015 by South African artist William Kentridge – who has also designed the Mouton Rothschild 2016 label.

Sotheby’s auction

As part of the Vendemmia d’Artista project, 111 large formats are auctioned by Sotheby’s for charity. These include 100 three-litre double magnums, 10 six-litre Imperials and a nine-litre Salmanazar.

This year’s charity is the ‘Mind’s Eye’ project with the Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation, which helps individuals who are blind or partially-sited experience art through their other senses.

Look out for a vertical tasting of Ornellaia wines, coming soon on Decanter Premium

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Domaine de l’Hortus: Introducing the Naked Venus

Andrew Jefford tastes ‘the enduring classics of a recovered tradition’…

Domaine de l’Hortus
Domaine de l’Hortus

There’s no reason why a beautifully sited vineyard should produce outstanding wine. Vines are eyeless, as well as aesthetically illiterate; what matters to their stomata is the play of light, wind and warmth on their leaves, and the comfort and sustenance they can draw from their anchored roots. A dull, stony rise in the Médoc may be vastly superior, in terms of vine performance and fruit balance and complexity, to an entrancing slope in Provence or the Cape.

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Wine Legend: R López de Heredia, Viña Tondonia Blanco 1964

A wine with ‘brilliant focus and balance…’

R López de Heredia, Viña Tondonia Blanco 1964

Wine Legend: R López de Heredia, Viña Tondonia Blanco 1964, Rioja, Spain

Bottles produced 16,000

Composition 90% Viura, 10% Malvasia

Yield 28hl/ha

Alcohol 12%

Release price 2,000 pesetas (€12)

Price today £900

A legend because…

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Expert’s Choice: Premium Spanish rosé

While much Spanish rosé is made for easy pleasure, some producers are moving towards a more refined style. Pedro Ballesteros Torres MW charts their progress and picks bottles to try…

Spanish rosé wine

Most rosé is made as a simple, easy-drinking wine but, technically, rosé can be top-class and have an ageing potential similar to the best red and white wines of the world. Style and complexity depend on decisions made in the vineyard and in the winery. What characterises rosé wines, a limited maceration of pips and skins in the must, means just that: less maceration, but by no means lower quality.

Scroll down for Pedro’s pick of the 18 best Spanish rosé wines

Some grape varieties are particularly suited to producing balanced and multi-layered wines after short maceration (as the best white varieties do). Plus, in the current era of climate change, when falling levels of acidity are becoming a key factor for harvest decisions in warm countries, early harvest in appropriate sites can be a sensible, quality-oriented decision.

While some connoisseurs tend to dismiss dark pink rosés, colour is not an indicator of quality, but a feature to increase visual attractiveness. Until the late 19th century, most Spanish wines were clarete (a very pale orange). However, those wines all but disappeared because of the international market preference for deeply coloured wines, and thanks to the availability of technology for extended maceration.

Now, an increasing number of Spanish winemakers realise that, in some vineyards, they can achieve wine’s optimum balance, ageing ability and complexity with fresher musts and less phenolic extraction. Quantities of fine Spanish rosé wines are still minute, and many wines would benefit from further experimentation, but the results so far are excellent, and the prospects enticing.

We can classify three styles of high-quality rosés. The first group are those wines made upon their fruit purity and their natural balance, with little filtration. Bottled soon after fermentation, they develop complexity in a way similar to Riesling and Chenin wines. Some international varieties, such as Merlot and Syrah, are particularly suitable for this type of wine, as well as the native grape Cariñena and blends with white varieties.

The second group of wines acquire their complexity after oak ageing, and improve with time in bottle. Tempranillo and Garnacha are the leading varieties in this category. (The great pioneer of this style, Viña Tondonia Rosado, was not tasted for this article, but it certainly deserves a mention.)

The most recent category, wines bottled after long interaction with fine lees, in a variety of vats, is coming to the fore as a smart compromise for keeping fruit while providing vinous complexity. Obviously, those three groups are not neatly organised, and many producers will use elements of all three styles in their wines.

Lots of experimentation is still needed. The work to produce top rosés starts with the grape variety and vineyard selection, then continues through the production process. Some of the wines in this selection provide proof that the efforts of winemakers so far have been worthwhile – and those efforts may even result in a new style of fine Spanish rosé.

Pedro Ballesteros Torres MW is the DWWA Regional co-Chair for Spain and sits on the governing board of the Spanish Tasters’ Union

See Pedro’s pick of the 18 best Spanish rosé wines

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French bank Crédit Agricole puts two Bordeaux châteaux up for sale

France’s Crédit Agricole bank has said it will sell Château La Tour de Mons in Margaux and Château Blaignan in the Médoc appellation, and invest heavily in fifth growth estate Grand Puy Ducasse.

‘Marquis de Mons’ the second wine of La Tour de Mons, from Bordeaux’s highly rated 2010 vintage.

Crédit Agricole said earlier this year that selling 58-hectare La Tour de Mons and 97-hectare Blaignan would enable it to focus resources on three key estates.

Those are Château Grand Puy Ducasse, an 1855 fifth growth in Pauillac, plus Château Meyney further north in St-Estèphe and Château de Santenay in Burgundy. All are run by CA Grands Crus, based in Pauillac.

The bank said it would invest heavily in Grand Puy Ducasse. This will include building new vat and barrel rooms by 2021, plus new wine tourism facilities, it said.

All three estates would also see investment to help them become more environmentally friendly, the bank said, without elaborating on the details. It did not say how much money would be spent.

Proceeds from the sales of La Tour de Mons and Blaignan would be directly re-invested to provide minority capital to the bank’s existing clients, said Christophe Blanchy, head of capital investment at Crédit Agricole.

The bank said that it was the biggest lender to France’s wine industry and was already a minority shareholder in several wine businesses.

Crédit Agricole has owned La Tour de Mons since 1995 and expanded the estate after buying Château Marsac-Seguineau in 2001. It has owned Blaignan since 2004. Both have seen investment in the vineyards and the cellars, said the bank.

Sodica Millésime was advising on the sale, Crédit Agricole said in January 2019.

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Discovering Spain’s new winemakers plus their top wines worth seeking out

Have the vision to look beyond the Rioja and Ribera del Duero mainstream, and the rewards can be great indeed. Hidden in rural corners and on inhospitable slopes, you will stumble across those who prefer to carve their own path, mixing new methods with old, breathing new life into traditional grape varieties and wine styles as they go. Sarah Jane Evans MW explains the fascination behind nine of her favourites among Spain’s new guard…

Spain winemakers
Harvest at Doniene Gorrondona

Spain is buzzing with exciting small projects. The fact that they are small makes the wines harder to find for those of us who love them, but it is all the more rewarding when you can track them down. Often, in fact, the best solution can be to visit the wineries directly (so long as you follow the protocol of buying some wine when you do). Many of the wineries here are in exceptionally beautiful places: natural parks, UNESCO biospheres, rugged mountains, islands in the midst of the Atlantic, and high isolated inland plateaus.

Scroll down for Sarah Jane Evans MW’s top wines from 9 new Spanish winemakers



See Sarah Jane Evans MW’s top wines from nine new Spanish winemakers

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