April 26, 2021
By Bruce Neyers
Toni’s Cabernet Sauvignon parcel before mowing cover crop. Growth was lower this year as we had less than 10 inches of rainfall compared to the normal of 36 inches.
It’s spring in the Napa Valley, and the season brings with it both new growth in the vines, and a flurry of activity in the vineyards. At Neyers Ranch, we farm sustainably, so we plant a cover crop every year to replace nutrients removed by the previous year’s growth. After several months, that cover crop – a combination of wheat, oats, barley, peas, and vetch – has normally grown to a height of two feet or more, so our first spring project is to go through the vineyards and mow the cover crop.
The mower is followed by a tractor with a spader that mulches the freshly cut vegetation, along with the lignified remains from our winter pruning. At Neyers Vineyards, we don’t have much pruning wood to mulch as the bulk of it is removed by hand, then trimmed to fireplace length – 24 inches or so – then tied in bundles about 12 inches in diameter. They’re great to cook over, and most of ours go to my former colleague Kermit Lynch and his son Anthony, who use them in either a fireplace or outdoor grill. A few Bay Area restaurants have used them as well.
After the cover crop has been mowed and mulched, we make a third pass in the vineyard row with a heavy steel disc, the modern version of a traditional plow. This device ensures that everything on the surface gets worked into the soil, while breaking up dirt clods and leveling the ground.
Our focus now is on the two parcels adjacent to the creek that flows through our ranch. These vines produce the grapes that go into the Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon blend we call Left Bank Red, and are the first to flower every year. Some 2018 Left Bank Red remains available for sale, and it’s possibly the finest example of this wine we’ve produced to date. I love the exotic combination of wild cherry flavors – what the French call ‘Griotte’ – and the subtle chocolate undertone that accompanies it. It’s a soft wine, smooth, and complex, with a delightfully long and complete finish. It has a remarkable similarity to some wines from the Saint Julien area of Bordeaux. I compare it to Château Gloria, in part because of the similar blend and the deep, gravel soil found in both vineyards. It pairs well with a wide range of springtime dishes. A bottle of it was ideal with Barbara’s fried chicken last weekend.
This is our 50th season of growing grapes and making wine in the Napa Valley. Each year has presented us with a unique set of challenges and opportunities, and at the same time given us the unparalleled satisfaction of devoting our lives to this business. It promises to be yet another beautiful year here in the Napa Valley, so as travel grows less restricted, try to find time to visit us at the winery. We’d enjoy the chance to taste some handcrafted wines from Neyers Vineyards with you.
Hill Merlot parcel after mowing.
Hill Cabernet Sauvignon parcel after spading.
Toni’s Cabernet Sauvignon parcel after discing.
Victor on narrow-body New Holland tractor with Domries Disc and ring roller.
Wisteria vines blooming at the winery are a sure sign that spring is here.
April 19, 2021
By Bruce Neyers
Neyers Cabernet Sauvignon North Block looking west into the setting sun.
Here’s more good news about Neyers Vineyards from James Suckling. James recently reviewed our 2017 Neyers Ranch Cabernet Sauvignon, and had some high praise for this wine we made from grapes grown on our Conn Valley property:
Neyers 2017 Cabernet Sauvignon ‘Neyers Ranch’
“Attractive aromas of blueberries and lavender follow through to a medium body, firm and silky tannins and a slightly chewy finish. Needs a couple of years to soften. Better after 2022.” 93 POINTS – James Suckling
After reading this review, I wanted to try a bottle of our 2017 Cabernet Sauvignon ‘Neyers Ranch’ alongside a bottle of one of my favorite Bordeaux reds, the 2017 Ch. Lynch-Bages. Lynch-Bages is a blend of 75% Cabernet Sauvignon, 15% Merlot, and 10% Cabernet Franc.
Barbara offered to make some red beans and rice for the tasting. We thought some comfort food like that would be perfect to compare a California and French Cabernet. I’ve grown to love the combination of cassis, blackberry and fresh tobacco leaf that’s a frequent characteristic of Cabernet bottlings from both countries, and I look for it in my favorites. I found it in these wines, and they couldn’t be more charming as a result.
Her recipe for red beans and rice is below.
Red Beans and Rice
4 to 6 Servings
- 1 lb dried red beans, soaked overnight
- 1 1/2 cups chopped onions
- 3/4 cup chopped green bell pepper
- 3/4 cup chopped celery
- 3 bay leaves
- 3 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
- 1 tbsp minced garlic
- 1 tsp Creole seasoning
- 1/2 tsp cayenne
- 1/2 tsp freshly ground black pepper
- 1 tsp dried thyme
- 1/2 lb andouille or other spicy smoked sausage, cut into ¼-inch slices
- 2 lb smoked ham hock
- 10 cups chicken stock
- Italian parsley minced
- Kosher salt
- 4 cups cooked white rice
Place the beans in a large bowl or pot and cover with water by 2 inches. Let soak for 8 hours or overnight. Drain and set aside.
In a large pot sauté the onions, green bell pepper and celery in the olive oil stirring until soft. Add the sausage, salt, cayenne, and Creole seasoning and cook until the sausage is browned.
Add the ham hock and cook for 2 minutes. Add the garlic and cook for 1 minute.
Add the beans and chicken stock, stirring well, and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to medium-low and simmer uncovered stirring occasionally until the beans are tender and starting to thicken, about 2 hours. If the beans become too dry, add more chicken stock or water.
Mash about one-fourth of the bean mixture against the side of the pot with a heavy spoon to thicken the juices.
Remove the ham hock and let cool slightly. Slice the meat from the bone, discarding the skin and bones. Return the meat to the pot and heat through.
Spoon the hot rice into bowls and top with the beans. Garnish with minced Italian parsley
Serve with Crystal Hot Sauce on the side, according to taste. This tip courtesy of our colleague Keith de la Gardelle, the ‘Unofficial Mayor of New Orleans’, who introduced us to Crystal Hot Sauce. You don’t need much of it though.
Hugo Maldonado’s crew harvesting the Neyers Cabernet Sauvignon South Block. This vineyard is normally picked in one morning with Hugo’s crew of 10–12. Picking is done only by hand.
April 16, 2021
By Bruce Neyers
A 54 year-old ‘Shot-Wente’ selection Chardonnay vine at the Yamakawa Vineyard on Watmaugh Road in Sonoma County’s Carneros District.
All of us at Neyers Vineyards were saddened last week to learn of the recent death of Jim Yamakawa. Jim was a long-time grape supplier to Neyers Vineyards, and he passed away on March 24 at age 92. We began to buy grapes from Jim in 2000, and over the past few years he was the single largest supplier of fruit to Neyers Vineyards. His block of old-vine, ‘Shot-Wente’ selection Chardonnay was often 50% or more of our Neyers Vineyards Carneros District Chardonnay bottling. Our arrangement with Yamakawa Vineyards will continue with his son Del, who has spent most of his adult life working with his father in the family business.
Jim was born in Sonoma and has always been a man of the soil, having worked with grapes or other agricultural products since childhood. He seemed to relish his outward appearance of simplicity, but his wisdom was widely known and respected throughout the community. His skill as a grape grower was unmatched, as were his genial nature and devotion to his family. His late wife Mary, a native of Sebastopol, predeceased him by five years. Together they were legendary gardeners, and during our early trips to their vineyard it was difficult to leave without our car being loaded-up with baskets of fruits and vegetables they had grown. In my years of buying grapes in northern California, no one I’ve met had more integrity as a businessman, or a greater sense of fairness in their dealings with others. He was a remarkable individual, and he will be missed.
Del Yamakawa, Jim’s son, between journalist Randy Caparosa (left) and Neyers winemaker Tadeo Borchardt (right).
April 16, 2021
By Bruce Neyers
Winemaker Tadeo Borchardt examines the quartz rocks that are a crucial element of the soil at one of the Sierra Foothill vineyards which grow grapes for the Neyers Vista Notre Zinfandel bottling. These hardened rocks were brought to the surface from more than a mile deep when the mountain range was formed thousands of years ago.
We recently learned of this review from James Suckling of our 2019 Vista Notre Zinfandel:
Neyers Vineyards 2019 Zinfandel ‘Vista Notre’
Publication date: March 2, 2021
“A rich, fruity red with lots of dried fruit, including raisins. It’s full and flavorful. Hints of chocolate and nuts at the end. Not over the top. Drink now.” 91 POINTS – James Suckling
This is a wine we produced from grapes grown in three vineyards in the Sierra foothills, from the AVA’s of Borden Ranch, Clement Hills and Mokelumne River. All are in the gently rolling hills, east of Lodi, and are influenced by the wind generated by the ‘Sierra Rotor’ phenomenon, which artificially cools some of these vineyards. The soils are sandy, with clay and quartz, and they are planted to heirloom selections of Zinfandel, so they yield small berries that ripen evenly and can be harvested at lower sugar levels. Past vintages have been bottled with as little as 13.5% alcohol. The 2019 Vista Notre Zinfandel is 14.1% alcohol, low enough that the attractive berry flavors of Zinfandel show at their best. The wine is fermented naturally, with native, wild yeast, then aged for one year in used 60-gallon French oak barrels. It’s bottled without fining or filtration.
Every time I taste a bottle of Zinfandel brimming with that irresistible fruit of fresh blackberry and frais des bois, I’m reminded of my old pal Joe Swan and his annual Cassoulet dinner, at which he’d open a half-dozen or so bottlings of his Zinfandel to see how they were doing. One year, Joe joined us at Chez Panisse for dinner on my birthday. To recognize Joe and his wines, Chefs David Tanis and Jean-Pierre Moullé collaborated to make a special Cassoulet, using a customized, shallow copper pan to maximize the crust surface. As a final touch, they topped it off with shaved white truffle. That dish would go well with this Zinfandel.
Cassoulet, as you’d enjoy it in the south of France, from Narbonne to Toulouse. How could you resist a bottle of hearty Zinfandel with this dish?
March 12, 2021
By Bruce Neyers
Rigatoni pasta with sautéed baby artichoke, pancetta and Reggiano Parmesan.
It makes sense that I first heard of Harry’s Bar from Alice Waters. Alice loves grand things, and Harry’s Bar in Venice is one of life’s grandest. In the years that I’ve known Alice, I learned a lot about food and wine, but I listened to her closest when she offered tips on travel. When Barbara and I were invited to Venice to celebrate Alice’s birthday, I thought immediately we should have dinner at Harry’s Bar.
When we met up with Alice in Venice, she had eaten at Harry’s Bar the prior night. She insisted on making the reservation for us, but made me promise to order the baby artichoke pasta special. “It’s only available in the spring,” she said. “They’ll want you to order a white wine, but get something red and rustic.”
We were joined for dinner by another couple who were in Venice for her birthday. When we arrived at Harry’s, the host immediately took us off to the restaurant’s version of ‘Dining Siberia’, in the rear of the second floor, where we were seated out of sight of the scores of celebrities. The maître d’ had been looking for us though, and following Alice’s instructions, quickly apologized, and moved us back into the thick of the action downstairs. After the obligatory Bellini, our waiter came for our order. We did as instructed – veal carpaccio to begin, followed by pasta with baby artichokes, just as Alice had suggested. We were complimented effusively for our excellent taste, and advised that the pasta dish was a temporary special, available only in season. I declined the suggested bottle of white wine, then thumbed through the wine list, searching for something to make Alice proud.
I found it too – a Carignan from Sardinia made by a producer I’d met through our New York distributor who specialized in Italian wines. The food arrived and it was as wonderful as Alice had promised. The restaurant was everything I expected, and the excellent bottle of wine elevated even further my respect for our New York distributor. The bill? Let’s just say it was humbling.
Years later I look back on this as one of the great dining experiences of my life. Barbara prepares the Harry’s Bar pasta with baby artichokes from time to time (see the recipe below) and to this day we are the only winery in the Napa Valley that makes Carignan. Whenever someone asks me why we produce it, I smile to myself, think of that dinner in Venice, then tell them it’s a complicated story. One day we’ll have Alice for dinner again. Barbara will make this pasta for her, and I’ll open a bottle of our Carignan.
The grapes for Neyers Carignan come from the Old Evangelho Vineyard in Oakley, just a mile or so south of the Carquinez Straits, in northeast Contra Costa County, where the Sacramento River joins the San Joaquin River. The soil there is very sandy which eliminates the problems of Phylloxera, so grape vines are planted on their own roots, and live far longer than normal. These vines were planted in 1880, the year James Garfield replaced Rutherford B. Hayes as president of the US. The crop is small – barely 1 ton per acre – and while the wine is intense, it’s soft and agreeable, loaded with complex fruit flavors, with a long, gratifying finish. It should be on the list at Harry’s Bar – at least during artichoke season – but we haven’t been able to get an appointment with them since our dinner there. You can try it easily enough though. We are currently shipping the 2018 Carignan ‘Evangelho Vineyard’. It’s an adventure worth the effort.
Old Carignan vines in the Evangelho Vineyard in Oakley. Note the sandy soil which prevents the spread of the root louse Phylloxera. This enables the vines to be planted on their own roots, one of the reasons they live so long. At this age though, the crop size is reduced almost 90%.
Rigatoni with sautéed baby artichokes
- Rigatoni, one pound
- 3 pounds baby artichokes (20–30)
- 2 lemon quarters
- 1/2 white onion minced
- 4 slices of pancetta cut into 1/2-inch pieces
- 1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil
- 1/2 to 1 cup water
- 1/3 cup freshly grated Reggiano Parmesan
- Kosher salt and fresh ground pepper
Please note: Your local grocer may not have baby artichokes, but during the season – spring through early-summer – you can get them at several specialty food stores, like Corti Brothers in Sacramento. They ship them, so order online, or at 916-736-3800.
Pull off outer leaves (about 5 layers) from artichokes until reaching yellow inner leaves. Trim stem end, and rub cut surface with lemon quarter. Cut off top third of artichoke and discard. Halve or quarter artichokes lengthwise (depending on their size) and rub cut surfaces with lemon quarter. Repeat with remaining artichokes.
Cook the pancetta until browned, then set aside.
Over moderate heat, simmer the minced onion and artichokes in water until the artichokes are tender when pierced with a knife and the onion is clear in color – about 10 to 15 minutes. Drain the water and sauté artichokes and onion in olive oil over medium heat until golden brown – approximately 2 minutes.
Cook the Rigatoni following the directions on the package. Drain the pasta and toss with the artichoke mixture and pancetta. Add Kosher salt and fresh ground pepper to taste. Sprinkle each serving with grated Reggiano Parmesan.
March 9, 2021
By Bruce Neyers
The Paul Larson Chardonnay Vineyard on a typical late summer day. The vines are shrouded in fog, and the daytime temperature here is in the 70s. A few miles to the north – in Saint Helena, say – it might be closer to 100 degrees.
We just received more good news from James Suckling, with his recent review of our 2019 Chardonnay ‘304’. Here’s what James had to report:
Neyers 2019 Chardonnay ‘304’
Publication date: February 22, 2021
“Aromas of white blossoms, fresh pears, sliced apples and lemon curd. It’s medium-to full-bodied with crisp acidity. Creamy and flavorful with a deliciously fresh fruit profile. Drink now.” 90 POINTS – James Suckling
This is an enormously successful wine we make in the fashion of a traditional Chablis from France. The grapes come largely from the Paul Larson Vineyard in the southern-most part of the Sonoma-Carneros AVA, one of the coldest and rockiest spots in the Carneros appellation. The growing conditions combine slow, cool-weather ripening with an exotic touch of complex minerality from the rocky soils left behind by the now-abandoned bed of Old Sonoma Creek. The vineyard is planted to ‘Shot-Wente’ selection, so yields are low. We ferment the wine exclusively in Stainless Steel ‘304’ tanks using native wild yeast, then allow the new wine to sit in contact with the yeast lees for several months. The wine undergoes a partial malo-lactic fermentation before bottling in spring of the year following the harvest. We enjoyed a bottle this weekend with line-caught local Swordfish grilled over mesquite, then served in Barbara’s lemon butter sauce. Delicious!
Shot-Wente Selection clusters on Larson Vineyard vines in southern Carneros. The vineyard is on the south side of Hwy. 128, closer to San Francisco Bay, where temperatures are colder and the soil is rockier. The vineyard is about to be harvested in this photo. Note the variation in size of the berries. This is a typical mutation of ‘Shot-Wente’, and the increase of skin surface relative to juice volume heightens the flavor of the wine.
March 8, 2021
By Bruce Neyers
The Sangiacomo Family brain trust. Mike Sangiacomo (center) is flanked by brother Steve (on right) and brother-in-law Mike Pucci (on left) at their home vineyard southwest of Sonoma in the Carneros AVA.
March is starting off on a high note with this review by James Suckling on the Neyers Vineyards 2018 Chardonnay ‘Carneros District’:
Neyers 2018 Chardonnay ‘Carneros District’
Publication date: February 22, 2021
“Aromas of lime, spiced apple, smoke and cedar. It’s medium-to full-bodied with bright acidity, tight layers and a toasty, energetic finish. Drink or hold.” Score: 92 POINTS – James Suckling
This is a wine produced from ‘Shot-Wente’ selection vines grown on the Yamakawa Vineyard, the Sangiacomo Family Vineyard and the El Novillero Block II Vineyard, all in Sonoma Carneros. The juice was barrel fermented in a combination of new and used 60-gallon French oak barrels using native wild yeast, and allowed to undergo 100% natural Malo-Lactic fermentation with native M-L bacteria. It was not fined, but was given a light polish filtration when bottled.
We began shipping the wine late last year so there are still stocks for sale.
Tadeo Borchardt serves as scale for a 60-year-old ‘Shot-Wente’ selection Chardonnay vine on the Yamakawa vineyard last fall. The crop here was barely two tons per acre, nearly identical to that of the 2018 vintage.
March 2, 2021
By Bruce Neyers
Barbara prepares dinner. The fruit clockwise from top left is Pink Lady Apple, Pippin Apple, Comice Pear, and Bartlett Pear. The top cheese is 18-month-old Reggiano Parmesan, and bottom cheese is French Roquefort. Missing is the Wagon Wheel cheese from Cowgirl Creamery (we ate it before dinner).
We planted two more fruit trees on our ranch last week, and it was an especially important moment as we remembered the recent loss of an important friend – Bob Cantisano, who we knew as Amigo Bob. Bob had a role in every aspect of our vineyard as our farming consultant, but viticulture work supported his first love of breeding heirloom fruit trees. All of our fruit trees came from Bob’s ranch in North San Juan. Many of our ideas came from him as well.
Bob started working with us 25 years ago when we began to farm our Conn Valley vineyards organically and sustainably. On the coldest day of winter, he arrived at 8:00am in shorts and sandals, wearing a tie-dyed t-shirt and a large-brimmed straw hat. He had a long, unruly pony tail, and a grizzled, unkempt look. We’d walk the vineyards together, looking for signs of crop damage, insect or invasive plant activity, or – his specialty – nutrient deficiency. He’d jot down an occasional note: “Add 3 tons per acre of gypsum to Block B to reduce the binding effect of the clay particles in the soil.” No detail was too small.
Bob was a farmer’s farmer, and I still enjoy going back now and re-reading his memos from the early days, when he was teaching us about personal vine care, organics, and sustainability. At the height of the Pierce’s Disease epidemic, we were advised to clear a buffer between the creek on our property and the vines. The barren area would be sprayed with enough pesticide to kill the bacteria-carrying vectors en-route to the vineyard. Bob nixed that, and planted a six-foot, mixed vegetation strip between the creek and the vineyard. The bacteria-carrying vectors stopped in the strip to feed, and preoccupied with the tastier vegetation, stayed until the vines were no longer tender enough to attack. He outsmarted the insects.
Bob’s first love was fruit trees, and in 2003 he founded the Felix Gillet Institute in Nevada City to honor the Frenchman responsible for much of the work advancing California’s orchards. For almost two decades, Bob provided the scientific knowledge and agricultural labor behind the identification and cultivation of hundreds of fruit tree varieties. We’ve planted several trees from Bob’s orchards on our ranch over the years, and we now enjoy Mission Figs, Fuyu and Hachiya Persimmons, Pippin Apples, Golden Delicious Apples, and Bartlet Pears. Last week we planted a bare-rooted King David Apple and a Kieffer Pear, both the result of Bob’s work. The Institute, according to their mission statement, is dedicated to the appreciation, preservation and propagation of edible and ornamental heirloom perennials from the Sierra.
Over the years working with French vignerons, I learned the inviting aspect of enjoying the simple pleasures of fine wine. Barbara will often serve wine with fresh fruit, accompanied by cheese and a crusty baguette. It’s a favorite meal that she calls ‘dinner with no cooking’. Thanks to Amigo Bob, we can sometimes just walk outside and pick the fruit for our evening meal. I like this meal most when it’s served with a bottle of our Sage Canyon Red. No recipe is needed.
If you’d like to learn more about Amigo Bob and his work, the Los Angeles Times had an especially moving obituary.
A five-year-old Bartlett Pear tree which produced its first crop in 2020.
A 15-year-old Fuyu Persimmon tree.
A 20-year-old Pippin Apple tree that has furnished apples for pies, tarts, dinners, snacks and school lunches.
February 20, 2021
By Bruce Neyers
Mike Sangiacomo looking southwest at the start of a row of the Roberts Road Pinot Noir block. This one-acre parcel of vines is planted to non-clonal budwood brought to the US by Joe Swan in the mid-1960s.
Barbara and I found ourselves last week with the manager of a local bank working on a personal matter. After clearing up the details, he handed me a copy of his business card. His name was long and complicated, and as I was about to ask his nationality, he sensed my curiosity, and advised us that he was Thai. We ate at a Thai restaurant regularly when we lived in Chuncheon, South Korea, I remarked, and we’ve both loved Thai food ever since. We chatted for a few more minutes, and I asked him where he liked to go for Thai food.
He began to list some restaurants he thought we’d enjoy. He mentioned that while the best of them were in San Francisco and Berkeley, his favorite was Thai Kitchen, a family owned spot in Calistoga. Be sure to get extra chiles, he advised. He jotted down a handful of his favorite dishes, and we left.
I suspected that it wouldn’t take Barbara long to start looking into it. Before we had backed out of our parking space, she had them on the phone. She reported that while they were open, it was only for takeout. Calistoga is only 15 to 20 minutes away, though, and since it was Friday, we could easily drive up there after work, pick up some food, and dine at home. I suggested she call our daughter Lizzie – her husband is a firefighter so she’s often home alone with their young son when he works an overnight shift. She loves Thai Kitchen, and immediately told us what to order for her.
A classic dish in any Thai restaurant, charcoal grilled Chicken Satay is a mainstay of the cuisine. Served with a spicy peanut sauce, the version at Thai Kitchen is also accompanied by pickled cucumber in red-Chile and oil vinaigrette.
When we arrived we were treated like royalty. We wanted to try everything that looked like an old favorite, and half an hour or so later we left with three shopping bags full of food. We arrived home and Barbara set the table in the dining room. It looked like the reception following a Thai wedding.
What to drink didn’t require much thought, as I always prefer red Burgundy and Pinot Noir with spicy food, and this meal promised to be spicy. I selected a bottle of our 2017 Pinot Noir ‘Roberts Road’, a wine we made from grapes grown on the Sangiacomo family’s Petaluma Gap AVA property near Adobe Road in the Sonoma Coast. I think it’s one of the best bottlings of Pinot Noir that Tadeo has made, and would be ideal alongside another favorite, the 2017 Bourgogne Rouge ‘La Digoine’ from A&P deVillaine.
Aubert deVillaine is perhaps the most consequential figure in Burgundy today, as the co-owner and manager of Domaine de la Romanée-Conti. The red and white wines he makes with his American-born wife Pamela at his beautiful property in the Côte Chalonnaise south of Chagny are the sort of wines that turn the wheels in Burgundy – red or white, they’re all brilliant. Opening a bottle of Aubert’s wine with one of mine, then serving both with a dazzling assortment of classic Thai dishes seemed like the perfect way to finish the week. It was.
I can’t tell you how you might go about acquiring some of the A & P deVillaine wines, as the production is small, and what Kermit gets sells out quickly. Still, most stores in the fine-wine business can special order some if you’re interested. There may even be some available at Kermit’s Berkeley store, so call for information. They are wines well worth the search. We are now sold out of the 2017 Neyers Vineyards Pinot Noir ‘Roberts Road’, but we just released the 2018 vintage, which is every bit as good. Give it a try, and if you have a Thai food take-out location nearby, be sure to include them in your evening.
Looking to the southwest down the gentle slopes of the Sangiacomo Family Pinot Noir Vineyard at Roberts Road in the Petaluma Gap AVA
February 11, 2021
By Bruce Neyers
Fresh rigatoni pasta with black trumpet mushrooms, chanterelles and pancetta
The site development for our ÂME Cabernet Sauvignon Vineyard was begun by Dave Abreu in 1998 with cross-ripping, then removing the rock from this parcel on our Conn Valley Ranch. Within two years, a drainage system had been installed, and we began to lay out and plant the vines. The drainage system was designed and engineered by Drew Aspegren to conform with the requirements under the then newly passed Hillside Erosion Control Ordinance.
The project was a monumental undertaking for us, given the combination of land clearing, grading, rock removal, Hillside Ordinance dictates, and the complications of planting grapevines on steep slopes at high elevation. Had we known what we were in for, we probably never would have seriously considered it. Dave’s enthusiasm, as well as that of our three children after whom the vineyard would be named – ÂME, for Alexandra, Mike and Elizabeth is the French word for ‘SOUL’ – kept up our interest through the several years of work, and now the vineyard is responsible for our finest wine. The 2017 ÂME Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon, though, is something even a little more special.
Over the past year, we’ve had more opportunities than ever to get better acquainted with our wines. Barbara’s cooking horizons have broadened, and I’ve been the fortunate recipient of that change to our lives. On several occasions over the past few months, Barbara has come up with a new dish or an unfamiliar twist on an old favorite, and my long-time love affair with the classic reds of Bordeaux has nudged me in the direction of opening and decanting a bottle of Neyers ÂME. For a variety of reasons, though, the 2017 has become my favorite.
Barbara has always had a way with pasta, it seems, and ironically it was a staple at our dinner table during that first year of our marriage when we were undergraduate students at the University of Delaware, getting by on a weekly food budget that allowed for a celebratory meat loaf on Wednesday. During Barbara’s 20+ year tenure at Chez Panisse, I think Alice relied on her pasta ideas more than any others, and even now I get a few heart palpitations when I learn she has planned pasta for dinner. This time of year, that news is especially welcome, as our local grocery store seems to have a ‘fungi forager’ on the payroll, and even with rainfall far less than normal, they offer an ambitious selection of wild mushrooms these days.
As my old friend Dennis Foley taught me, if you think Cabernet Sauvignon is well matched with steak, try it with wild mushrooms. Barbara has been able to find both Chanterelles and Black Trumpets at Sunshine Foods lately, and there are not many dishes that add to the magical combination of tastes displayed by fine Cabernet like this pasta dish. We had it last week and Barbara used some freshly made Rigatoni she found locally. A number of other ‘thick pastas’ – as Darrell Corti calls them – will work, because the wine requires food with texture. He suggests also Penne, Shells, or one that might be a little more difficult to find called Cavatelli. Be sure to slightly chill the 2017 ÂME, then decant it for maximum enjoyment. You’ll find a wine that has everything we look for in an expressive Cabernet Sauvignon. There’s a wonderful earthy base, that supports the core of cassis and wild blackberry. And like all great Cabernet Sauvignon, there’s a long, mineral finish that reflects the exotic nature of the basalt and gravel in the soil. As Sam Spade so eloquently put it, ‘This is the stuff that dreams are made of.”
Rigatoni Pasta with wild mushrooms
Serves 4 to 6
- 2 cups loosely packed Black Trumpet mushrooms cleaned and sliced in strips
- 2 cups chanterelle mushrooms cleaned and sliced
- 1/2 white onion minced
- 4 tbsp extra virgin olive oil (when using black trumpet mushrooms, more olive oil may be required)
- 2 slices of pancetta, 1/8–1/4 inch thick, cut into 1/2-inch pieces and cooked until crisp
- Freshly grated Reggiano Parmesan
- Kosher salt & fresh ground pepper
- 1 12-ounce package of rigatoni
- 2 cloves minced garlic (optional)
Cook minced onion in a frying pan over medium heat until translucent. If using garlic, cook with the onions.
Add the mushrooms and continue cooking until the chanterelles begin to shrink, or in the case of black trumpet mushrooms they will begin to rehydrate. If necessary, add more olive oil to the black trumpet mushrooms
Add kosher salt and fresh ground pepper while the mushrooms are cooking.
While preparing the mushroom, cook the rigatoni in salted water following the directions on the package.
Add the cooked pasta to the mushroom mixture.
Just before serving add the pancetta.
Serve the pasta and sprinkle each serving with freshly grated Reggiano Parmesan.
The ÂME Vineyard looking north just after pruning. The rows run east to west and catch the rising and setting sun. The spacing is 2 feet by 6 feet, and the vines are non-clonal selection budwood, trained in unilateral cordon. The elevation rises to 1,000 feet.
“Juicy and ripe, with an unctuous edge to the mix of plum and blackberry fruit, showing notes of cocoa and black licorice in the background. The finish reveals a toasty side, but the fruit keeps pace. Best from 2021 through 2026. 329 cases made. 91 POINTS” –James Molesworth