Vail Daily column: Raymond T. Duncan, 1930-2015
Raymond Twomey Duncan, American entrepreneur and vintner, passed away Oct. 9 at his home in Denver. He was 84.
A pioneer in the wine, oil, skiing, art and golf businesses, as well as wildcatter, rancher, investor, citizen, father and patriarch, Mr. Duncan is best remembered as a hands-on leader across his community, family and businesses.
“There’s a lot of fun to be had in developing something and making it the best you can to the limits of your ability,” said Duncan to the Denver Post in 1986. “I function as a fully committed partner in both concern about the operation and pride in the result.”
Born in South Bend, Indiana, in 1930, Mr. Duncan attended the University of Notre Dame, graduating in 1952 with a degree in philosophy. He joined the Marine Corps and served in the Korean War, ending his military career as a captain. In 1958, the Duncan family moved to Durango, a center of the growing oil and gas business, where he founded Duncan Oil and Purgatory Ski Resort in the San Juan Mountains. Mr. Duncan and his family moved to Denver in 1967 to further pursue the oil and gas business.
In 1970, Mr. Duncan accepted an invitation to visit the Napa Valley from college friends Jack and Mary Novak, founders of Spottswoode Winery. The opportunity he envisioned from that trip would shape the course of his life and the burgeoning California wine industry. He would later go on to say of the visit, “Don’t go to Napa in the springtime, you will buy too much land!”
By 1972, Mr. Duncan had acquired several vineyard properties in the Alexander and Napa valleys with the goal of planting vineyards to grow and sell grapes. Through a chance meeting with winemaker Justin Meyer, they soon became friends and founded Silver Oak “over a case of beer and a handshake.” Duncan and Meyer’s shared vision for Silver Oak was to devote their resources to the single-minded pursuit of cabernet sauvignon, indeed a novel approach at the time.
As founder of Silver Oak, Mr. Duncan is known for implementing a philosophy of constant improvement to “preserve Silver Oak’s heritage for future generations.” Under his leadership, the company grew into “one of the most iconic California wineries, helping burnish an image of high quality for the region.” Today, the winery maintains that vision under the leadership of Mr. Duncan’s sons, Tim and David Duncan.
Together with his four sons, the family founded Twomey Cellars in 1999, named after their father and Mr. Duncan’s mother, Velma Twomey Duncan.
On July 4, 1988, Mr. Duncan married his soul mate and love of his life, Sally, at the family’s Diamond Tail Ranch in Colorado.
In 1989, he solidified his love of the arts and opened Claggett Rey Gallery specializing in traditional American Art in Vail with partner Bill Rey. A few years later, in 1998, Mr. Duncan was named Wildcatter of the Year by the Independent Petroleum Association of Mountain States, and in 2004 was inducted into the Rocky Mountain Oil & Gas Hall of Fame. In 2006, he was inducted into the Colorado Ski Hall of Fame. In 2012, Mr. Duncan was inducted into the Colorado Business Hall of Fame. He has been involved in numerous philanthropic pursuits, including the Crow Canyon Archaeological Center, The Denver Art Museum, Kent Denver School, Saint Helena Montessori School and Sonoma Academy, as well as many others. He also served as one of the founders of Castle Pines Golf Club, and worked for years to make it the best golf club possible. In 2008, he endowed a men’s residence hall at the University of Notre Dame, Duncan Hall, to epitomize his values of community, brotherhood and respect. This year, with support from Mr. Duncan and his family, the university broke ground on the Duncan Student Center, a nine story, 400,000-square-foot focal point of student life at Notre Dame to be completed in 2017.
As of August, Mr. Duncan was still signing autographs at Silver Oak Release Day. He is survived by his wife Sally, their six children and 16 grandchildren.