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Posted: January 01, 2012

Colorado Business Hall of Fame: Ray Duncan

Wine lovers know him as the proprietor of Silver Oak, but it's just one of several successful enterprises for the oilman and rancher

Lisa Ryckman

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Ray Duncan's life work has been pumped into barrels and poured into bottles. It's been up on the mountain and down on the ranch.

People make fortunes trading paper, but that's not Duncan's style. At 81, the founder of Duncan Oil Inc., might be considered a professor emeritus of the "Can I go see it, and can we build it?" school of business.

"The wine business, the ski business, ranching - they're tangible assets and tangible business," says Kevin Duncan, one of Ray's four sons. "The depth and breadth of his business achievements speak for themselves; they're so wide and varied."

Oil and gas, bison ranching, skiing, wine-making: Over the years, Duncan has created thriving businesses out of them all. But ask about his greatest accomplishment, and he'll tell you there isn't one.

He's a self-described small businessman who just did what made him happy.

"I've enjoyed the oil and gas exploration tremendously, and I enjoy the wine business tremendously," Duncan says. "I'm very proud of our ski area down in Durango, and I love our ranch property in Northern Colorado."

Originally from Illinois, Raymond Twomey Duncan graduated from the University of Notre Dame in 1952 and moved to Durango six years later. Oil and gas exploration was his main business - he was inducted into the Rocky Mountain Oil & Gas Hall of Fame in 2004 - but certainly not his only one.

"All kinds of different things come from hard work and keeping your eyes open," Duncan says. "And being in the right place at the right time."

Case in point: An avid skier, Duncan found himself living in the early '60s in a part of Colorado with no resort. There was, however, a first-class mountain nearby. So Duncan co-founded Durango Ski Corp. and Purgatory Ski Resort, which opened in 1966. Duncan eventually became chairman of the board of Colorado Ski Country USA and was inducted into the Colorado Ski and Snowboard Hall of Fame in 2006.

"My father's always been an incredible observer of trends and opportunities," Kevin Duncan says. "And he's found folks who have shared those visions or had a similar passion to explore them."

One of those people was Justin Meyer, a monk Duncan met after buying 750 acres of Northern California farmland. Duncan's search for a caretaker for the property ended when he met Meyer, who had overseen production at a Christian Brothers winery in Napa Valley.

Silver Oak, the winery they created together in 1972, focused on a single grape - cabernet sauvignon - aged in a dairy barn on Duncan's property. Its quality eventually drew crowds on every release day, aficionados hoping to score a bottle before it sold out. Duncan founded a second winery, Twomey Cellars, in 1999.

On the philanthropic front, Duncan has sat on a variety of boards and has supported the Denver Art Museum, Kent Denver and his alma mater, Notre Dame, as well as the Crow Canyon archeological center near Cortez. He's also a founder of the Castle Pines Golf Club.

Duncan is, his son says, the "true definition of an entrepreneur. He's always shown us the way to pay attention to good people with good ideas."
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Lisa Ryckman is the Associate Editor/Online at ColoradoBiz. Contact her at lryckman@cobizmag.com.

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