California mourns two winemaking greats

California is mourning the loss of two of its winemaking greats, Silver Oak founder Raymond Twomey Duncan and Pinot Noir pioneer Walter Schug.

Raymond Duncan

Raymond Twomey Duncan

Duncan passed away of natural causes at home in Denver on Friday 9 October aged 84, while Schug died a day later at his home aged 80.

Born in Indiana and raised in Colorado, Duncan founded an oil company with his father before moving into winemaking in the Napa Valley in the ‘70s.

In 1972 he founded Silver Oak with winemaker Justin Meyer in a former dairy farm in Oakville “over a case of beer and a handshake”, having bought two vineyards in the Napa and Alexander Valleys and planting them with Cabernet.

Walter Schug

Walter Schug

Duncan and Meyer’s vision for Silver Oak was to devote their time to the single-minded pursuit of Cabernet Sauvignon; a vision that remains to this day.

Silver Oak has grown to become one of the flagship Napa wineries for Cabernet and is now managed by Duncan’s sons Tim and David.

In 1999, Duncan founded the Pinot Noir focused Twomey Cellars in Healdsburg to showcase a different expression of California’s terroir. Duncan is survived by his wife Sally, their six children and 16 grandchildren.

Walter Schug meanwhile, will be remembered for being an early champion of Pinot Noir in Sonoma County.

Born in Germany, Schug grew up in the Rheingau and worked as an apprentice at nine different estates in the German region during the ‘50s. He set off for California in 1959 with a diploma in viticulture under his belt and spent a year studying at UC Davis.

In the mid-‘60s he joined Gallo as head of grower relations and quality control for Northern California, moving to Joseph Phelps in 1973 to help establish Joseph Phelps Vineyards in the Napa Valley as vice president and winemaker.

While Pinot production stopped at Phelps in 1980, Schug refused to give up on the variety and set up his own private label while continuing to work for Phelps.

Schug went on to become so successful, three years later he left Phelps to concentrate on the brand full time, which has grown to 30,000 cases a year.

Schug is survived by his three children Axel and Claudia, who both work for the winery, and Andrea, and accountant.

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