Neyers Vineyards

Bruce's Journal

March 30, 2020

Cornbread baked in a cast-iron skillet

by Bruce Neyers

Frost protection wind machine in our recently pruned Cabernet South Vineyard, looking southeast.

In her seemingly endless quest to put a smile on my face, Barbara surprised me with a platter of her homemade cornbread for dinner last night. She baked it in the oven in a cast-iron skillet, and served it with a thick slab of Niman Ranch apple wood-smoked ham, alongside some sautéed baby carrots and homemade local chutney. With it, I served a slightly chilled bottle of our 2018 Roberts Road Pinot Noir. We just began to ship this wine and when we tasted it in Washington, DC recently it was showing especially well.

I rarely see her cornbread more than once a year – mostly in the summer with her 4th of July Buttermilk Fried Chicken – but I sense she was eager to see how fond I’d be of this long-time favorite on a chilly March night. It was the start of our 2020 frost season too, so some special sustenance was appreciated.

We’ve had bud-break now all over the Napa Valley, and the fragile new shoots on the grapevines are vulnerable to frost. About half of our vineyards are protected by solid-set Rain Bird sprinklers that spray a fine mist over the vines, preventing the shoots from freezing, which would destroy the cells. The balance is protected by a wind machine, a device equipped with an airplane propeller that moves the heavier, cold air away from the surface of the ground, and replaces it with the warmer air slightly higher in elevation. The water application has several drawbacks, so if the frost is modest – like last night’s – we prefer to protect the vines using just the wind machine. It’s noisy though, and ours sits close to our bedroom window, making it hard to sleep. Sensing a short night in my future, I treated myself to an extra slice of cornbread.

Barbara said it took her about 30 minutes to make the cornbread, and she stressed the importance of baking it in the cast-iron skillet, rather than one of those devices that faintly resemble a metallic ear of corn. As a result, when finished it looks more like a cake, and is sliced accordingly to be served.

Here’s the recipe, thanks to David Tanis, a friend and former Chez Panisse chef who now writes for the ‘New York Times’. By the way, a slice can be reheated the following morning, then served with some melted butter and maple syrup or honey, a country version of French toast you may want to introduce to those in your family who cooperate with the idea of ‘Shelter in Place’.

 

Cast Iron Skillet Cornbread

Ingredients

1 cup yellow corn meal
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon sugar
2 teaspoons baking powder
½ teaspoon baking soda
½ teaspoon salt
½ cup unsalted butter melted and cooled, plus ½ tablespoon of butter for greasing the pan
1½ cups buttermilk
2 eggs

Preparation

Preheat oven to 425 degrees.

In a large bowl sift together the flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda and salt. Add the corn meal.

Whisk together the eggs and buttermilk.

Add the eggs and buttermilk and melted butter to the dry ingredients. Combine until just blended, do not over mix.

Five minutes before baking the cornbread, put the cast iron skillet in the oven to warm. I prefer one that is 8-9” in diameter, about 1½” deep

Pour the batter into a lightly buttered cast iron pan.

Cook until the cornbread begins to brown on top about 20 to 25 minutes.

March 26, 2020

The Coldest Syrah Vineyard in California

by Bruce Neyers

Monterey Bay fog rolls in over the hills of Garys’ Vineyard – Summer 2019 

The 50-acre Santa Lucia Highlands property known as Garys’ Vineyard resulted from a 1997 partnership formed between Gary Pisoni and Gary Franscioni – longtime friends and neighbors who grew up in the farming community of the Salinas Valley. Only four acres of the vineyard are devoted to Syrah, but these vines grow in what is generally considered the coldest climate for Syrah in California.

The weather here closely simulates the conditions Syrah vines experience in Côte-Rôtie where it is one of the last red grapes harvested in France. The long, exaggerated growing season at Garys’ Vineyard allows the grapes to reach full physiological ripeness and produce wines of unparalleled flavor, complexity, and finesse. Few grape farmers in California understand the demands of growing Syrah here, as do the two Garys.

In the 17 years that our winemaker Tadeo Borchardt and I have worked together, we have regularly traveled through the heart of the northern Rhône Valley of France, meeting, and tasting wines with, many of the most celebrated Syrah producers in the world. Respected craftsmen like Auguste Clape, Noël Verset, Thierry Allemand, Robert Jasmin, and Marius Gentaz opened the doors of their cellars to me during my years with Kermit Lynch. Tadeo has met most of them, as well, and studied their techniques, tasted their wines, and listened to their advice. As a result, we take what we believe are grapes from one of the finest Syrah vineyards in California and produce from them a small amount of extraordinary wine.

The vines at Garys’ Vineyard are among the most carefully and attentively tended in the world, and the 2018 vintage was remarkable in the Santa Lucia Highlands. We harvested exactly 3 tons on October 10 — the latest harvest in the past five years — and delivered the grapes to the winery in a refrigerated truck to eliminate any risk of damage during transportation. The grapes were fermented in open-top tanks retaining 100% of the stems. We fermented using only native, wild yeasts — without the addition of laboratory developed yeast — and the grapes were crushed by foot — a traditional French pigeage. After 45 days, the tanks were drained and pressed, and the new wine was racked to a combination of new and used 60-gallon French oak barrels. The wine was aged on the lees for six months, then racked for the first time. We racked twice more for natural clarification before the wine was bottled – unfiltered and unfined – on December 13.

We tasted this new wine recently with some of our other favorite bottlings of Syrah. Barbara took advantage of the beautiful spring-like weather we’ve enjoyed lately and prepared grilled beef ribs to accompany the tasting. The 2018 Garys’ already displays the classic aroma of Syrah — an exotic combination of freshly crushed black pepper, hints of crème de cassis, and lovely ripe blueberries. It’s just now beginning to display notes characteristic of bacon fat and smoked meat, and it has that marvelous soft texture that makes Syrah such an attractive wine in its youth.

March 25, 2020

by Bruce Neyers

Bud Break – The annual vineyard sign of life

A friend wrote me earlier this week from his home in New York, and remarked that he had never before felt so overwhelmed. I think I agreed with him, as there’s no shortage of ways to describe the bizarre nature of our lives today. Even the most optimistic among us are beginning to develop short tempers and shorter patience levels as the need to stay home continues. Barbara Neyers – ever the optimist — has a good idea about making the hours pass more agreeably. She’s overwhelming me with good old comfort food. Our two local grocery stores have both returned to sanity now. The lines are shorter and the shelves are stocked. Over the past few days I’ve left my work alcove to be greeted by meals that transported me back in time to the days when food was, simpler. On Sunday we had Chili con Queso – easy to prepare and delicious. Saturday was a beautiful spring day, and it was given over to freshly ground top sirloin burgers, grilled outdoors over mesquite hardwood. Friday night was a classic Black Bean Soup à la Robert del Grande of Cafe Annie fame. Thursday was Spaghetti and Meatballs, with the meatballs a mix of ground chuck and ground veal. I now find myself eager for the evening to arrive, so I can sit down at the table over a meal the likes of which I probably enjoyed 30 or 40 years ago. Our daughter Lizzie lives next door, and she has been enjoying many of these meals with us, bringing along her husband and our two-year-old grandson. We have hand-washing stations scattered through the house, and we’re careful to keep our proper distance. Last night’s meal was the capper though – Pasta in Alfredo sauce, a dish that I remember watching Barbara teach herself to cook soon after we set up our first apartment in San Francisco in 1970. Many things have changed in the ensuing 50 years — I’m not referring to my weight or the amount of hair on my head. We enjoyed the meal with some Chardonnay 304 to start, then moved into a young but delicious 2005 Saint-Émilion Grand Cru. Still, I can’t imagine a red wine from Neyers that wouldn’t go well with this. I don’t remember her early Fettuccini Alfredo ever tastier, but then as Barbara pointed out she’s now cooking with ingredients that are far better than those she used in the 1970’s. This dish was a mainstay in the Chez Panisse Cafe during Barbara’s early years there, and she cooked it often. Alice later included a recipe in her 1984 classic ‘Pasta, Pizza & Calzone’ written with Patty Curtan and Martine Labro. It’s simple and delicious, and can be prepared quickly. She prepared it Monday night with refrigerated prosciutto ravioli she bought from our local Sunshine Foods. A small green salad fancied it up some.

Ingredients

1 cup heavy cream
2 tablespoons sweet butter
1 cup freshly grated Parmesan
Ground black pepper

Preparation

Bring the cream and butter to a boil in a sauté pan. Reduce the heat and simmer for 1 minute. Add half the Parmesan and a little freshly ground black pepper. Whisk the mixture until smooth and remove from the heat. Add the remaining Parmesan.

Cook and drain the pasta of your choice, then add it to the alfredo sauce. Garnish with more black pepper. Serve while steaming.

March 3, 2020

The coldest Syrah vineyard in California

by Bruce Neyers

Monterey Bay fog rolls in over the hills of Garys’ Vineyard
Summer 2019

The 50-acre Santa Lucia Highlands property known as Garys’ Vineyard resulted from  a 1997 partnership formed between Gary Pisoni and Gary Franscioni, longtime friends and neighbors who grew up in the farming community of the Salinas Valley. Only four acres of the vineyard are devoted to Syrah, but these vines grow in what is generally considered the coldest climate for Syrah in California.

The weather here closely simulates the conditions Syrah vines experience in Côte-Rôtie where it is one of the last red grapes harvested in France. The long, exaggerated growing season at Garys’ Vineyard allows the grapes to reach full physiological ripeness and produce wines of unparalleled flavor, complexity, and finesse. Few grape farmers in California understand the demands of growing Syrah here, as do the two Garys.

In the 17 years that our winemaker Tadeo Borchardt and I have worked together, we have regularly traveled through the heart of the northern Rhône Valley of France, meeting and tasting wines with many of the most celebrated Syrah producers in the world. Respected craftsmen like Auguste Clape, Noël Verset, Thierry Allemand, Robert Jasmin, and Marius Gentaz opened the doors of their cellars to me during my years with Kermit Lynch. Tadeo has met most of them as well, studied their techniques, tasted their wines, and listened to their advice. As a result, we take what we believe are grapes from one of the finest Syrah vineyards in California and produce from them a small amount of extraordinary wine.

The vines at Garys’ Vineyard are among the most carefully and attentively tended in the world, and the 2018 vintage was remarkable in the Santa Lucia Highlands. We harvested exactly 3 tons on October 10 — the latest harvest in the past five years — and delivered the grapes to the winery in a refrigerated truck to eliminate any risk of damage during transportation. The grapes were fermented in open-top tanks, retaining 100% of the stems. We fermented using only native, wild yeasts — without the addition of laboratory developed yeast — and the grapes were crushed by foot — a traditional French pigeage. After 45 days, the tanks were drained and pressed, and the new wine was racked to a combination of new and used 60-gallon French oak barrels. The wine was aged on the lees for six months, then racked for the first time. We racked twice more for natural clarification before the wine was bottled – unfiltered and unfined – on December 13.

We tasted this new wine last weekend with some of our other favorite bottlings of Syrah. Barbara took advantage of the beautiful spring-like weather we’ve enjoyed lately and prepared grilled beef ribs to accompany the tasting. The 2018 Garys’ already displays the classic aroma of Syrah — an exotic combination of freshly crushed black pepper, hints of crème de cassis, and lovely ripe blueberries. It’s just now beginning to display notes characteristic of bacon fat and smoked meat, and it has that marvelous soft texture that makes Syrah such an attractive wine in its youth.

February 24, 2020

Cabernet Sauvignon from a Cooler Climate Region

by Bruce Neyers

We’ve long admired the work of James Suckling over the many years that he has been reviewing wines and writing general interest pieces on the wine business, so we were especially pleased to read his review of our 2017 Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon. It was published in his newsletter on February 14. Here’s what James had to say:
Neyers 2017 ‘Napa Valley’ Cabernet Sauvignon
“Solid density of fruit for this vintage with blueberry and blackberry aromas and flavors. Medium to full body. Flavorful finish. Linear line of tannins and fruit through this. Very fine. Drink in 2022 and onwards.” – James Suckling
-92 POINTS

Grapes for this new bottling of Cabernet Sauvignon came from the Oak Knoll AVA of the Napa Valley, an area in the southern reaches of the valley that has intrigued me for many years with its surprisingly cool weather and long growing season. The result in a vintage like 2017 is complete physiological ripeness and a corresponding increase in flavor and texture. We’ve included in the blend 5% Merlot from a vineyard in the equally chilly region of Coombsville, its neighbor to the southeast.

This is a generous and attractive wine that can be enjoyed now. On a beautifully mild Napa Valley evening last weekend, we downed a bottle with Barbara’s chicken pot pie, one of my favorite dishes. Both were delicious! (see recipe below)

We just began to sell this wine so it is now ready for immediate shipment. Please check with your local Trinchero Family Estates Representative for availability and pricing information. You’ll love it! Thanks.

Home-made Chicken Pot Pie, from Barbara Neyers
Serves 4 to 6

Ingredients
1 pound boneless chicken breasts
1 cup sliced carrots
½ cup chopped onion
½ cup sliced celery
1 cup frozen peas
1 cup small onions cooked and peeled
4 cups chicken broth
2/3 cup milk
1/3 cup flour
1/3 cup olive oil
2 9-inch frozen pie crusts, unless you make your own (ensure the ingredients specify they are made with butter)
Salt & pepper

Preparation

  1. Preheat oven to 425 degrees
  2. Cook the chicken breasts in 1 to 2 cups chicken broth in a sauté pan. Cool and shred the chicken in pieces 1 to 2-inches long.
  3. Cook the onions in olive oil in a sauce pan until soft and translucent.
  4. Stir the flour into the sauce pan and slowly add the chicken broth.
  5. Add the sliced carrots and celery, and cook until soft.
  6. Add the milk, frozen peas, cooked onions, shredded chicken, then salt & pepper to taste. Keep warm.
  7. Put one thawed pie crust on the bottom of a 9-inch pie pan.
  8. Pour the hot chicken and vegetable mixture into the pan.
  9. Cover the pie pan with the top crust and seal the edges. Remove any excess dough. Make several small slits in the top crust for steam to escape.

Bake in preheated oven for about 30 to 35 minutes, or until pastry is golden brown and filling is bubbling.

February 19, 2020

A Textbook Blend

by Bruce Neyers

– By Bruce Neyers

The idea behind our Left Bank Red began at a meeting we had in the fall of 1984 after we purchased our 45-acre Conn Valley Ranch. We bought the property as a potential vineyard site and hired a consultant who specialized in Soil Analysis and Geology to help us with the planting decisions. He drilled test holes, examined the soil under a microscope, and did some complicated laboratory work.  He wrote a lengthy report with his suggested farming plan and advised us that Conn Creek – the stream that flows year-round through the south end of our ranch — is well over a million years old, so we’d probably find deep gravel deposits along its left bank.

He suggested we plant Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot.

When we started to work the land, we found gravel almost immediately, and our original optimism was confirmed. The following spring, the land was cleared, ripped, and deer-fenced, and we planted low-yielding 5BB and 5C rootstock. The parcel closest to the creek where the gravel was likely to be deepest was later budded to Merlot.

In 1994, we bought a second parcel — also on the left bank of the creek — and planted it to Cabernet Sauvignon. For several years we bottled separate wines from each vineyard, but the similarities between the two wines were striking. With the 2014 harvest, we blended the entire crop from these two blocks together and made one wine. It was about 55% Cabernet Sauvignon and 45% Merlot, and we named it Left Bank Red in recognition of its site along the left bank of Conn Creek. The inaugural bottling from the 2014 harvest was selected by the ‘Wine Spectator’ for inclusion in Jim Laube’s November 2016 piece on the year’s best bottlings of Cabernet Sauvignon where it was rated the number one wine in his ‘Top Values’ category – an impressive debut.

A few years ago we drilled a new well on our property, and the drilling company suggested we locate it at the edge of the Left Bank Vineyard. After reaching a depth of 15 feet, the drill rig encountered gravel, then emerged from it almost 50 feet later. Gravel has an important effect on red grapes, especially Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot. Because of the absence of nutrients, it throttles back their natural vigor. It’s well drained and doesn’t trap water, so the berries are small, concentrated and produce an aromatic wine that is dark colored.

It’s no coincidence that Barbara and I enjoy the red wines of St. Julien in Bordeaux. Many of them are made from grapes grown in the deepest gravel deposits in the region. One of my favorite wines from St. Julien – Château Gloria — is an everyday Cru Bourgeois grown not far from the Gironde. It has a high percentage of Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon in the blend, and both are grown in soil loaded with gravel from the nearby river. I love the flavors of this wine as they roll around the tongue. They are moderate in acid and tannin, making it a lovely model of restraint. I think of our Left Bank Red whenever I open a bottle and find many similarities.

February 18, 2020

Chardonnay produced using traditional old world winemaking

by Bruce Neyers

Chardonnay vines in the El Novillero Vineyard of Sonoma’s Carneros District

We’re now ready to start shipping our 2017 Carneros District Chardonnay. We’ve enjoyed watching it develop into one of the stars in our history of benchmark Chardonnay bottlings, and we predict and even brighter future.

The 1992 Chardonnay was our first labeled as ‘Carneros District’. It was made with the help of celebrated winemaking consultant Helen Turley. Helen’s winemaking ideas at that time were new and considered radical. They made sense to me only because I had partnered with Kermit Lynch, and was regularly traveling to France to meet with producers in Burgundy whose wines we imported. Her connections to several of those producers increased my confidence in, and comfort with, her techniques.

Helen used the term ‘Double Wild’ to describe her winemaking. It was a reference to the use of wild, native yeast for primary fermentation and wild, native lactic-acid bacteria to support the secondary or malo-lactic fermentation. Crucial to Helen’s process, as well, was pressing the fruit in whole clusters with stems intact to reduce the amount of pulp or solids in the fermenting juice. She fermented in 60-gallon French oak barrels and encouraged a complete, 100% malo-lactic fermentation. The latter allowed her to bottle the wine without filtration.

Few producers in California were willing to take the risks involved in using these techniques in 1992, but now it’s more commonplace. Helen’s ideas raised the consciousness of winemaking during her career, and we at Neyers were one of the beneficiaries. Over the past two decades, our winemaker Tadeo Borchardt has brought his own set of talents to our pursuit of quality.

We have chosen three vineyards as the source for the grapes used to produce this wine, all of them from the Sonoma County side of the Carneros District — the Sangiacomo Vineyard and the Yamakawa Vineyard, just southeast of the town of Sonoma, and the El Novillero Vineyard, in the hills at the far western limit of the Carneros AVA. Each is planted to the ‘heirloom selection’ of Chardonnay known as ‘Shot-Wente’, a small and especially flavorful version of the variety. Tadeo continues to fine-tune our traditional winemaking, and his contributions have brought us even greater recognition.

In a recent review in the ‘Wine Spectator’, Kim Marcus commented on our 2017 Chardonnay ‘Carneros District’:

Refined and refreshing, with lively green pear, apple and citrus flavors, powered by zesty acidity. Quince paste and dried savory notes show on the finish. Drink now through 2023. 5705 cases made. 92 POINTS

February 12, 2020

A textbook blend of Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot

by Bruce Neyers

Looking northeast towards Conn Creek, located at the treeline, c. 1940. The Left Bank parcels are on the far side of the creek.

The idea behind our Left Bank Red began at a meeting we had in the fall of 1984 after we purchased our 45-acre Conn Valley Ranch. We bought the property as a potential vineyard site and hired a consultant who specialized in Soil Analysis and Geology to help us with the planting decisions. He drilled test holes, examined the soil under a microscope, did some complicated laboratory work, and then wrote a lengthy report with his suggested farming plan.

He also advised us that Conn Creek – the stream that flows year-round through the south end of our ranch — is well over a million years old, so we’d probably find deep gravel deposits along its left bank. He suggested we plant Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot. When we started to work the land, we found gravel almost immediately, and our original optimism was confirmed. The following spring, the land was cleared, ripped, and deer-fenced, and we planted low-yielding 5BB and 5C rootstock. The parcel closest to the creek where the gravel was likely to be deepest was later budded to Merlot.

In 1994, we bought a second parcel — also on the left bank of the creek — and planted it to Cabernet Sauvignon. For several years we bottled separate wines from each vineyard, but the similarities between the two wines were striking. With the 2014 harvest we blended the entire crop from these two blocks together and made one wine. It was about 55% Cabernet Sauvignon and 45% Merlot, and we named it Left Bank Red in recognition of its site along the left bank of Conn Creek. The inaugural bottling from the 2014 harvest was selected by the ‘Wine Spectator’ for inclusion in Jim Laube’s November 2016 piece on the year’s best bottlings of Cabernet Sauvignon, where it was rated the number one wine in his ‘Top Values’ category, an impressive debut.

It’s no coincidence that Barbara and I enjoy the red wines of St. Julien in Bordeaux. Many of them are made from grapes grown in the deepest gravel deposits in the region. A few years ago we drilled a new well on our property, and the drilling company suggested we locate it at the edge of the Left Bank Vineyard. After reaching a depth of 15 feet, the drill rig encountered gravel, then emerged from it almost 50 feet later. Gravel has an important effect on red grapes, especially Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot. Because of the absence of nutrients, it throttles back their natural vigor. It’s well drained and doesn’t trap water, so the berries are small, concentrated and produce an aromatic wine that is dark colored.

One of my favorite wines from St. Julien – Château Gloria — is an everyday Cru Bourgeois grown not far from the Gironde. It has a high percentage of Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon in the blend, and both are grown in soil loaded with gravel from the nearby river. I love the flavors of this wine as they roll around the tongue. They are moderate in acid and tannin, making it a lovely model of restraint. I think of our Left Bank Red whenever I open a bottle, and find many similarities.

There’s a hint of ripe cassis in the 2017 Left Bank Red, along with a note of earth and mineral. There’s some chocolate here as well, and an attractive sour cherry flavor in the finish. I sometimes find a hint of fresh tobacco leaf here, and in small doses it’s irresistible. About this time of year, the Daphne plants along our walkway begin to bloom. Their aroma is hard to describe but it’s captivating, and resembles the heady nose in a glass of our Left Bank Red.

January 29, 2020

The 2018 Vista Notre Zinfandel

by Bruce Neyers

I’ve been working with Zinfandel grapes since my first California harvest, the 1972 vintage at Mayacamas Winery. My fondness for the wine began by drinking it with the meals Barbara prepared after watching Julia Child on ‘The French Chef’. While I’ve enjoyed Zinfandel from many producers, the best bottlings I’ve had are those Tadeo has made from the ‘Vista Luna’ vineyard, a beautiful parcel in the Sierra foothills Borden Ranch AVA. Three characteristics of the vineyard make these grapes especially well-suited to the style of wines I like:

-The plant material is an heirloom selection of Zinfandel, with smaller than normal clusters that ripen evenly, avoiding over-ripe raisins and under-ripe green grapes, producing a more flavorful wine.
-The vines are planted on a rocky outcropping formed by a large natural deposit of quartz and granite, adding an attractive mineral component to the wine.
-The generally warm climate is artificially chilled by a phenomenon known as the ‘Sierra Rotor’, a steady, cooling breeze that originates in the Pacific Ocean just off the Golden Gate, then drawn to the Sierra foothills by the high barometric pressure of the Central Valley.

This combination of heirloom plant material, unique soil, and cool weather yields grapes that reach full maturity at lower sugar levels, and results in wines that rarely exceed 14% alcohol. For the past decade or so we relied on a single vineyard in the Borden Ranch AVA for these grapes, but in 2018 we added fruit from two neighboring vineyards, each with similar characteristics. We can no longer call the wine ‘Vista Luna Vineyard’ now, so we call the wine ‘Vista Notre’, thinking of it as our vision of Zinfandel grown in these conditions. All three vineyards are in the same general area of the Sierra foothills, so they share a similar terroir and climate. The result is a style built around ripeness with low alcohol, and we’ve grown increasingly comfortable with this combination of bright fruit, low alcohol and attractive minerality. We’ve learned as well that while the wines made from this area can be enjoyed immediately, they age with both style and grace. Here is the inaugural look at the Neyers Vineyards Zinfandel ‘Vista Notre’. There will no longer be a separate bottling of Zinfandel labeled as ‘Vista Luna’.

January 27, 2020

There is Nothing More Serious than Risotto:  A lesson learned

-by Bruce Neyers

In the spring of 1971, I began working for Connoisseur Wine Imports in San Francisco. It was my first serious job in the wine business, and the owners hired me soon after I was discharged from the army. They suggested that I would learn the wine business there, although most of what I did was unload containers, hand-truck wine around their vast cellars, and build displays – work requiring a strong back and not so strong a mind. We specialized in the wines of France, and while I didn’t know much about them, I tasted them often and learned to love them.

Early on a Monday morning, soon after I arrived for work, one of the owners gave me a list of red Bordeaux wines he wanted me to assemble in the back room, an area that doubled as our lunch room and client tasting room. Modesto Lanzone, I was told, was coming in to taste recent arrivals for his wine list. I didn’t know Modesto, but I had walked by his namesake restaurant in Ghirardelli Square a number of times. It looked fascinating – and expensive — so I was eager to meet him.

I assembled the wines, opened them, set up for the tasting, and Modesto arrived. The owners of the business were brothers-in-law, Art Formicelli and Bal Gibson. Art guided Modesto through the wines, while I looked on. When finished, Modesto wrote down a substantial order and handed it to Art. Art in turn passed it along to me with instructions to isolate the wines Modesto wanted and set them up for delivery. I delivered them the next day. While I was unloading the shipment, Modesto stopped by and, recognizing me from the tasting, started up 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 was a talented cook. When he learned that I had never eaten at his restaurant, he quickly invited us to come as his guests.

We acted on his generous invitation that weekend and enjoyed one of the best meals ever. The centerpiece of the meal was Risotto, Modesto’s specialty. 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 well it went with the Risotto. I mentioned that, and Modesto replied simply, “Properly made Risotto requires the best wine you can serve with it.” That’s a lesson I’ve never forgotten.

Barbara has a gift for making Risotto, and prepared some for dinner last week. With it, we opened a bottle of our 2017 ‘Napa Valley’ Cabernet Sauvignon, a new wine that we just began to sell. It’s Cabernet that comes largely from a vineyard in the Oak Knoll District of Napa Valley, a relatively new AVA that sits in the southern-most part of Napa Valley, along the Silverado Trail. I learned about the area in 1975 when I was at Phelps. We bought grapes from the area, and I was impressed with the finished wine. It’s a cold weather region, and produces wines that are elegant and nicely balanced, but there was concern that the area had trouble fully ripening grapes. In vintages like 2017, that wasn’t an issue, and the low pH and high natural acidity gave us a wine of dark color, gratifying richness and attractive complexity. Tadeo added 5% Merlot to the finished wine, so one of its most charming features is an amazing softness. It was easy for me to guzzle a couple of glasses with the Risotto.

I’m enthusiastic about this wine. I’m similarly enthusiastic about Barbara’s Risotto, which I’m told is easy to make. I asked her for the recipe, so please try making it at home, and accompany it with a bottle of our newest wine.

“I was impressed with the finished wine.”

Wild Mushroom Risotto per Barbara Neyers

Serves 6

Ingredients
1 1/2 cups Arborio rice
6 cups chicken stock
2 cups wild mushrooms, cleaned, trimmed and sliced into ½-inch pieces
3 Tablespoons olive oil
1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese

Preparation
In a large pot heat the chicken stock
Sauté the mushrooms until cooked, then set aside
Heat the rice and 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 season to taste
Top each serving of Risotto with grated Parmesan

For her recent preparation, Barbara was able to locate fresh Morels, Chanterelles, Oyster Mushrooms and Boletus Edulis at Sunshine Grocery in St. Helena. She often adds cooked Pancetta to the dish with the mushrooms.