August 27, 2018
– by Bruce Neyers
I’ve been spending some time going through my film collection lately, pulling out some old favorites for Barbara and me to watch, and I was especially pleased to run across a dusty VHS copy of ‘Operation Petticoat’ last week. This legendary film was a huge box office success when it was released in 1959, and a quick check on the internet reports that it was the third top-grossing film of the year. Moreover, it was the biggest financial success in Cary Grant’s long career. But it’s Tony Curtis who steals the show in this film, as Navy LT Nick Holden, a submarine supply officer who raises the art of military scrounging to new lows. In an interview just before his death in 2010, Curtis referred to it as one of his favorite roles. It was certainly one of mine. I could watch the film repeatedly and never tire of it. I could also listen to Tony Curtis talk for hours, without growing weary of his voice, or that enormous charm. On a night that seems like it was only a few years ago, on the road selling wine in Los Angeles, I was able to experience both.
I was traveling that week with two French winemakers – one from Alsace, the other from the Loire – and after stops in New York, Chicago and Denver we arrived in LA, nearing the end of our trip. Both winemakers remarked how excited they were to be visiting Los Angeles. I wondered if they would still feel that way when we left! Fortunately they both spoke fluent English. We hooked up with our distributor at the airport, then checked into our hotel, before heading off for some sales calls. We finished our work day with a promising-sounding dinner at what would be my first visit to the ‘new’ Spago, an old favorite which had recently moved to fancy new digs in Beverly Hills. When we arrived at Spago, though, we learned that our host had failed to reconfirm his reservation, so it had been canceled. No problem said the wine buyer. He knew us, and simply asked that we get comfy at the bar while he found us a four-top – on a Friday night. At the bar, we learned that the Neyers Carneros District Chardonnay was on the list, so I ordered a bottle while we waited. After an hour or so, we were reassured by the wine buyer that we needed to be just a bit more patient. That’s when I noticed someone at the end of the bar who looked a lot like Tony Curtis. He was talking with the bartender, and both were laughing. While his hair was white, his face was unmistakable — just as strikingly handsome as I remembered him from the peak of his career. To be certain though, I asked the bartender – who had become a good friend by then – and my suspicions were confirmed. We ordered another bottle of Chardonnay and the bartender asked if we wanted to send a glass to Mr. Curtis. He likes Chardonnay, we were assured. I agreed, immediately. Tony huddled with the bartender — getting some information on who we were – then glanced over at us, took a sip, smiled and waved us all down to his end of the bar. We joined him, and a short but wonderful spontaneous party ensued. My French producer friends are probably still puzzled about the world of Hollywood, where you meet famous actors while selling wine. We finished that bottle and Tony ordered another one, all the time lauding the wine as one of the best he’d ever encountered. I was dizzy basking in the praise, while my traveling companions were having him sign Spago bar napkins to everyone they knew. We all felt like we were hanging out with an old family friend. Eventually his dinner companion arrived, and about that same time the wine buyer found a table for me and my companions.
Looking back, the hour or so that we stood at the bar and talked with Tony Curtis, drank a bottle or two of wine, and fielded his questions about our lives in the wine business were extraordinary. Watching the first few minutes of ‘Operation Petticoat’ returned me to that evening. For someone who could list among his film credits such classics as ‘The Defiant Ones’ –- for which he was nominated for an academy award — ‘Some Like It Hot’, and ‘Operation Petticoat’, he was the most genuinely modest superstar I ever met. On top of that, he seemed to love Neyers Chardonnay. I’ll always remember him as that likeable guy I met at Spago who deflected every question I asked him in order to turn the conversation back on me. My two French suppliers returned home the next day, their suitcases stuffed with autographed Spago bar napkins.
Barbara and I went to Spago for dinner last month, and we were pleased to see they currently feature Neyers Carneros District Chardonnay by the glass. If you find yourself in Los Angeles, keep that in mind, and stop in for a taste. I’m sure you’ll enjoy the wine, and maybe you’ll create some of your own memories. There are bound to be plenty more of them there.
Neyers Chardonnay ‘Carneros District’
The “9th Most Popular Chardonnay in America’s Best Restaurants”
Wine & Spirits – 29th Annual Restaurant Poll