Neyers Vineyards

Bruce's Journal

May 29, 2019

Remarkable wine meets an even more remarkable sandwich

It Was Probably the Best Sandwich Ever Made: An Impromptu Lunch with Alice Waters

I met Alice Waters on a Saturday afternoon in September 1971, soon after she opened Chez Panisse Restaurant in Berkeley. I was working at Connoisseur Wine Imports, a wine importing business in San Francisco owned by two brothers-in-law, Art Formicelli and Bal Gibson. Art was an attorney in San Francisco, but he lived in Berkeley, and had heard about Chez Panisse when it opened. He met Alice there one night, and after learning of her interest in French wines suggested that she visit the store. Connoisseur was one of the largest fine wine shops in California at the time, and because of a wrinkle in the state alcoholic beverage laws, we could — unlike other wine stores — sell wine both to consumers and to other licensed businesses. Alice began to visit us regularly on Saturday mornings to assemble a few carefully selected cases that would then serve as the basis for the restaurant’s wine list for the next week or so. I loved waiting on her as she was filled with enthusiasm about every wine she saw, and she talked about France in a way that made it come to life for me. Moreover, I was comfortable answering her questions, and she seemed to listen attentively as I explained to her what I knew about the different wines. I was helping her load her car after one visit when she took a business card out of her wallet, and wrote on the back of it ‘Dinner for Bruce and guest’. She signed it, then handed it to me. ‘Come to dinner tonight,’ she said. ‘We’re grilling lamb from the Dal Porto Ranch.’ I’d never had lamb before and didn’t know anything about the Dal Porto Ranch, but an evening out was a big deal back then. When I arrived home, I announced to Barbara that we were going out to dinner that night. We ate magnificently at Chez Panisse – I can still remember many details about our meal – and after dinner, Alice sat with us and helped drink one of the bottles of wine that I’d brought along. It was the first of what became countless meals we have enjoyed at Chez Panisse, and the beginning of a friendship with Alice that continues today. One Friday night a few years ago, Barbara and I celebrated our wedding anniversary at Chez Panisse. In addition to making a special meal, Alice invited us to spend the night in her guest house, so we didn’t need to drive home after dinner. The next morning she suggested we have coffee at Cafe Fanny, the small coffee bar named for her daughter. After breakfast together we were about to drive Alice back to her house before going home ourselves, but she wanted to stop first at Acme Bakery to buy some bread. When she walked out a few moments later, she waved a loaf of Challah bread at us. ‘I’ve got a great idea,’ she reported. ‘They only bake Challah bread here on Saturday, and there was still some left. My tomatoes are ripe, and I’m going to make BLT’s for lunch!’ Spontaneity has always been one of Alice’s long suits. We drove back to her house with our loaf of freshly baked Challah bread, stopping along the way at a local charcuterie shop to buy some bacon. Once in her kitchen at home, she set about frying the bacon while Barbara went to the backyard garden with a basket and began to pick ripe tomatoes and some of Alice’s famous ‘baby lettuce’. The aroma of that sizzling bacon was making me even hungrier. Alice carefully sliced the Challah bread, and began to toast it in the stove. The bacon was almost done, and Barbara had already begun to slice the tomatoes and wash the lettuce. I opened a bottle of wine. What about the mayonnaise, I thought? I opened the refrigerator, looked around, and reported the bad news to Alice: ‘There is no mayonnaise,’ I said. ‘Of course not,’ she replied. ‘We haven’t made it yet.’ With that she scooped up a bowl that contained the eggs she had brought home from the restaurant the night before, cracked them and expertly separated the yolks. She started to whisk the eggs while she slowly added some other ingredients arranged neatly next to the stove. As she wielded the whisk, she handed me a bottle of Laura Marvaldi olive oil with its distinctive gold foil, and instructed me to slowly drizzle it into the bowl as she whisked it. After ten minutes or so she finished and handed me the bowl. ‘Taste it,’ she said. It was wonderful. At Alice’s house, I learned, you don’t buy mayonnaise — you make it. Alice began assembling the sandwiches. It was August, and it was already beginning to warm up in Berkeley. We sat down at the kitchen table, a little flushed. Alice opened a window to let in some fresh air, and I took a bottle of chilled rosé from the refrigerator. ‘August is always the best time to drink Tempier rosé,’ she remarked. Maybe, but that sandwich was the best one I have ever eaten.

Not long after that, Barbara and I visited Chez Panisse to meet with Jonathan Waters – no relation to Alice – who for the past two decades has been the talented and knowledgeable wine buyer there. Alice stopped by and sat with us briefly as we tasted through a handful of Neyers wines with Jonathan. It was a Friday afternoon and she was leaving to prepare dinner at home for some guests visiting from Italy. I asked her if she would like to take one of the Neyers bottles home with her. She didn’t hesitate, and reached out immediately for the bottle of ÂME Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon that we had just tasted. She’ll probably never know just how flattering that gesture was.

We recently began shipping our 2016 ÂME Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon. This remarkable wine comes from vines planted by Napa vineyard manager Dave Abreu in 1996 on the  highest and rockiest parcel on our Conn Valley Ranch. It’s a Massale Selection vineyard developed from budwood that originated in Margaux, and was brought to the US in 1940, then planted on the Inglenook property. The yields were barely two tons per acre, and the wine was fermented using only native, wild yeast, aged 16 months in 60-gallon François Frères barrels, then bottled unfiltered. It’s a complex wine, rich and loaded with wild blackberries, cassis and minerals. The finish is bright and long, and it’s sure to complement anything you’d like to try it with. By the way, Barbara frequently makes the Chez Panisse version of fresh mayonnaise, and if you’d like the recipe, please write and we’ll get a copy off to you. You’ll never look at store bought mayonnaise the same way again.

Our mailing address is:
Neyers Vineyards
PO Box 1028
Saint Helena, CA 94574-0528

May 27, 2019

April 11, 2019

The 2018 Chardonnay ‘304’ from Neyers Vineyards: It’s like A Night At the Opera

by Bruce Neyers

When Barbara was working at Chez Panisse in the 1980’s, a colleague of hers – Robert Messick – took us to The San Francisco Opera to see ‘Othello’. In addition to his job at Chez Panisse, Robert was the staff photographer at the Opera, and had access to front row seats. Within the small group of opera lovers at Chez Panisse, these became known as ‘Robert Seats’, and watching an opera from one changed forever the way you looked at music. Not only was the performance enormously alive and vibrant, the ‘Robert Seats’ were next to the conductor, so close in fact that you could watch the active ones perspire. My modest love affair with opera began that night. We just received the schedule for the Fall 2019 opera season, and we wanted to get tickets for a performance of ‘Manon Lescaut’, so I called Robert. He wasn’t available and I left a message. An hour or so later he called back. He apologized for missing my call, but explained he was listening to a live PBS broadcast from the Met of Gaetano Donizetti’s ‘Daughter of the Regiment’. ‘I never interrupt an opera for a phone call,’ Robert stated. We talked briefly about ‘Daughter of the Regiment’, as I saw that opera with him ten years ago, and still had some questions about it. Asking Robert a question about opera is a little bit, I suspect, like asking Stan Musial about playing first base. You get a lot of details in the answers. After our post-performance dinner together and Robert’s report on the intricacies of the story, I’ve always been especially interested in ‘Daughter of the Regiment’. It’s an ‘opéra comique’, a form of opera developed by the French in the early 18th century, combining both songs and dialogue. While it has its lighthearted moments — for years it was regarded as ‘simple’ by some — it’s both serious and complex. Donizetti wrote the original score in Italian, but since he was living in Paris at the time of its debut, he agreed to write a second version in French for its premiere. It’s said that Donizetti never felt like he was fully appreciated by the French opera community, so he wrote into the heart of ‘Daughter of the Regiment’ a complicated aria sung by the hero, Tonio. It’s been called the ‘Mt. Everest’ for tenors, as it features nine high C’s sung in rapid succession, a feat that even today can be accomplished by only a handful of the most talented singers. The French tenor performing this inaugural production was frequently off pitch, and given its many other problems, ‘Daughter’ was originally panned by French music critics. French composer Hector Berlioz wrote about the work that ‘Donizetti seems to treat us like a conquered country’. Donizetti, however, seemed more than a little pleased by his operatic ‘nose-thumbing’ to the French court. Today, ‘Daughter of the Regiment’ takes its rightful place as one of great examples of Italian musical genius. Writing opera is obviously difficult, even in one’s native language. Writing one in or for a foreign language is probably even more difficult. Writing an opera and planting in it a political statement of this scale might have seemed impossible – but not for Donizetti. He got his point across.

I listened to Robert retell this story, and I was every bit as fascinated as I was after the San Francisco performance in October 2009. When we hung up this time though, my thoughts drifted off to wine – not surprisingly – and I began to think about our 2018 Chardonnay ‘304’, a wine we recently bottled. While on the road earlier this year, a customer tasted the 2017 Chardonnay ‘304’, then remarked to me that making a wine with no oak influence must be ‘a lot simpler’. It’s not, and I wish I had thought of the story behind Donizetti and his remarkable opéra-comique. To make a wine like this, Tadeo first must find grapes that can ripen over a longer stretch of time, in order to keep the natural acidity high and the pH low. Additionally, our Chardonnay ‘304’ relies on soil like that in Chablis which is both rocky and alluvial. This adds a touch of minerality to the wine. The grapes must be completely free of residual sulfur, to avoid the development of any awkward aromas. Properly made, the wine displays a complex aroma of ‘hazelnut’, a component the French call ‘Noisette’. A wine like this might appear ‘simple’ to produce, but like a great opera, it’s not. Our 2018 Chardonnay ‘304’ is shipping now. We love having it around for the spring, just as the warm weather arrives.

2018 Neyers Vineyards Chardonnay ‘304’ – Please ask your local Trinchero Family Estates representative for availability and pricing information

April 10, 2019

March 20, 2019

The 2018 Chardonnay ‘304’ from Neyers Vineyards: Old-World Practices Help Create a New-World Wine

I received word from winemaker Tadeo Borchardt last week that we finished bottling our 2018 Chardonnay ‘304’, and the wine is now ready to ship, so it’s timely to explain the idea behind this wine we produce with no oak contact, and the root of its name. The AVA for the 2018 vintage is ‘Sonoma County’, as once again we have combined fruit from the Larson Vineyard in Sonoma Carneros with fruit from the Trinchero Family Vineyard in the eastern Russian River Valley. Both vineyards were selected for their cool climate, necessary to keep the pH low and the total acidity high, and for their rocky soil base responsible for the characteristic minerality in the wine. The 2018 Chardonnay ‘304’ is especially lovely, with its combination of crisp acidity, refreshingly bright flavors and an expressive, lingering finish. The grapes were hand harvested in mid-October, whole cluster pressed, then using indigenous wild yeast allowed to ferment naturally in 3000-gallon stainless steel fermentation tanks. To increase contact with the yeast lees, we adopted a traditional Chablis technique of gently circulating the lees over the top of the fermenting wine, a process that adds texture, flavor and stability to the finished wine. This circulation or pump-over allows for lees stirring  in a tank otherwise too large for manual ‘battonage’. The wine then continues aging on the lees for about four months after fermentation is complete. The 2018 Chardonnay ‘304’ completed 50% of a natural malo-lactic fermentation. The finished wine was lightly filtered and is now ready to enjoy.

The name ‘304’ comes from the grade of stainless steel that is used to fabricate wine fermentation tanks. The process begins with basic steel to which Nickel and Chromium is added during the smelting process. The result is ‘Food Grade’ stainless steel, which is easily cleaned, non-corrosive and anti-bacterial. The Gateway Arch in St. Louis is made of stainless steel ‘304’ because of the alloy’s anti-oxidative qualities, and it’s been shining bright since 1965.

Past vintages of this wine have been an eye-opener for many as they display the charm of new-world Chardonnay, while offering the satisfaction, complexity and flavor range we associate with traditional oak-free wines, especially those from Chablis and the Côte Chalonnaise.

March 7, 2019

Vines with a Unique History

The 2017 Pinot Noir ‘Placida Vineyard’ – A Wine Spectator Favorite

We are delighted to report that our 2017 Pinot Noir ‘Placida Vineyard’ was tasted recently and awarded a score of 90 POINTS from the editors of the ‘Wine Spectator’. The full review will appear in the March 31 issue. Here’s what they had to say:

Neyers 2017 ‘Placida Vineyard’ Pinot Noir
“Well-knit, offering delicate dried red fruit and spice flavors that are filled with minerally richness. Sandalwood and smoke notes emerge on the finish. Drink now through 2022. 505 cases made.”
90 POINTS – Kim Marcus

We are just wild about this newly released bottling of Pinot Noir. The fruit came entirely from a one-acre parcel of heirloom vines on Chuy Ordaz’s Russian River Valley vineyard. Chuy sourced the budwood from the old Joe Swan Pinot Noir Vineyard in Forestville. This plant material originated in Vosne-Romanée, and was never subjected to the plant indexing and cloning program at U.C. Davis, adding to its historical importance.

February 26, 2019

A Remarkable Legal Mind, a Delicious Cabernet Sauvignon, and a Great Restaurant

by Bruce Neyers

Terra Restaurant opened in St. Helena in 1988, and it was clear from the start that it was going to be a big deal in the Napa Valley. It was founded by Carl Doumani, the legendary figure who rebuilt the original Stags’ Leap Winery Estate in the early 1970’s. Recognized for his taste as an art collector, respected for his success as a vigneron, and admired for his wisdom as a businessman, Carl has never failed at anything. In the mid 1980’s, his oldest daughter Lissa became the pastry chef at Wolfgang Puck’s Spago in Hollywood, and later married Spago’s talented chef Hiro Sone. When the beautiful fieldstone Duckworth building in St. Helena came on the market in 1987, Carl bought it for a restaurant, with plans to install Lissa and Hiro as the operating partners. Their agreement with Spago still had several months to run, however, so Carl persuaded Barbara Neyers – yes, that Barbara Neyers — to take a leave of absence from Chez Panisse and serve as the temporary Manager. Her primary responsibility was to hire and train the staff until Lissa and Hiro arrived to run the business. It soon became one of the most popular restaurants in town, and after Barbara moved on we still ate there frequently. In June of 1995 Barbara and I celebrated an important anniversary at Terra, and when we entered the restaurant, the hostess – a young woman who Barbara had hired – led us to our favorite table, in the far corner of the main dining room. She mentioned that we would be sitting next to Ruth Bader Ginsburg and her husband, who were celebrating their wedding anniversary. Justice Ginsburg had just been confirmed to the US Supreme Court, and had already begun establishing the reputation that follows her still today. As we approached their table, we noticed that they were drinking a bottle of Neyers Cabernet Sauvignon, thanks to the help of a clever server. We had brought some older wines for the evening, and after they were opened, Justice Ginsburg turned to us and mentioned how much they enjoyed our wine. I thanked her, and congratulated them on their anniversary. We poured them a glass of one of the wines we brought with us – a red Bordeaux — and she remarked that our wine was better. I didn’t argue. Later their check arrived, and we said goodnight to them, as the evening concluded. But as they walked towards the exit, I grabbed a copy of the day’s dinner menu, and handed it to her with my pen, asking for her autograph. She wrote us a lovely note, signed the menu, which I later had framed. It hangs on the wall in my office today, as a constant reminder of this marvelous woman, notable for her intellect, her fairmindedness, and her genial disposition — to say nothing of her taste in Cabernet Sauvignon. It was exhilarating to have met her.

Over the past 20 years we have produced Cabernet Sauvignon only from our Conn Valley Ranch, on the vines Dave Abreu planted for us in 1994 and 1996. We have just begun to ship the 2016 Cabernet Sauvignon ‘Neyers Ranch’, and Dave would be proud of the wine we made from those vines. Planted using 3’ by 6’ spacing, in rows that run east and west parallel to the arc of the sun, the vines are farmed organically and sustainably. Budwood came from the Thorvilas Vineyard that Abreu also manages. This plant material is believed to have originated at Château Margaux. From ten acres of vines, we harvested a total of 25 tons. We think of this wine as one with an especially bright future, and we’re intrigued with its combination of ripe cherry flavors, slight minerality, and an aroma of tobacco leaf. There is an underlying suggestion of chocolate, something I have long appreciated in Napa Valley Cabernet.

February 21, 2019

The World’s Greatest Soup

by Bruce Neyers

Time Spent with a Legendary Food Scholar

~ by Bruce Neyers

Barbara and I traveled to Lake Tahoe recently on a sales trip planned with our California distributor’s ‘Mountain Man’, Jeremiah Schwartz. Jeremiah is the Sierra resort area’s most respected wine salesman, and I’d been looking forward to working with him for some time. Ski season in northern California usually begins at Christmas, and this year the Tahoe resorts were getting off to an early start with an unseasonably deep snow pack.

Our day promised to be a busy one. Jeremiah planned to begin on Tuesday morning, so we opted to leave home on Monday for the long drive. This allowed time to stop in Sacramento for one of life’s greatest pleasures — a visit to Corti Brothers Grocery Store, arguably the world’s finest source of rare and original foodstuffs. The owner and genius behind Corti Brothers is Darrell Corti, a man whose knowledge is beyond words. Darrell invited us to join him for lunch at one of his favorite Sacramento restaurants, The Waterboy on Capitol Avenue.

We arrived at the store an hour earlier than expected though, as we wanted to spend some time walking through the aisles, searching for treasures. Barbara had just received the Corti Brothers ‘Holiday Season 2018’ brochure, and when I came home and found her standing up in the kitchen reading it, she had already circled ten or eleven items — artichoke hearts in olive oil from Abruzzo, wild rice from Minnesota, air-dried Baccalà from Norway, dried pasta from Trento, fine salt from Japan, and luxurious handmade soap from Liguria. Within an hour after we arrived at the store, we had located all of the circled items on her list, then filled up another cart with breadsticks, prosciutto, fresh fava beans, tomato sauces, olive oil, blood oranges, pistachios, dried salami, an assortment of marmalade, and a selection of biscotti that would rival the greatest bakery in Milano. We had barely made it through half of the store. We had two bags of provisions to take home at the end of our trip, with some black truffles still to be shipped.

Darrell was busy waiting on customers, but as he saw us leaving with our shopping bags, he told us to meet him in the parking lot behind the store. We loaded into his car and headed off to lunch. The Waterboy bills itself as a casual neighborhood restaurant, and once you visit there you’ll wish it was in your neighborhood. The menu is a thoughtful mix of dishes from northern Italy, southern France, and California. The special that day was ‘Pasta e Fagioli’, a traditional Italian soup that often serves as a meal in itself. The restaurant was donating a portion of that day’s proceeds from sales of the soup to victims of the recent northern California wildfires, and each of us ordered it as a starter. It arrived, looking and smelling delicious, and was placed before us amidst a loud chorus of ‘wows’. It’s basically a soup of pasta and beans, in a flavorful broth of olive oil, garlic, herbs and sautéed vegetables. It has been called the most national dish of Italy, as each Italian region has its own, local version. This version was simply delicious. Barbara indicated she’d like to make the soup when we returned home, so I asked Darrell which pasta we should use. He began by explaining that the normal version of Pasta e Fagioli was made with a wide rigatoni called ‘Mezze Maniche’. The soup before us, he went on, was made using ‘Orecchiette’ or ‘little ears’, a pasta more common in southern Italy. This was perfectly fine, Darrell explained, but using ‘ditalini’ or ‘ditaloni’ would have been more consistent with the northern Italy direction of the kitchen. No question Darrell fields gets a casual answer. I bit into the garlic crouton accompanying the soup. Confirming that this was a place where attention to small details is important, it was absolute perfection – crisp yet chewy.

We finished our lunch, said our goodbyes, and headed off to Lake Tahoe. We returned home later in the week with our several bags of gourmet treasures, and Barbara announced that she had located a recipe for the ‘Pasta e Fagioli’. It came from her longtime friend and former Chez Panisse colleague, David Tanis. David now writes a weekly column for the ‘New York Times, and with David’s help, Barbara prepared Pasta e Fagioli, using our Corti Brothers ingredients. It was delicious. I opened a bottle of Neyers Carignan from the ‘Evangelho Vineyard’, a wine I especially like to drink when Barbara is being creative in the kitchen.

Grapes for this wine come from vines more than 140 years-old. They are own-rooted – not grafted on to rootstock — as the soil is too sandy for Phylloxera to live. The crop yield is barely one ton per acre. Tadeo insists on crushing the grapes by foot – no mechanical crushing device is used – and the wine macerates on the skins for 35 to 40 days before we drain the tank and press the skins. It’s a strikingly attractive wine, with a bright ruby color, and an exotic aroma of tropical fruit, mineral and wild plum. Most importantly, it’s soft already, and just as easy to drink by the glass as by the bottle.

By the way, if you don’t already receive the monthly brochure from Corti Brothers, contact them at http://www.cortibrothers.com and ask to be included. It’s a great read.

February 14, 2019

Neyers 2017 Sage Canyon Red in Wine Spectator

-by Bruce Neyers

Word just arrived that the March 31 issue of the Wine Spectator will include reviews of several California wines produced from traditional southern Rhône grape varieties. We were delighted to learn that our 2017 Sage Canyon Red was one of the highest scoring wines, and received the following review:

“Loaded with personality yet balanced and well-knit, offering lively, floral pomegranate and cherry flavors accented by savory bay leaf and white pepper notes, finishing with snappy tannins. Carignan, Grenache, Mourvèdre and Syrah. Drink now through 2024. 1,575 cases made.”  –Tim Fish Score 91 POINTS

The Neyers 2017 Sage Canyon Red is a blend of 45% Carignan, 25% Grenache, 15% Mourvèdre and 15% Syrah. We retain 100% of the stems during the long skin contact fermentation – using exclusively wild, natural yeast – so the grapes are crushed entirely by foot, using a traditional French ‘Pigeage’. There is no mechanical grape crushing. The new wine is then aged 1 year in 60-gallon French oak barrels. The 2017 may be the finest version to date.

The photo here is of our winery tasting room last spring, with the winery in the background. Both are in the heart of the Sage Canyon region of Napa Valley.

January 8, 2019

Chuck Furuya Looks at Neyers Sage Canyon Red

Hawaii restauranteur and Master Sommelier Chuck Furuya is one of our favorite wine personalities. During the 40 years or so that I’ve known him, he has done as much to advance the interest in fine wine as anyone I’ve met. It’s always a source of great pride for us when he selects one of our wines for his feature stories in the Honolulu press. Here’s something that just came our way from Chuck on the Neyers Sage Canyon Red:

By the Glass: Here’s to a new year of finding great wine
By Chuck Furuya, Special to the Star-Advertiser
“There’s never just one answer to any challenge. In terms of finding great values in wine, there are indeed numerous approaches, and I’d like to discuss a few here as we enter the new year eager to taste more good wine:

Carignan variety: First, consider wines produced from the Carignan variety, a widely grown though relatively lesser-known grape. Most of these wines aren’t as showy or flamboyant as those produced from Cabernet, Syrah, Malbec or Grenache varieties. Still, Carignan-based reds can be quite delicious, interesting and wonderfully food friendly. They are also reasonably priced. I would be remiss not to mention the Neyers “Sage Canyon Cuvee” (about $26). The core of this delicious, joyous, spunky red-wine blend is 139-year-old-vine Carignan, all foot crushed, wild-yeast fermented and aged in old oak. This is a wonderful drink, especially for hanging out with friends at a barbecue.”

To view Chuck’s piece in its entirety, go to:
https://www.staradvertiser.com/2019/01/01/food/crave-by-the-glass/by-the-glass-heres-to-a-new-year-of-finding-great-wine/?HSA=4287a1b69bb3794f4108d941b17cb2e5f1f85dbf

This is the time of year when Barbara often roasts a chicken on Sunday, and our favorite wine for that meal is the Sage Canyon Red. We are currently offering the 2017 Sage Canyon Red, a blend of 45% Carignan, 25% Grenache, 15% Mourvèdre and 15% Syrah. It’s delicious with pot roast too. The photo above is an old Carignan vine on the Evangelho property in Oakley.

January 7, 2019

Neyers Now Open to Visitors on First Sunday Every Month

Beginning this Sunday January 6, the winery will be open for visitors from 10:00am to 3:30pm on the first Sunday of every month. Under Napa County regulations, visitors must make prior arrangements with us before they visit, and that can be done by calling us at 707/963-8840, or visiting our website, HTTP/NeyersVineyards.com. Relax a little and come enjoy our remarkable wines with our special brand of hospitality at Neyers Vineyards. We’ll hope to see you. If you miss us on January 6, we will be open again on Sunday, February 3.

January 7, 2019

The World’s Greatest Soup

Barbara and I traveled to Lake Tahoe recently on a sales trip planned with our California distributor’s ‘Mountain Man’, Jeremiah Schwartz. Jeremiah is the Sierra resort area’s most respected wine salesman, and I’d been looking forward to working with him for some time. Ski season in northern California usually begins at Christmas, and this year the Tahoe resorts were getting off to an early start, with an unseasonably deep snow pack. Our day promised to be a busy one. Jeremiah planned to begin on Tuesday morning, so we opted to leave home on Monday for the long drive. This allowed time to stop in Sacramento for one of life’s greatest pleasures — a visit to Corti Brothers Grocery Store, arguably the world’s finest source of rare and original foodstuffs. The owner and genius behind Corti Brothers is Darrell Corti, a man whose knowledge is beyond words. Darrell invited us to join him for lunch at one of his favorite Sacramento restaurants, The Waterboy on Capitol Avenue. We arrived at the store an hour earlier than expected though, as we wanted to spend some time walking through the aisles, searching for treasures. Barbara had just received the Corti Brothers ‘Holiday Season 2018’ brochure, and when I came home and found her standing up in the kitchen reading it, she had already circled ten or eleven items — artichoke hearts in olive oil from Abruzzo, wild rice from Minnesota, air-dried Baccalà from Norway, dried pasta from Trento, fine salt from Japan, and luxurious handmade soap from Liguria. Within an hour after we arrived at the store, we had located all of the circled items on her list, then filled up another cart with breadsticks, prosciutto, fresh fava beans, tomato sauces, olive oil, blood oranges, pistachios, dried salami, an assortment of marmalade, and a selection of biscotti that would rival the greatest bakery in Milano. We had barely made it through half of the store. We had two bags of provisions to take home at the end of our trip, with some black truffles still to be shipped. Darrell was busy waiting on customers, but as he saw us leaving with our shopping bags, he told us to meet him in the parking lot behind the store. We loaded into his car and headed off to lunch. The Waterboy bills itself as a casual neighborhood restaurant, and once you visit there you’ll wish it was in your neighborhood. The menu is a thoughtful mix of dishes from northern Italy, southern France, and California. The special that day was ‘Pasta e Fagioli’, a traditional Italian soup that often serves as a meal in itself. The restaurant was donating a portion of that day’s proceeds from sales of the soup to victims of the recent northern California wildfires, and each of us ordered it as a starter. It arrived, looking and smelling delicious, and was placed before us amidst a loud chorus of ‘wows’. It’s basically a soup of pasta and beans, in a flavorful broth of olive oil, garlic, herbs and sautéed vegetables. It has been called the most national dish of Italy, as each Italian region has its own, local version. This version was simply delicious. Barbara indicated she’d like to make the soup when we returned home, so I asked Darrell which pasta we should use. He began by explaining that the normal version of Pasta e Fagioli was made with a wide rigatoni called ‘Mezze Maniche’. The soup before us, he went on, was made using ‘Orecchiette’ or ‘little ears’, a pasta more common in southern Italy. This was perfectly fine, Darrell explained, but using ‘ditalini’ or ‘ditaloni’ would have been more consistent with the northern Italy direction of the kitchen. No question Darrell fields gets a casual answer. I bit into the garlic crouton accompanying the soup. Confirming that this was a place where attention to small details is important, it was absolute perfection – crisp yet chewy. We finished our lunch, said our goodbyes, and headed off to Lake Tahoe. We returned home later in the week with our several bags of gourmet treasures, and Barbara announced that she had located a recipe for the ‘Pasta e Fagioli’. It came from her longtime friend and former Chez Panisse colleague, David Tanis. David now writes a weekly column for the ‘New York Times, and with David’s help, Barbara prepared Pasta e Fagioli, using our Corti Brothers ingredients. It was delicious. I opened a bottle of Neyers Carignan from the ‘Evangelho Vineyard’, a wine I especially like to drink when Barbara is being creative in the kitchen. We bottled the 2017 Carignan in July, so I was eager to see how it was developing. Grapes for this wine come from vines more than 140 years-old. They are own-rooted – not grafted on to rootstock — as the soil is too sandy for Phylloxera to live. The crop yield is barely one ton per acre. Tadeo insists on crushing the grapes by foot – no mechanical crushing device is used – and the wine macerates on the skins for 35 to 40 days before we drain the tank and press the skins. It’s a strikingly attractive wine, with a bright ruby color, and an exotic aroma of tropical fruit, mineral and wild plum. Most importantly, it’s soft already, and just as easy to drink by the glass as by the bottle. The crop in 2017 was small, and from the five ton harvest we have barely 100 cases remaining. It’s going to be a favorite of mine for some time.