Dad bought a lot of French and German stuff, but young Bob saw California as the future. "I just thought they were going in the right direction. I guess my palate was more for the bigger, more dramatic, richer wines. I loved the creamy, decadent wines, and the French were generally lighter in body." It's part of the reason why he was so happy to discover the critic Robert Parker. "I was starting to amass this inventory of early-'80s California wine, and Parker's first Wine Buyer's Guide came out. So much of the stuff he rated highly was stuff I already had in the shop. I remember going to my dad and saying, 'Hey, I really like this guy.' I thought, 'Gee, I must be doing something right.' There was huge consumer interest, and I was just very pro-California." Today, you can still find plenty of '82 Bordeaux, but Clanton estimates that about 75 percent of his inventory hails from the Golden State.
That early-'80s buying spree started in February of '87, soon after Clanton officially took over the shop from his father (he'd worked there for a year and a half after high school, and on weekends throughout his college career). He began making regular visits to Napa, making friends with all those people who used to visit the store and with newer stars as well. "Justin Meyer at Silver Oak welcomed me with open arms. I was there with a college buddy and my girlfriend, and he took us in and treated us like royalty. We went into his kitchen, and he pulled out a magnum of '79 Bonnie's Vineyard, and we hung out for something like three hours, having a ball. That was what secured my contact with Silver Oak."
Today, there are plans to remodel, plans to expand the selection of inexpensive bottles, plans to reduce the liquor-store standbys (goodbye, cookiewiches?). What remains constant and distinctive is the devotion to properly aged wines from esteemed producers. "The wineries always take care of people who helped them out in the beginning. People getting into the business today can get the current releases" -- maybe -- "but they can't get the older stuff, the library wines. That's my niche."