Miguel Silva has a way about him. Broad-shouldered with a shaved head and short mustache, he carries an exuberant presence. He can’t help but speak with his hands and smiles broadly, punctuating his sentences with large gestures.
Miguel first came to the United States in 1991. After graduating from school, he traveled to Portland to pick strawberries. “It’s a rite of passage in Mexico to visit the U. S.,” he says. “I told my boss that I was going to go north, and he told me he’d keep my job for me when I came back. It’s been almost thirty years.” Miguel laughs loudly. “When I last visited him, he told me that my job was still waiting for me.”
After traveling around the U. S., Miguel ended up in Lake County, working for Wildhurst Winery. There he experienced wine for the first time, and that moment changed his life.
“The first time I tasted a Malbec, it was like that movie Ratatouille,” he says. “You know how that one bite took him back to his childhood?” Miguel poses the question. “The first smell of the Malbec took me back to when I was six or seven years old in Michoacán. We had to go up the mountain and plow the furrows for the corn by hand. And after a long, hot day of work, my father would pick the prickly fruit off the cactus. He would pick the spines off the fruit and hand it to me to eat. When I was a child, I was mad at having to do all that hard work, but the reward of the work was the taste of the fruit in my mouth.” He smiles, remembering that moment once more. “And that moment was in that glass of wine. Wine tasting is personal,” he continues. “You won’t have the same feeling or memory that I have when you taste something, but it’s that moment with certain wines, where you are taken back to a certain time or emotion. Then the wine becomes part of who you are. That makes wine special. Winemaking is memories.”
“Wine is an experience,” Trudy agrees. “It’s such a personal thing. But people come back to the same wines because they have a positive experience or memory with them. “
Miguel broadly smiles. “It’s true. I first learned to make wine under the training of Kathy McGrath at Wildhurst. Kathy is passionate about winemaking,” he says, his arms again swinging wide to express the emotion. “More than just making wine, she lived it, and that imprinted on me. She was trying to showcase the fruit, but also she put a bit of herself in the wine; each glass had a bit of her in it as well.
“Wine is like that,” he continues. “You have to have fun. Sure there are layers of complexity in wine, but sometimes you have just to shut up and enjoy it.” He laughs and pours a glass of his 2010 Cabernet Sauvignon. “This was the first wine I made as Don Angel. I was working with Dan Cap and told him that I’d like to buy some grapes. A little while later, he showed up in his truck with the back filled with grapes. ‘Here you go,’ he said. ‘What?’ I replied. ‘These are for you,’ he replied, ‘as a gift.’” Miguel pauses, the gratitude in his demeanor evident. “And that’s how I made my first wine.”
It’s an honor to taste this wine; The 2010 Cab is exceptional “It’s at its peak right now,” Miguel says, letting the wine roll across his tongue, remembering the moments that went into making it. “This is the best time to drink it.”
We take a sip, rolling the flavors across our tongues. It sits dark in the glass, long-legged and balanced in flavor, not over-oaked, not over-fruited. The true taste of the grape comes out gently and lingers in the mouth. It’s got a bit of Miguel’s soul in it. He’s an artist with wine; and each sip reflects that.
After working with Kathy, Miguel then began to work with Jed Steele. While working for Jed, Miguel took a business trip to Chicago. “Of course, Jed was the mastermind of the wine,” he says, his memory taking him back to a large dinner. “And I’m at this beautiful dinner. Course after course of food comes out, and they’ve paired wine with each one. They’ve got cigars, and everyone is dressed up. I hold up a glass of wine we’ve made. And as I hold up the glass, I think about everything that got it to that point. I remember sweeping the floors, cleaning grapes from the gutters, and the long days dumping grapes into the hoppers, and the dusty, long nights of working with sweat running off me.” He runs his fingers down his face. “And then to see it in the glass at that dinner.” He pauses, filled with emotion. “To see it from beginning to end, what a joy. And then when someone takes a sip of that wine and says, ‘I like it,’ that’s nice.” He broadly smiles. “I love that.”
Miguel pours some of his 2016 Zinfandel. Looking at it in the glass, Trudy and I think of the process it took to get to the tasting room and look at the wine with new eyes. Plummyness and prune ride through the bouquet, but don’t mistake it for a sweet wine. The first taste will dispel that notion. Broad tannins stretch across the mouth, dry and smooth. Hints of almond, spice, and tobacco linger on the palate. “It’s a food wine,” Miguel says. “And the question is, ‘What do you think it would work with?’ A posole verde? Chilaquiles? Or a molé negro? It’s up to you. I can’t tell you that. But when you find the right match, it comes alive.”
Later that week, Trudy and I enjoyed the 2016 Zinfandel with some of our homemade molé for Mother’s Day. And I can verify that Miguel was right. With each sip, the dish came alive, as though it was incomplete without a taste of wine. It not only rounded out the meal, but also made us curious. What else could we pair the wine with? The possibilities are endless. Thai curries? Yup, it goes with that. Chicken noodle soup? That’s a winner, too. Let your imagination run wild; experiment with flavors you may not have thought of before; you may be pleasantly surprised.
Miguel finishes his glass and sets it on the wooden tasting counter. Then he smiles broadly again. “I’m so grateful for all the people who have taught me. I love wine; it’s how I express myself.” He laughs. “It’s a beautiful thing. It’s a crazy, beautiful thing.”
To enjoy some of Don Angel’s wines, give them a call at (707)-349-6312 or follow them Facebook or Instagram. During COVID-19, Miguel is offering several $20 bottle specials and free delivery in Lake County.
DON ANGEL CELLARS
165 N Main St, Lakeport, CA 95453