July 29, 2020
By Bruce Neyers
The AME Vineyard looking NNW from the South Block of Cabernet
The 2005 vintage of our ÂME Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon was the first to be kept separate from the Neyers Ranch bottling. Dave Abreu developed the vineyard in 1997 and 1998, so the vines were then in their ninth ‘leaf’.
Abreu had been especially interested in planting this high elevation parcel we called ‘The Knoll’, and he remarked soon after he started that one day the grapes from it would be ‘The Soul’ of Neyers Vineyards. ÂME is the French word for soul — hence the name. Abreu’s vision was to cut through the layer of Basalt that covered ‘The Knoll’, then cross-rip the parcel to bring to the surface enough soil that we could farm the rocky parcel efficiently.
Because of our proximity to Conn Creek, we needed a county erosion control plan. A local civil engineering company developed and built a system of drain lines, traps and culverts, then Abreu moved his team in to plant. The process took two years to complete, and we harvested our first crop in 2003. We called it ‘The Knoll Block’, until our office manager pointed out that the word AME contained the first name initial of each of our three children: Alexandra, Michael, and Elizabeth. They were thrilled to have their names on a label.
To curb the spread of leaf-roll virus, California nurseries can only sell plants from virus-free clones. Abreu suggested we use budwood from his Thorvilas vineyard in the hills north of Saint Helena for our plant material. This budwood had come from an old block of Cabernet Sauvignon adjacent to the Niebaum Mansion at Inglenook. The vineyard was about to be torn out and the plant material lost, but Abreu arranged to save enough to develop his vineyard. Reputedly, the budwood originated at Ch. Margaux in Bordeaux, and was brought to the US in the early 1940s by John Daniel, then the owner of Inglenook.
The ÂME Vineyard is now planted 100% to Selection Massale budwood from Abreu’s Thorvilas Vineyard. The low yield of this selection is exaggerated by the steep, rocky soil of this parcel that ranges in elevation from 800’–1000’. At that elevation, there’s a stiff cooling breeze as well. The vines are planted using a spacing of 3’ between plants, and 6’ between rows. This allows 2,420 vines per acre. From the 2.4-acre parcel, we harvested 6 tons of fruit on October 5. Final production was 650 six-packs, or 2.5 tons/acre. The 2017 ÂME is now ready to ship.
I’m wild about our 2017 ÂME Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon. I love the rich softness that’s so attractive up front. The flavors combine blackcurrant, wild cherry, and mineral, with a subtle touch of cedar. When we have an older bottle at home, I can sometimes persuade Barbara to make a favorite of mine: grilled butterflied leg of lamb in pomegranate marinade. There are three great lamb restaurants in the world: Chez L’Ami Louis in Paris, Sobrino Botín in Madrid, and Chez Panisse in Berkeley. I ask for lamb whenever I go to one of them. After these, the best lamb I know is made by Barbara. Not surprisingly, she has a lot of ideas about it too. If you’re looking for a culinary adventure during these days of shelter-in-place, this just might be it. Some of Barbara’s thoughts along with her recipe for the pomegranate marinade are included. Enjoy!
The ÂME Vineyard after pruning in March 2020
Grilled Butterfly Leg of Lamb with Pomegranate Marinade
- 1 boneless butterflied leg of American lamb, approximately 4–5 pounds. Trim off excess fat (order this in advance from your butcher). Try to avoid New Zealand lamb as it is mostly frozen. Some will skewer it to keep it stretched flat. I prefer not to, but have it ‘butterflied’ such that it lays flat.
For the pomegranate marinade
- 4 cups pomegranate juice, approximately 5–6 pomegranates
- 1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
- 4 teaspoons chopped fresh thyme
- 1 clove of garlic, crushed
- Kosher salt & fresh ground pepper
In a blender, mix the seeds and juice of 5–6 pomegranates for 5–10 seconds. Do not run longer as you may grind seeds!
Pour the seeds and juice through a strainer. With a spoon, gently push the seeds to remove all the juice.
Add the remaining ingredients and whisk together.
Marinate the butterflied leg of lamb for 2–6 hours. Overnight is fine.
Grill the lamb medium-rare over mesquite charcoal. Plan on 20–40 minutes, depending on thickness. If you use a meat thermometer, 140 degrees is medium rare.
Check doneness, then remove from fire, let sit for 10–15 minutes, then slice across the grain of the leg into slices that are 1/16–1/8 inch thick.
Louis slicing the grilled spring leg of lamb at Chez L’Ami Louis in Paris