Silk Oak Vineyards
Founded in 1934, Silk Oak is the oldest existing winery in Lodi
It’s origin can be traced back almost eight decades, but Silk Oak Vineyard’s actual history is somewhat clouded. It is named for the Silk Oak Tree (Grevillea robusta), and is often called the Silver Oak, but beyond that little is known. In 2002, Rudy Maggio bought the existing Oak Ridge Winery along with the Reynolds brothers, Don and Rocky. Oak Ridge Winery was founded in 1934 and is the oldest existing winery in the Lodi, California area.
Since the facility had once been a winemaking cooperative there were a number of winery brands and labels associated with the purchase. The new owners decided to keep just one of those entities, Silk Oak Vineyard. They also set out to modernize the facilities and make it into one of the top wineries in the entire Central Valley. “I’m not entirely sure why we kept Silk Oak Vineyard, but I’m certainly glad we did,” informed co-owner Rudy Maggio.
“It is a brand that has quite a nice following in the eastern part of the United States. It has steadily grown to its present level of between 5,000 – 6,000 cases annually.” Silk Oak Winery benefits from the fact that its mother entity is the largest grower in the entire Lodi AVA (See Region Profile) and has plantings of well over 2500 acres under vine.
“With that many tons of grapes to choose from, we have been very selective with the fruit for Silk Oak Vineyard. Our best vineyards are in an area designated as District 11, and all the Silk Oak fruit emanates from there,” Maggio added. “District 11 is an exceptional growing area that has numerous micro-climates and terroir characteristics.” Silk Oak Vineyard has been in existence at least 30 or more years according to Rudy Maggio’s calculations.
“Before we bought the place, I remember seeing Silk Oak Vineyard on a number of bottles. It was a well-respected winery with a nice following.” The recent emergence of the Lodi AVA has propelled wineries such as Silk Oak Vineyard to the forefront of moderately- priced, excellent price/value relationship wines. “The quality of fruit usually dictates the pricing of wine,” Maggio explained further, “and with Silk Oak Vineyard, we put some of our really top quality grapes into the mix. Its continued growth shows that its customer base is definitely pleased with the contents of the bottles.”
Another unique aspect of the winery is the gigantic tasting facility at the winery in Lodi. A huge 50,000 gallon tank that was first used in the mid- 1930’s after the repeal of Prohibition in December of 1933, serves as the setting for tasting samples of Silk Oak Vineyard. First used for wine storage by Roma Wine Company, the huge edifice was later purchased from Mid-Valley Winery and re-erected in its current location. All floors, staves and tank top are originals while the roof, doors and windows were added in 1965 when the re-erection took place. Its location on Hwy 12, beckons all visitors to its warm and cozy confines.
Silk Oak Vineyard is that rare opportunity to taste wines from a superior growing area that is made by a Laotian winemaker (see Winemaker Profile). In addition to being a great wine value, its palate appeal makes it savor like a much more expensive wine. Enjoy!
Chue Her - Winemaker
There’s a good possibility that Silk Oak Vineyard Winemaker Chue Her is the only California winemaker of Laotian heritage. Her’s family came to the United States via Thailand at the end of the Vietnam War and settled in the Central Valley of Northern California. After high school, Her attended Cal State Stanislaus and then graduated from the UC Davis’ well-respected viticulture and enology program.
Along the way, Chue Her worked for the likes of Bear Creek Winery (Lodi), Cacciatore Fine Wines (Pixley), ASV Wines (Delano) and the much heralded Napa Valley Robert Mondavi/Baroness Phillipine de Rothschild joint venture property, Opus One Winery.
Now in his third decade as a winemaker, Her brings a fierce dedication toward making “the best quality wines at affordable prices, regardless of the regions, appellations and terroirs of the wine grapes used.” He also stated that “the price on the bottle is rarely the best measurement of the wine inside.” Such a fresh approach is somewhat unique within winemaker circles and makes Chue Her’s wines all the more interesting to try.
Chue Her also takes advantage of the fact that his team of winemakers are able to implement quality measures in larger batches than many other wineries. “A third of our red wine fermenting tanks are open-topped,” Her explained. “These tanks are large, but fermenting takes place in a way that is similar to smaller micro bins. Instead of doing punch-downs during the fermentation period, we actually do pump-overs on the wine. This allows our staff to work more efficiently while maintaining the high quality we always are seeking.”
Rudy Maggio - Managing Partner
Rudy Maggio, 75, feels as if he’s been in the wine business since he was born. He points to his grandfather, Angelo Maggio, who immigrated to America in 1906 from his home in Genova, Italy at the tender young age of fourteen. Maggio spoke no English and travelled with a loan of about $100 dollars in his pocket.
Like many other immigrants, Angelo Maggio was in search of the great American dream. He married another Italian immigrant, Louisa Maggio (no relative and from a different part of Italy) and settled in the Lodi area of California’s Central Valley.
The Maggios planted their first vineyards in 1925. Angelo’s son, Roy, and his wife Lydia Belluomini-Maggio (also the daughter of an Italian immigrant), followed in their parent’s family farming operation until Roy was stricken with polio. “When my father was afflicted and lost the use of his legs, I began working in the business at the age of eleven,” Rudy Maggio recalled. “There really wasn’t much choice to it, the work needed to get done and I was available.” The farming proved successful and Rudy and his father ventured into the grape shipping business through a company called the Rivera Fruit Company that sold most of their fruit to Canada.
“In 1980, I took over sole control of our family’s business and I stopped shipping grapes abroad and started selling our fruit to local wineries. I think it was a smart move on our part,” he continued, particularly when you see what’s happened to the Lodi AVA during recent years.” The Maggio Family farming operation has grown significantly in the past three and one-half decades. The family grows a variety of varietals including Zinfandel, Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay, Pinot Gris, Pinot Noir, Muscat, white Riesling and Petite Sirah that encompasses some 2,500 acres of planted vineyards. This is perfect for Rudy Maggio, who admits to being a farmer at heart.
The Lodi AVA is divided into seven sub appellations, each of which articulates the wide diversity of terroirs that exist within the vastness of the major AVA. Rudy Maggio enjoys extensive plantings (over 700 acres of Zinfandel alone) in the fashionable District 11 growing area (west of the Sierra Foothills in San Joaquin County and the lower parts of Sacramento County) and feels the fruit from these vineyards is among the best in Northern California.
“The terroirs in District 11 are incredibly resourceful and produce high quality fruit for a number of varietals. It makes the job of winemaking relatively easy,” Maggio added. Rudy’s two daughters, Raquel and Shelly, work daily in the winery and assure the fact that additional generations of the family will be involved in the vineyard and winery operation for many years to come.
About the Vineyard
As more and more consumers become aware of the incredible improvement in wines from the Lodi AVA, it seems reasonable that certain wineries rise to the top of the pile. Silk Oak Vineyard is actually part of the larger Oak Ridge Winery operation and draws from over 500 acres of estate vineyards located throughout the Lodi AVA. The business can trace its roots back to 1934 and lays claim to being the oldest operating winery in the entire region.
Lodi’s location (unique Mediterranean-like climate, featuring warm days and coastal evening breezes) between San Francisco Bay and the Sierra Nevada foothills contains numerous micro-climates and a variety of outstanding terroirs for viticulturists to work with.
A huge influx of new winery entities has propelled the region into the upper strata of well-respected growing areas. A host of new plantings assures the Lodi AVA region of continued success in competitions and in industry periodicals.
There are well over a thousand different wine entities with ties to the Lodi AVA and the number is growing steadily. The fact that practically any varietal is at home somewhere within the Lodi AVA is an incredible incentive to wineries who need to fulfill specific needs.
Silk Oak Vineyard draws its fruit from District 11, a superior growing area west of the Sierra Nevada foothills in Southern San Joaquin County.