January 8, 2019
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:
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
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
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.
December 17, 2018
Dinner with Rusty Staub: A baseball lover’s dream evening, with a look at Neyers Syrah
I met Rusty Staub 30 years ago on a summer afternoon when he drove up to the Napa Valley after broadcasting a NY Mets game at Candlestick. He was a wine buff and had been given my name by a mutual friend, so he stopped by my office to visit. We talked for a bit, then tasted a few wines, but before he left we agreed to get together for dinner during his next trip to the Bay Area. A month or so later he was back, and accepted my invitation to join us at home. Rusty was a great cook, but when he learned that Barbara worked at Chez Panisse he enthusiastically agreed to be merely a guest. He really couldn’t help himself though, and on his way to our place, he called to report that he had stopped at a fish market and bought some fresh salmon filets. He was marinating them on the drive, and wanted to grill them – himself – as our first course. I agreed, and walked outside to fire up the mesquite grill. We had invited a handful of friends to join us, and each brought some wine, but I knew Rusty loved Syrah so I had selected a few bottles of Northern Rhône wines from my cellar. Not surprisingly, I included a Neyers Syrah in the mix. Barbara had prepared a Daube of Beef, which was served after our grilled salmon starter. With the Daube, I opened magnums of St. Joseph from Trollat, Cornas from Auguste Clape and Noël Verset, Hermitage from Chave, and Côte-Rôtie from Jasmin, and Gentaz. I added a magnum of Neyers 1994 Syrah, and we began to taste through them all.
Rusty’s baseball career stretched from 1963 through 1985 and included far too many notable accomplishments to mention. Along the way, he was a successful restauranteur, a children’s book author, and the founder of several humanitarian organizations, major charities like the New York Police and Fireman Widows’ Benefit Fund. He was also a very talented cook. In 1969 he was traded to the Montreal Expos, and to fit in better with the community he learned to speak French. He had a soft but precise speaking voice – it was almost poetic at times — with just the slightest trace of that wonderful lilt that comes from being a native of New Orleans. I could sit and listen to him talk for hours. At one point that evening, the talk turned to baseball, and he began recounting some of his experiences. Someone asked him to name the best player he had played against. He declined but he offered instead to name the best at each position. I wrote them down, as Rusty’s All Star Team:
Catcher – Johnny Bench
First Base – Willie McCovey
Second Base – Joe Morgan
Shortstop – Ernie Banks
Third Base – Mike Schmidt
Right Field – Roberto Clemente
Center Field – Willie Mays
Left Field – Frank Robinson
Right Hand Pitcher – Bob Gibson
Left Hand Pitcher – Sandy Koufax
What a glorious list of stars! Rusty died in March of this year, at age 73, after a brief illness. There was a collective sense of loss in the Napa Valley, as every vintner who had met him considered him a friend. He always had time for anyone, and patience for everything. He devoted his retirement years to the betterment of the world, specifically by helping those in need, and left behind a wonderful legacy of respect and gratitude. At his funeral, Mets PR director Jay Horowitz remarked that “No one ever gave back to the community like Rusty.”
I think of Rusty and his love for Syrah every time I go into my cellar and bring out a bottle from one of my heroes. I think of him as well when Barbara cooks her Daube of Beef. She plans to prepare one next week to serve with our newly bottled 2017 Neyers Vineyards Syrah ‘Garys’ Vineyard’. After tasting it last week with Tadeo, I feel it’s a great success. Rusty would like it, I’m sure.
December 10, 2018
Sandy Block on the Neyers 2016 Placida Pinot Noir: An MW’s observations
Sandy Block, a respected MW from Boston, is one of the world’s most cerebral wine personalities. From his headquarters in Boston, he has directed the enormously successful wine program at Legal Sea Foods for the past 20 years. In his recent observations for a local trade publication, he turned his attention to California Pinot Noir, and the 2016 Placida Vineyard bottling from Neyers that we make from grapes grown by the celebrated Chuy Ordaz.
‘Tasting dozens of Pinot Noirs blind, it’s unmistakable how dramatically individual a story each one tells. The grape is a chameleon. Highly reflective of its specific growing conditions, Pinot requires handling with utmost care, both in the vineyard and the winery. Its thin skins bruise easily and are rot-prone in humid conditions; because it buds so early in the season Pinot Noir is frost-susceptible; if cropped at too heavy a load the wine it makes will taste dilute; and, to cap everything off, it’s genetically unstable. At a minimum Pinot Noir requires a long, cool, but sunny and dry growing season, the kind of environment where every vintage poses fresh challenges and requires a new strategy to handle the grapes. The net/net is that in a world and a market that prize predictability, Pinot Noir is by its very nature capricious. Its low yields and the intensive manual vineyard work (shoot thinning, pruning, leaf removal and other canopy work) needed to ensure flavor concentration mean that it’s never inexpensive to produce. Why do winemakers persist? When done right, Pinot Noir is incomparable, with an exalted perfume, texture and flavor profile whose every sip offers intrigue and surprise. The following California Pinot Noirs are among the finest I’ve tasted recently.
NEYERS WINERY PINOT NOIR ‘PLACIDA VINEYARD’
RUSSIAN RIVER VALLEY 2O16
Some consider Sonoma’s Russian River Valley the heart and soul of California’s Pinot Noir crop. The valley is a chain of low hills and bench lands surrounding the Russian River as it cuts a path westward from just north of Santa Rosa, emptying into the Pacific. The soils range from well-drained, loose-gravelly loam near the river, to rocky sandstone clays on the rolling hills. Pacific fogs roll eastward upriver reducing sunlight hours, prolonging the growing season (typically harvest is at least two weeks after Carneros) and often producing a fuller-bodied more concentrated and tannic wine. This Pinot is one of the exceptions to that more general formulation. With vines planted to the legendary Joseph Swan ‘Selection’ (rumored to have originated in the village of Vosne-Romanée) Bruce Neyers has created a wine of charm and elegance, with tealeaf, red berry and herbal garden scents. It’s an unfined and unfiltered wine of finesse that manages to walk a delicious tightrope between red fruit and more earthy flavor notes.’
December 4, 2018
The hillside vineyards of Neyers Ranch
8 Zinfandels to Hunker Down With
by Aaron Romano
Tasting Highlights’ wine reviews are fresh out of the tasting room, offering a sneak peek of our editors’ most recent scores and notes to WineSpectator.com members.
One of the most appealing things about Zinfandel is that buying a bottle or two rarely breaks the bank. Many clock in around $30 or less, like the picks in today’s selection. These Zins come from all over California and are distinct to their terroirs, but each carries Zin’s hallmark fruit-forward appeal.
NEYERS Zinfandel California Vista Luna 2017 Score: 91 | $30
Refined and well-structured, yet showing a briary streak, with appealing black cherry, sweet anise and white pepper flavors. Drink now through 2025. 1,172 cases made.—T.F.
November 26, 2018
In my long association with Kermit Lynch, I logged more than 80 trips to France. The first one, in January 1992, was among the most exciting, and it began with the meeting of an old friend, George Lorentz. George and his family own Domaine Gustave Lorentz near Colmar, in the southern area of Alsace known as the Haut-Rhin. I stayed with them in 1974 during my first trip to France. In 1980 we were able to return their hospitality when George lived with us in St. Helena, and worked at Joseph Phelps Vineyards with me. When I was planning my 1992 trip to Alsace, George and I arranged to meet for dinner the day I arrived. After a brief visit with his parents at their home in Bergheim, we drove to Ribeauville for a dining experience that has been etched in my mind ever since. The culinary fame of Alsace is legendary, as the region is home to the greatest concentration of Michelin-star restaurants in France. Rather than select a starred wonder for us that night, though, George planned dinner at a modest restaurant near my hotel – the casual Wistub Zum Pfifferhüs, in the lovely old village of Ribeauville. Our meal was simple but spectacular, and on George’s insistence it began with the onion tart, a dish for which the restaurant was apparently renown throughout Alsace. Aware of my fondness for red Burgundy, George had also brought from his cellar a bottle of Gevrey-Chambertin from a producer we both knew. After an obligatory glass of local Riesling and Gewürztraminer, we moved on to the Burgundy, just as the onion tart arrived at the table. I’ve had a lot of great food and wine combinations in my time, but I’ll never think of one any better than this. My main course was another specialty of the Wistub — the braised oxtail with spatzel — but as good as it was I found myself yearning for a second slice of the onion tart. Over the next two weeks, I enjoyed great meals in grand spots from Paris to Marseilles, but nothing was more memorable than that perfectly executed onion tart, accompanied by that delicious bottle of red Burgundy. I told Barbara about it when I returned home, and learned that she had cooked scores of onion tarts during her time at Chez Panisse and Auberge du Soleil. It’s not difficult, she said, and she baked one later that week. I devoured it with a bottle of red Burgundy from our cellar. Since then Barbara has continued to polish her onion tart recipe over the years, so when I recently brought home our just-bottled 2017 Pinot Noir ‘Placida Vineyard’ she decided it was onion tart time again. Once more, those bells and whistles went off in my head, and this time more than a few of them were directly attributable to the wine. Chuy Ordaz told us that the Pinot Noir from the 2017 harvest at his Placida Vineyard may have been the best fruit he ever picked from his property. The ground was still damp that spring and early summer from the heavy rain of the previous season, and the cold soil served to keep the growing temperatures comfortably low during bud break and flowering. The crop was small owing to the five consecutive drought years from 2010 through 2015, and the ripening was slow and even, giving us an almost perfect sugar to acid ratio when we harvested the grapes in late September. The parcel we work with is a two-acre block planted exclusively to budwood from the old Joe Swan vineyard in Forestville. These are ‘selection massale’ plants – not laboratory clones — developed from vines that originated in Vosne-Romanée, in the heart of the Côte de Nuits. Joe always maintained that the high quality of his Pinot Noir was due to the pedigrée of his vines. That night when we tasted the 2017 Pinot Noir ‘Placida’ for the first time since bottling, I was enormously impressed. We were both struck by the ethereal components that some refer to as ‘Burgundian Character’, a combination of aromas that include jam, earth, coffee, and tropical fruit. I remarked to Barbara that Tadeo had made a Pinot Noir ‘for the ages’ in 2017, one that we should expect to enjoy for many years. I plan to taste it often, and when possible accompany it with a slice of Barbara’s onion tart. I asked Barbara for her recipe, and it’s copied below. She says it’s really simple, especially if you use frozen puff pastry or pie dough from your local market as she does.
2017 Pinot Noir ‘Placida Vineyard’ – now available to ship; please check with your local Trinchero Family Estates representative for availability and pricing
Here is Barbara’s recipe for her Classic Onion Tart:
An 8-inch partially cooked puff pastry or pastry shell on a baking sheet
2 pounds sweet onions, about 7 cups, preferably sweet white onions
2 tablespoons olive oil
two-thirds cup whipping cream
1 and one-half tablespoons flour
One-half cup grated Swiss cheese
1 tablespoon butter cut in small pieces
Salt & pepper
Pinch of nutmeg
Over low heat and stirring occasionally, cook onions in a heavy skillet with olive oil until tender and golden yellow. Approximately 45 minutes.
Sprinkle with flour and continue cooking slowly for 2 to 3 minutes.
Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
Beat the eggs, cream, and seasonings in a bowl until blended. Gradually mix in the onions and half of the cheese. Pour into puff pastry or tart shell and spread the remaining cheese and butter pieces on top.
Bake in preheated oven for 25 to 30 minutes until tart has puffed and browned.
Slice and serve.
November 26, 2018
October 9, 2018
by Bruce Neyers
Golf isn’t a part of my life today, but there was a time – from around 1985 through 2000 — when both Barbara and I played often. It began when a neighbor of ours moved to Maui to take the job as tennis pro at the Kapalua Resort. We visited him often, and eventually he persuaded us to take golf lessons. After a few days of instruction, we went out for a round. We enjoyed the exercise, being outdoors in beautiful weather, and, of course, the cold beer at the end. Through him, we also met the resort’s golf pro, who soon suggested our winery be a sponsor of their Golf Tournament. We agreed. In exchange, he waived the golf fees for the rest of our trip.
At the time, there were two 18 hole courses at Kapalua. The older Village Course was a bit more rustic, but it was slower paced, and far less crowded. We made a daily reservation there, and played early so there was little or no audience watching us fumble along our way. One morning as we began to head out for our round, the starter – with whom we had also become friendly — asked if we would like some company. He had another twosome without a reservation and he suggested they team with us. He introduced us, and jokingly mentioned that we could probably answer their wine questions. One of the players was retired football great Fran Tarkenton. He was joined by a former teammate, a lineman named Ron Yary. I knew we were going to be way over our heads, but the two of them were certain that it would be fine. Ron even mentioned that he did have some wine questions for us. I suggested that after playing together for a few holes they could play ahead of us. They declined, insisting that they always enjoyed the game better as a foursome.
No one would ever doubt the athleticism of Fran Tarkenton, but he was effusive in his praise for Ron Yary, who he referred to as one of the most gifted players he knew. We went to the tee box for the first hole — a short, slightly uphill par 4 — and I hit a three iron that, while straight, didn’t cover much distance. But that was my game. Fran hit next and he creamed the ball, driving it almost to the green, but it sliced to the right, into the trees separating the 18th fairway. Ron hit his tee shot with even more power, but he hooked into a pineapple patch to the left of the green. From the ladies’ tee, Barbara – playing with her trusty five iron — hit her shot right down the middle of the fairway. We were outmuscled, but we played straight. I shot a par for that hole, Barbara hit a double bogey 6, and both Fran and Ron shot bogey 5. When we got to the second hole – all tied after one — Ron said to Fran loud enough for us to hear that he hoped they weren’t being sandbagged by Barbara and me.
Their reputations were safe, but they still suggested we have a small wager on the game. I asked what “a small wager” was, and they proposed a dollar on the front nine, another dollar on the back nine, and a third dollar for low team score. We agreed. Well, it didn’t take long for the wheels to fall off as we caved in from the financial pressure. The sixth hole – a long downhill par 5 — was especially treacherous, and Barbara shot a twelve. I barely fared better, with a nine. Both Fran and Ron shot pars. The snack bar was at the 9th hole, and the starter met us there to see how the round was going. I apologized for our lack of competition and repeated my offer that they play ahead of us. They declined again, and said that playing with a foursome was an important part of the game. They both insisted on finishing with us.
As we began the back nine, they began to ask us questions about the wine business. We told them about our vineyards and winery, briefly describing our wines. I also mentioned that my favorite restaurant in the area – the popular Bay Club – was one of the best customers for our Chardonnay. Soon enough we were teeing up for our shots down the 18th fairway – recognized as the narrowest par four on Maui. We spent very little time in that fairway, but fortunately, I had bought another dozen golf balls at the snack bar, so we had enough to finish the round. Fran and Ron were as affable on the 18th hole as they had been on the first, and both Barbara and I were delighted that these two talented athletes had been patient enough to play 18 holes of golf with us.
We finished the hole, got into our carts and drove back to the starter’s shed to turn in our equipment. We walked to the nearby clubhouse, found an empty table, and ordered a beer. When the server arrived, I reached for my wallet to pay, but Ron was faster, and said, “Please, we’ve got this one.” He paid the server, took our scorecard and compared it to his. After a few strokes of the pencil and a slight furrowing of his brow, he said, “Looks like you owe us three dollars.” I paid him. We enjoyed another round of beer, and by this time our table was deluged by autograph seekers. Most of the people recognized Fran of course, but one young boy, pointing to Ron, asked who the other guy was, Fran didn’t hesitate. “Young man,” he said, “That person is Ron Yary, probably the best athlete I’ve ever known in my life. You should get his autograph.” Only a great athlete with enormous self-confidence could so ably redirect attention away from himself, towards a less famous athlete. How impressive. I’ve often thought about that moment, and reflected on what a great lesson it was.
Later that night, Barbara and I went out to dinner at the Kapalua Bay Club, and as the hostess seated us she pointed in the direction of a table on the next level. “I think you have some friends dining with us tonight,” she said. I looked in that direction and saw Fran and Ron, just as both of them lifted an empty bottle of Neyers Chardonnay. There were six people at their table, and they raised their glasses in a toast us. Fran and Ron were a class act.
The Carneros Chardonnay at Neyers Vineyards is produced using the most traditional Burgundian winemaking techniques. We work exclusively with hand-harvested fruit from three Carneros District vineyards, all of them planted to ‘Shot-Wente’ selection (see photo above). We ferment in 25% new French oak barrels from François Frères Cooperage in St. Romain, using native wild yeast. Secondary fermentation occurs naturally as well, with no added M/L starter. We just began to ship our 2016 Chardonnay ‘Carneros District’, and it’s as delicious as Chardonnay gets. Contact your local Trinchero Family Estates representative for pricing and availability information in your market. Thanks.
October 9, 2018
October 2, 2018
-by Bruce Neyers
Neyers Vineyards since we picked the Evangelho Carignan on August 27, it has been going slower than normal, thanks to some beautiful, chilly weather during much of September. This kind of ‘Autumn Chill’ is uncommon but oh so good for the grapes, permitting them longer ‘hang time’ to develop physiological ripeness, while maintaining high natural acidity levels. I remember similar harvests in 1975 and 1995, both of which were responsible for some of the best wines I’ve tasted in my career. Today was another milestone as we began to harvest grapes from our Conn Valley Ranch. Looking back, the last year we began picking on October 1 was – you guessed it — 1995. Last year, this same parcel – our house block Merlot – was picked on September 21. Moreover, the crop in 2017 was one of the smallest ever, a mere 2.68 tons from this 1.2-acre vineyard. This year the same parcel yielded 5.80 tons, or 4.83 tons/acre, still short of the Napa Valley average, but much better than in the past few drought years. The crop size this year seems to be up across the board in Napa, due largely to the mild weather in May and June when vines were flowering — completing the self-pollination or grape fertilization process during which they are so fragile. A normal-sized crop of high quality is the stuff that Napa Valley dreams are made of, and this looks like the year, so far. If the weather stays warm and mild for another two weeks, prepare yourself for some of the best wines we’ve made in years. Barbara and I were out at first light this morning meeting with our crew, and minutes after the first bin was filled, she turned to me and said, “I don’t think they’ve ever looked more gorgeous!” That’s pretty high praise from a demanding grape grower.
October 1, 2018
September 18, 2018
by Bruce Neyers
We had guests for dinner last week — a neighbor of ours and her daughter, who recently joined the family’s winery. The daughter brought along her boyfriend, a young Frenchman who was raised in the Beaujolais region, near Lyon, and now works in the Napa Valley as a vineyard manager. His parents, he told me, were not in the wine business, but they raised him to enjoy wine and food; as a result, he decided to study Viticulture in college. I told him that I loved the Beaujolais region — its wines, food and people — and how much I had enjoyed traveling there twice a year during my almost thirty years with Kermit Lynch. He asked if I had ever made it to Lyon for a meal at Restaurant Paul Bocuse. I had – just once – and it was as memorable as any meal I’ve ever enjoyed, anywhere. But before his untimely death in January of this year, M. Bocuse played another far more important role in my life. I recalled the details.
I had finished my annual March trip to France for Kermit Lynch. My fifteen or so traveling companions and I were loading up our rental vans early on a Friday morning before leaving Chinon for Paris. After sixteen days on the back roads and highways – we had circumnavigated France from Nantes to Alsace to Marseilles, then back to Bordeaux – we’d driven to Chinon for a tasting on Thursday afternoon, followed by dinner in the nearby town. Everyone was particularly cheerful the next morning. The long days of tasting and travel were over, and we had an especially bright prospect ahead of us: a free afternoon in Paris on a beautiful spring day. After dropping the vans at Orly Airport, we taxied to our hotel in Central Paris. I asked everyone to meet me in the lobby at 7:00 that evening so we could leave for dinner together at one of my favorite Paris haunts. I had plans of my own for lunch that afternoon. I assembled a small group and we headed off to our lunch destination, Maison Prunier, one of Paris’ oldest and loveliest restaurants — located on Avenue Victor Hugo in the 16th Arrondisement, two blocks from the Arc de Triomphe. I had been there once before – earlier that year in January actually – at the suggestion of a restaurant friend. Our lunch group in January had been larger, and we’d been seated at a large table on the balcony overlooking the beautiful Belle Époque dining room. The meal was great that day, but the friend who had suggested the place later chastised me for not trying the turbot, the dish he claimed to be “the finest example of prepared seafood in the world.” We were returning to Maison Prunier in March so I could check-off an important block on my lifetime “to-do” list.
We were immediately shown to our table, a comfortable six-top next to the window overlooking busy Avenue Victor Hugo. We quickly ordered a bottle of Champagne from the extensive list. We then began our meal with two orders of the house specialty — Assiette de la Mer, an assortment of fresh clams, oysters, shrimp, crawfish, lobster, and a few shellfish whose names we could only speculate about. For the main course I intended to stick to my plan and order the turbot. After learning that it was prepared for two, I persuaded my friend Peter that he needed to share this “best in the world” experience with me. He agreed. We finished four bottles of Champagne with the shellfish, and then moved on to white wine, choosing a single vineyard Meursault from one of my favorite Burgundian suppliers. My turbot soon arrived, and it was expertly fileted tableside by our server. By this time, he had enthusiastically befriended our entire group. I finished off the last morsel of my portion, and turned to Peter to see his reaction. “Well,” he said, “it may indeed have been the best piece of fish I’ve ever had.” I thought so too.
Then we noticed some uncharacteristic bustle in the dining room. People began to stand up next to their chairs and look towards the balcony. Our server had come back to the table to check on us, and someone asked him what was happening. “Ah,” he said, “today we are honored to have Chef Paul Bocuse dine with us.” At that, I glanced to the top of the curved stairway that led down from the balcony where I had eaten earlier in the year. An elderly, elegant looking man appeared at the top of the steps. He was dressed in a suit and tie. At the bottom of the stairwell, a receiving line was being formed by the entire kitchen staff of the restaurant. As M. Bocuse began to descend the stairway, a ripple of polite applause broke out among the restaurant patrons. Even our server stopped to applaud the great man. Some of the diners began to leave their tables to take a position at the end of the line. The group of four seated next to us stood up and walked over to the reception line. My friend Peter looked at me and said, “Let’s go meet him.”
We stood up and, continuing to clap, moved over to join the line. M. Bocuse meanwhile had reached the bottom of the staircase, and begun to enthusiastically shake hands, smile and make brief comments to the chefs — each of them immaculately done up in their kitchen whites, replete with elaborate toque. He continued to greet each person while gradually working his way to the end of the line. When he reached me, I extended my right hand and he grabbed it with both of his. He had a powerful grip. He looked at me and said simply, “Merci, Monsieur.” I’ve don’t think I’ve ever before been so touched; a tear filled my eye. Here was one of the most gifted chefs in the history of French Cuisine, a man who in one way or another was responsible for most for the great meals I’d enjoyed in my life, and he was thanking me. When he reached the door, a young man helped him into the limousine waiting outside the restaurant entrance, and the car drove off.
Peter and I returned to our table, still in a mild state of shock. One of my colleagues looked at me, smiled and said, “That’s not something you get to do every day.” No, it sure wasn’t. Our server, returning to work, wheeled over the cheese trolley. He opened the cover, then, pointing to a beautifully ripe, white-rind cheese, he said that the Pont l’Évêque was especially good that day. We all agreed, and I picked up the wine list to find a red wine. On the way back to the hotel, Peter and I shared a taxi. At one point he asked, “Don’t you wish you had brought a bottle of Neyers wine to give to M. Bocuse?” The thought had never entered my mind. Later, at dinner, I told Peter that if I ever went back to Restaurant Paul Bocuse, I would take a bottle of our Chardonnay ‘El Novillero Vineyard’ to him as a gift. Of course, he didn’t need to try a Chardonnay from California – or any other place for that matter. The list in his Lyon restaurant was loaded with some of the great White Burgundies of France. After all these years of tasting many of them, though, I’d like to think Tadeo’s work would have intrigued him, if only a little. But then it might have also led to yet another remarkable impromptu moment like the one in Paris.