Neyers Vineyards

Bruce's Journal

January 21, 2020

Inspirational Pinot Noir that raises the bar

by Bruce Neyers

Over the past few months more than we had expected has been written about our 2017 Pinot Noir ‘Placida Vineyard’, a bottling made from grapes grown by Chuy Ordaz and his family on the slope of the Russian River’s southern bank. Chuy is a master at the peak of his craft, and few growers have his combination of technical knowledge and practical experience. Recent reviews have called the wine ‘Well-knit, filled with minerally richness’; ‘a wine of charm and elegance that walks a delicious tightrope between red fruit and earthy flavors’. Numerous other positive mentions have been made, and each bottle I’ve tried has been memorable. My favorite comment, though, rings not with hyperbole but with pure emotion, and comes from one of my heroes in this business — Master Sommelier Chuck Furuya. Chuck works from his base in Honolulu where in 1989 he became one of the first Americans to be recognized as a master sommelier. He’s now a partner in a group of vibrant, successful restaurants. I don’t know anyone who knows more about wine than he does, or has tasted as many wines. Chuck invited Neyers Vineyards to be involved in a recent industry seminar, Wine Speak, and asked to show two of our wines to the scores of wine lovers who will be traveling to Paso Robles from around the world to attend. When communicating his selections to us, Chuck remarked:

“I was thinking, let’s show the 2017 Pinot Noir ‘Placida Vineyard’. It’s soooooo inspiring right now!”

We’re wildly enthusiastic about this Pinot Noir we make from Chuy’s Placida Vineyard. The climate there is chilly, giving the fruit a longer than normal ripening period or ‘hang time’. The soil is Goldridge Clay, well-drained sandy loam that’s low in nutrients, so the vigor of the vines is kept in check while an attractive element of minerality is introduced. Most importantly though, the plant material is from a non-clonal ‘Heirloom’ source that was imported directly from Burgundy, then planted 60 years ago in the Joseph Swan Vineyard in Forestville. The yields are low, the colors are bright and fresh, and the wine is just brimming with flavor. Here’s a bottling of Pinot Noir that’s inspiring.

January 13, 2020

Here’s a wine for your next Risotto

by Bruce Neyers

In the spring of 1971, I began working for Connoisseur Wine Imports in San Francisco. It was my first job in the wine business, and the owners hired me just after I was discharged from the army, offering to teach me the wine business. Most of my job was to unload containers, and then move wine around their vast cellars, building floor displays. They specialized in the wines of France, and as I learned more about them, I developed a fondness for them that exists today. Early one morning, I was handed a list of red Bordeaux to assemble for a tasting planned later that day. Modesto Lanzone, I was told, was coming to taste wines for his wine list. I didn’t know Modesto then, but I had walked by his namesake restaurant in Ghirardelli Square a number of times. It looked fascinating – and expensive — and I was eager to meet him. I assembled the wines, opened them, then set up the wine glasses. Modesto arrived, and we began. The owners of the business were two brothers-in-law — Art Formicelli and Bal Gibson. They guided Modesto through the wines, and when he finished, Modesto wrote down a substantial order – 20 cases or so — and handed it to Art. Art in turn passed it along to me with instructions to isolate the wines and set them up for delivery. I delivered them the next day. While I was unloading the shipment, Modesto saw me, and recognizing me from the previous day’s tasting, started a conversation. I explained a bit about my background, including my recent discharge from the army, and expressed my enthusiasm about learning the wine business. I also mentioned that my wife Barbara was a talented cook. After hearing that we had never eaten at his restaurant, he quickly invited us to come as his guests. I acted on the invitation immediately, and we made a reservation for the next weekend. It was one of our most memorable meals, ever. Surprisingly to me though, at the center of the meal were Pasta and Risotto dishes — specialties from Modesto’s family home in Genoa. With the Risotto, Modesto brought out a bottle of one of the wines I had just delivered, a red Bordeaux from 1966 that was way beyond our budget. I declined, but he insisted, reminding me that we were his guests. The wine was extraordinary, I thought, but I was struck by how it tasted with the Risotto, something I looked at as a ‘simple’ dish. It was fascinating how they improved each other. I mentioned that, and Modesto commented, “Properly made Risotto demands the best wine you can serve with it.” It’s a lesson I’ve never forgotten. Barbara makes wonderful Risotto, and she prepared some for dinner recently. With it we opened several wines, including a bottle of our 2017 Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon, a new wine that we just began to ship. It’s made largely from fruit grown in the Oak Knoll District of Napa Valley, an AVA that sits in the southern part of the Valley, north of Napa city along the Silverado Trail. I learned about grapes from the area in 1972 when I was at Mayacamas. It’s a colder region, and produces wines both elegant and balanced. In 2017 the low pH and high natural acidity yielded a wine of dark color, gratifying richness and attractive complexity. Tadeo added 5% Merlot to the finished wine, so one of its great charms is its beautiful early softness. It was easy to guzzle a couple of glasses with the Risotto. We are now shipping this wine, and you’ll probably want to guzzle some too. Barbara’s recipe for Risotto is simple, and it takes only 20 minutes. Try making it at home, but be sure to accompany it with a bottle of Neyers 2017 Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon.

Wild Mushroom Risotto by Barbara Neyers

Serves 6

Ingredients
1 and ½ cups Arborio Rice
6 cups Chicken Stock
2 cups wild mushrooms, cleaned, trimmed and sliced into ¼ inch pieces
4 Tablespoons olive oil
½ cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
¼ cup white onions sliced thin

Preparation
In a large pot heat the chicken stock

Sauté the mushrooms and onions in 2 Tablespoons of olive oil until cooked, then set aside

Heat the rice with 2 Tablespoons of olive oil in a pot until the rice is coated with the oil

Slowly add the warmed chicken stock to the rice, stirring the rice with each addition

Once the rice is cooked, add the mushrooms

Remove from heat and salt to taste

Top each serving of Risotto with freshly grated Parmesan

For her recent preparation, Barbara used fresh Morels, Chanterelles, Oyster Mushrooms and Boletus Edulis from Sunshine Grocery in St. Helena. You should be able to find some in your neighborhood as well. Occasionally she cooks some Pancetta to crispness, then adds to the dish with the mushrooms.

December 18, 2019

Levi Dalton and I’ll Drink to That

by Bruce Neyers

I was in San Francisco recently to pour our wines at a restaurant wine tasting. The sommelier seemed to know me, and when I asked him if we’d ever met, he said no we hadn’t, but he had listened to Levi Dalton interview me on ‘I’ll Drink to That’, and felt like he knew me well. I realize that I’ve met a lot of people new to Neyers Vineyards over the past few years, and many of them probably never listened to Levi’s Podcasts of our interviews. I decided to correct that. I met Levi almost two decades ago. He was Restaurant Manager for the newly-opened Ritz Carlton in Boston. I was staying just down the street – at a more modest hotel – but someone had suggested I have dinner at the Ritz so I did. After the sommelier brought and opened the lovely bottle of red Burgundy I’d ordered, the server brought my mouth-watering steak, and I began to eagerly dig into both. At that moment, the fire alarm began to sound. An officious-looking person appeared at the door with a loudspeaker, instructing us to leave the premises. Within minutes the dining room was completely overrun by fireman dragging hoses. We began moving towards the safety of the street, and I gave one final, longing stare at my perfectly grilled steak, and that beautiful bottle of Burgundy. I walked to my hotel and ordered room service. A few years later, Levi and I met again, this time in New York, where he invited Barbara and me to dinner at a high profile restaurant. We had a fabulous meal, replete with great wines and magnificent food. I grabbed for the check when it came, but our server shook his head, and told me that we were ‘guests of Mr. Dalton’. Levi looked at me and said that we were now even for the ‘disaster’ in Boston. That tells you a lot about Levi. He gives everything, and asks for little in return. Levi’s Podcasts on ‘I’ll Drink to That’ include in depth talks with some of the most important wine figures of our time. He’s a natural at pulling complicated yet illuminating stories from them, and it’s fascinating listening to his interviews. In addition to being one of the nicest people I know, he’s also one of the smartest. I was flattered to be invited to an IDTT interview in 2014 – Episode 167 – and then invited back a year later in November 2015 for a second run – Episode 316. My life has changed pretty dramatically since then, thanks to our relationship with Trinchero Family Estates, and we now have an almost completely new list of folks with whom we work. If you’re new to Neyers Vineyards, and interested in some of our early history, you may want to listen in. It’s easy. Simply go to the IDTT Website, and click on:
Episode 167 from April 29, 2014
Episode 316 from November 24, 2015

December 9, 2019

A Night at the Opera

by Bruce Neyers


The original poster for Puccini’s Manon Lescaut

A few years ago, through a combination of fortunate events, we sold some wine to a cruise ship line. In the course of the sale, I became friendly with the beverage director, and he soon offered me the opportunity to sign on for a cruise to Glacier Bay Alaska. In exchange, I agreed to conduct a series of wine tastings for interested passengers. Barbara and I left for our first major outing on a ship. Soon after getting underway, we were introduced to the passengers by the cruise director, and during the introduction we met Emil Miland, a cellist with the San Francisco Opera orchestra. Emil supported himself in part by performing on cruise ships during the opera’s off season. Barbara and I were occasional opera attendees, so we struck up a conversation with Emil, and it quickly blossomed into a cordial relationship — we attended his recitals, while Emil attended our wine tastings. I was struck not only by his talent but by his enthusiasm as a teacher, as he spent hours explaining classical music to me. We shared a few bottles of wine together as well. When the cruise ended, Barbara and I flew home to San Francisco, but we became more frequent opera attendees and ran into Emil regularly for several years. We’d often get seats in the front row from Barbara’s friend Robert, a Chez Panisse employee who doubled as the opera’s staff photographer. From our perch we could clearly see Emil and the other musicians in the orchestra pit. We exchanged pleasantries with him during intermissions, and occasionally got an insider tip or bit of gossip. He was a rock star to us, and clearly a fabulously gifted musician. We hadn’t seen Emil for a couple of years, until last Sunday when we attended a matinee of Puccini’s Manon Lescaut. Early Puccini works – of which this is one — were heavy on strings, I’m told, so Emil was pretty busy holding up his part of a demanding Cello performance. He was seated in the semi-circle formed around the conductor, along with the concert master, another cello, and the first violin, and the opera was lively and upbeat — at least for a love story that ends badly. Act III of Manon Lescaut begins with a stirring Intermezzo, as Puccini depicts the journey from Paris to the Harbor of Le Havre. The music is extraordinary, one of those tunes that you simply can’t get out of your mind. It includes a hauntingly beautiful cello solo, and Emil performs it with brilliance. At the conclusion of the piece — before the curtain rises on Act III — the conductor, Nicola Luisotti, motioned for Emil to stand. He did so, and was met with a rousing ovation. It was a highlight for us to witness. We had dinner with Robert after the performance, and he explained the background of the opera to us, including the importance of the Intermezzo. We told him of our meeting with Emil, who he knows, and he agreed to deliver some wine to him as a gesture of our appreciation. Once again, our world met Emil’s.

I recalled that Emil was fond of crisp, dry white wine, and selected our 2018 Chardonnay ‘304’ as a gift. We just sent a six-pack to him with our compliments. If you too have a fondness for dry white wine that is crisp, fresh and thirst-quenching, you owe it to yourself to try the Neyers 2018 Chardonnay ‘304’. It takes its name from the stainless steel tanks in which it’s fermented. Our winemaker Tadeo Borchardt – inspired by the classic wines of Chablis — fashioned it from grapes grown in the cool weather and rocky soils of two Sonoma County regions — the Carneros District on the north lip of San Francisco Bay, and the gentle slopes of the eastern end of the Russian River Valley. It has provided satisfaction to demanding wine drinkers for years, and can be found in places as geographically diverse as Thomas Keller’s French Laundry in Yountville, California and Michael Mina’s Bourbon Steak in Aventura, Florida. There are plenty of spots to enjoy a bottle in between too. We think it’s an ideal accompaniment to almost any Cello piece.

December 2019

November 25, 2019

One of the best in recent memory

by Bruce Neyers

This report just came in from a local agricultural information source:

November 20, 2019 – Wine Industry Advisor
‘Wine grapes across California ripened at lower sugars, thanks to the extended, cool growing season, and vintners are praising the full flavors, fresh acidity and superb balance of the 2019 fruit.’

This is great news and accurately depicts the status, as well as our current state of bliss. As much as we appreciate the Wine Industry Advisor for their reporting though, it might be even more important to hear the verbal harvest report from Dave Abreu, given when he stopped by our St. Helena office a couple of weeks ago. Dave may be the most respected viticulturalist in the Napa Valley — if not he’s certainly on many short lists. When I asked him how his harvest was going, he remarked that 2019 may be the best year for wine grapes in his career. That’s extraordinary news. Look for some remarkable wines from the Napa Valley in vintage 2019.

We finished picking the last of our grapes three weeks ago, and above is a photo taken by my daughter Lizzie on October 21 when we picked our Neyers Ranch 2019 Cabernet Sauvignon. It’s a cluster from ‘North Vineyard’, a parcel that Dave Abreu planted for us in 1992. The vines are 27 years-old, and the crop from this vineyard was 3.2 tons/acre. Note the ‘bloom’ or waxy substance on the skin that serves to trap the wild yeast that we rely on for fermentation. You won’t see a cluster more beautiful than this – anywhere. In the photo below, vineyard manager Raul is driving a tractor hauling two bins of just-harvested Cabernet Sauvignon from our ‘Knoll Vineyard’. Each bin holds about one-half ton. All grapes have been harvested by hand, working with a crew of 6-8 people.

November 22, 2019

November 19, 2019

An old friend and a pleasant surprise

by Bruce Neyers

Barbara and I have been on the road a bit over the past two months, and we’ve found ourselves tasting, serving and drinking our 2017 Roberts Road Pinot Noir more than normal. That’s good news, because production of this wine is so small we don’t normally taste it much at the winery. These recent sales trips served to reacquaint us with it. At the same time, we noticed the wine was tasting much better than when we began making it. Tadeo cited this improvement to low yields because of the recent drought years, cooler than normal growing seasons, and vine age as they’re now almost 25 years old. These grapes come from a vineyard in Sonoma’s Petaluma Gap AVA, a parcel of which is planted to budwood called ‘The Swan Selection’. In the early 1960’s, Joe Swan was a pilot for the now defunct Western Airlines. He’s pictured above at our house with Alice Waters in 1985. For several years he flew the route from San Francisco to Paris, and he’d spend whatever free time he had in France exploring vineyards. On one trip, he brought back vine cuttings from one of the most important Pinot Noir vineyards in Vosne-Romanée. He developed a vineyard with those cuttings on his property in Forestville, and beginning with the 1968 vintage the grapes from these vines became the base for his celebrated bottling of Pinot Noir, a wine that has long been the envy of the California wine industry. I drank a lot of Swan Pinot Noir with Joe over the years, as he was a close friend. He made only a barrel or two in most harvests, and I was singularly proud of my six bottle allocation. It was always California’s finest example of Pinot Noir. Once I asked Joe why it was so good.  His reply was simple and direct: ‘It’s the plant material. I’m working with true Pinot Noir.’ Soon after his death in 1989 the vineyard was removed, but Mike Sangiacomo got some cuttings to plant on his family’s Roberts Road Vineyard. Mike is pictured below, standing next to the Neyers Block at Roberts Road.

We’ve been working with these vines now for almost 15 years, and the wine gets better with each new vintage. Well-made Pinot Noir combines strong but subtle fruit with earthy, mineral flavors. The soil at Roberts Road is principally basalt, which is porous – like limestone – and it’s broken up into small pieces, just as in the Côte d’Or. The wine is a strong purple in color, not unlike the grape skin, and the nose combines blackberry jam with coffee and stone. It’s a soft wine, with a wide range of flavors, both earthy and tropical, and it’s impossibly easy to drink.

November 4, 2019

How to Cook a Flank Steak: And what to drink with it

-by Bruce Neyers

Barbara and I just returned from a week-long sales trip, and after some time on the road, we arrived home to help wrap up the harvest. For years, Barbara has rewarded me when I return from a sales trip with an ambitious welcome home meal. This time it was grilled marinated flank steak, served with heirloom tomatoes, and my favorite potato dish — one we first encountered at the Michelin Three-Star Lameloise, in Chagny — a ‘pancake’ of thinly sliced Yukon Gold discs fried with olive oil in a cast-iron skillet. It’s a relatively easy meal, or so she tells me, but the marinade part takes several hours, so it requires some planning. She put the steak in the marinade at 1:00 Saturday afternoon, expecting to grill it later that evening. Her recipe for the marinade is below:

1 cup olive oil
¼ cup Balsamic vinegar
¼ cup soy sauce
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
2 garlic cloves minced
Leaves from four branches of fresh thyme

Combine all of the ingredients and stir.  The steak should marinate for 6 hours.
Flank steak is relatively inexpensive, but that doesn’t make it any less delicious. Properly marinated and grilled, I think it’s the tastiest cut of beef you can buy, and a normal grocery-sized cut can easily feed four people. There are a few time-honored secrets to cooking the flank steak, though, and I was well tutored on them by Barbara before I was allowed to grill ‘solo’. Most important is a hot fire, preferably one built with Mesquite charcoal that covers the entire bottom of the grill. I use an old-fashioned Weber kettle grill, and it’s perfect. Flank steaks are seldom cut thick, so they cook quickly and need to be closely watched. As soon as all of the briquettes are glowing bright red, use your tongs to remove the steak from the marinade, turn it over and place it on the center of the grill for two minutes. The first turn should be east to west, then after another two minutes it’s time for a turn north to south. The final two minutes follow another east to west turn. This ensures that the entire steak has seen 8 minutes of relatively even grilling, and is now medium rare.

Proper slicing is crucial too. The grain of the meat normally runs along the longest dimension, and the slicing should be diagonal, about 45 degrees, against that grain. The slices should be between 1/16” and 1/8” thick, or as Barbara tells me, “Cut it as thin as you can.” Stack the slices on a serving platter and be mindful to save the well-done pieces from the ends. Even though they appear to be overcooked, they are among the tastiest, and have a wonderful crunchy texture.

Barbara served our flank steak with sliced tomatoes – lightly bathed in Neyers Vineyards olive oil then sprinkled with sea salt – and those crispy ‘Potatoes Lameloise’. The meal was delicious and a more than satisfying ‘welcome home’ to both of us. With it, I served our Neyers Left Bank Red, a wine that we made from Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot, grown on two parcels along the Left Bank of Conn Creek as it flows through our ranch. Over the past million years or so, the creek has brought down tons of gravel from Howell Mountain, leaving a deposit that’s about 50 feet deep. In 2014 Tadeo suggested we make a blend from these two vineyards, and I’ve been in love with the wine ever since.

One of my favorite red Bordeaux wines is Ch. Gloria, an unclassified growth from St. Julien founded in the early 1940’s by the late Henri Martin. M. Martin later became the winemaker at Ch. Latour, and then, the long-time mayor of St. Julien. Ch. Gloria is planted on one of the largest gravel deposits in the Médoc. Moreover, the blend of Ch. Gloria is about 55% Cabernet Sauvignon with the balance a blend of Merlot with some Cabernet France and Petit Verdot.  The gravel serves as a restraint to the natural vigor of these two grape varieties, and brings out something wonderful in both.

The first time I ever bought a full case of wine to cellar, it was the 1966 Ch. Gloria. Recently, I purchased some 2014 Ch. Gloria and wanted to try it alongside our Left Bank Red. I was amazed at the similarity. Both wines were attractively soft, and while the aromas were fruity, there was a charming combination of minerality with fresh, bright cherry flavors in each of them.

If you haven’t had the chance to try the 2017 Left Bank Red, we think you’ll like it, especially with a grilled flank steak!

September 27, 2019

The Short History of Neyers Vineyards – As seen through the Eyes of The Wine Exchange

– by Bruce Neyers

“The Wine Exchange has been an important part of the wine trade for the past three+ decades, and from their Orange County outpost they have regularly provided their customers with great wines, many of them frequently available at prices that caught even my eye. I’ve enjoyed visiting them and selling them wine for much of my career. During a sales call, co-owner Kyle Meyer did a film interview with me for his series on wine history called ‘The Extract’. It’s a relatively short piece – about 15 minutes or so – and it was very well done. Kyle interlaced it with photos that do much to tell the story Barbara and I have enjoyed writing over the past years. Please take a moment to look at Kyle’s work. I hope you enjoy it as much as I did.
The wines Kyle is pouring for us are the Left Bank Red, the Neyers Ranch Cabernet Sauvignon, and the Sage Canyon Red. After watching the film, you’ll probably be inspired to drink some Neyers wine, so feel free to contact us for more information.”

September 4, 2019

The 2016 Neyers Ranch Cabernet Lights Up the Wine Spectator Scoreboard

by Bruce Neyers

The 2016 Neyers Ranch Cabernet Sauvignon: The Wine Spectator Scoreboard has even more good news

We continue to read good things about our 2016 Neyers Ranch Cabernet Sauvignon bottling, and the high praise that has been heaped on this wine only adds to our enthusiasm. We were especially delighted with a recent review by James Molesworth in ‘The Wine Spectator’. Here’s what he had to say:
2016 Neyers Cabernet Sauvignon ‘Neyers Ranch’
“Not shy on ripeness, with lush fig, boysenberry and blackberry notes coursing through. Well-focused, this is girded by graphite and anise details that lend form and a refined structure through the finish. Drink now through 2027. 1,027 cases made.” 91 POINTS  – James Molesworth
James’ comments will be published in the October 15, 2019 issue of ‘The Wine Spectator’. We still have stocks remaining so please contact your local Trinchero Family Estates representative for pricing and availability information in your area.

While you’re at it, don’t forget that Magnums are available. A wine with this much potential deserves to be enjoyed occasionally from a magnum – it ages longer and develops better.

We’ve included a photo of our Conn Valley Ranch Vineyard where grapes for this wine were grown. It was planted by David Abreu in 1995, using budwood taken from the John Daniels Block at Inglenook, then grafted to rootstock on his Thorvilas Vineyard. The view here is to the south, looking over our home towards Conn Creek, marked by the first tree line. The other, more detailed photo below is a grape cluster during the early days of crop set this year. Those small, BB-like pods are held closed by a thin, parchment-like covering. When dry, it falls off and the berry springs open to fertilize itself with pollen stored within the pod. It then matures into the grape we will harvest for the 2019 Cabernet Sauvignon.

September 2019

August 20, 2019

. . . Traditional Burgundian Characteristics

by Bruce Neyers

We were advised that the October issue of Wine Enthusiast will feature an enormously positive review of the 2017 Pinot Noir ‘Roberts Road’, a wine that winemaker Tadeo Borchardt produced in collaboration with our long-standing friends, the Sangiacomo Family and their team at Sangiacomo Vineyards.

The Roberts Road Vineyard was developed in 1999 and sits at the northern edge of what is locally known as The Petaluma Gap, an especially cold and rocky area of eastern Sonoma County soon to be recognized as an AVA. While the Pinot Noir blocks on this vineyard were planted to several different clones — principal among them Clone 777 which originated in Morey-St. Denis — a small, one-acre block was reserved for planting to a non-clonal ‘selection massale’ that came from Joe Swan’s vineyard in Forestville. This plant material originated in Vosne-Romanée and was brought to the US and planted by Joe in the early 1960’s. For the next decade or so, it served as the source of Pinot Noir for bottlings under the Joseph Swan label, many of which were regularly thought to be among the highest quality bottlings of Pinot Noir from California. The Roberts Road Pinot Noir from Neyers Vineyards comes exclusively from the fruit grown in this small parcel.

The wine has impressed us for its traditional Burgundian characteristics, including the lovely purple robe, and an aroma combining exotic elements of jam, coffee and chocolate, followed by flavors that convey finesse, opulence and complexity. It’s an extraordinary example of what we can achieve with Pinot Noir in California, and we’re delighted to see the wine recognized in this way.

The photo above was taken by Mike Pucci, and shows the vines running to the southwest. The block planted to the Swan selection is at the base of this hill.
Neyers 2017 Pinot Noir ‘Roberts Road’
92 pts Wine Enthusiast 
(The finished review will be published in the October issue.)