December 9, 2019
by Bruce Neyers
The original poster for Puccini’s Manon Lescaut
A few years ago, through a combination of fortunate events, we sold some wine to a cruise ship line. In the course of the sale, I became friendly with the beverage director, and he soon offered me the opportunity to sign on for a cruise to Glacier Bay Alaska. In exchange, I agreed to conduct a series of wine tastings for interested passengers. Barbara and I left for our first major outing on a ship. Soon after getting underway, we were introduced to the passengers by the cruise director, and during the introduction we met Emil Miland, a cellist with the San Francisco Opera orchestra. Emil supported himself in part by performing on cruise ships during the opera’s off season. Barbara and I were occasional opera attendees, so we struck up a conversation with Emil, and it quickly blossomed into a cordial relationship — we attended his recitals, while Emil attended our wine tastings. I was struck not only by his talent but by his enthusiasm as a teacher, as he spent hours explaining classical music to me. We shared a few bottles of wine together as well. When the cruise ended, Barbara and I flew home to San Francisco, but we became more frequent opera attendees and ran into Emil regularly for several years. We’d often get seats in the front row from Barbara’s friend Robert, a Chez Panisse employee who doubled as the opera’s staff photographer. From our perch we could clearly see Emil and the other musicians in the orchestra pit. We exchanged pleasantries with him during intermissions, and occasionally got an insider tip or bit of gossip. He was a rock star to us, and clearly a fabulously gifted musician. We hadn’t seen Emil for a couple of years, until last Sunday when we attended a matinee of Puccini’s Manon Lescaut. Early Puccini works – of which this is one — were heavy on strings, I’m told, so Emil was pretty busy holding up his part of a demanding Cello performance. He was seated in the semi-circle formed around the conductor, along with the concert master, another cello, and the first violin, and the opera was lively and upbeat — at least for a love story that ends badly. Act III of Manon Lescaut begins with a stirring Intermezzo, as Puccini depicts the journey from Paris to the Harbor of Le Havre. The music is extraordinary, one of those tunes that you simply can’t get out of your mind. It includes a hauntingly beautiful cello solo, and Emil performs it with brilliance. At the conclusion of the piece — before the curtain rises on Act III — the conductor, Nicola Luisotti, motioned for Emil to stand. He did so, and was met with a rousing ovation. It was a highlight for us to witness. We had dinner with Robert after the performance, and he explained the background of the opera to us, including the importance of the Intermezzo. We told him of our meeting with Emil, who he knows, and he agreed to deliver some wine to him as a gesture of our appreciation. Once again, our world met Emil’s.
I recalled that Emil was fond of crisp, dry white wine, and selected our 2018 Chardonnay ‘304’ as a gift. We just sent a six-pack to him with our compliments. If you too have a fondness for dry white wine that is crisp, fresh and thirst-quenching, you owe it to yourself to try the Neyers 2018 Chardonnay ‘304’. It takes its name from the stainless steel tanks in which it’s fermented. Our winemaker Tadeo Borchardt – inspired by the classic wines of Chablis — fashioned it from grapes grown in the cool weather and rocky soils of two Sonoma County regions — the Carneros District on the north lip of San Francisco Bay, and the gentle slopes of the eastern end of the Russian River Valley. It has provided satisfaction to demanding wine drinkers for years, and can be found in places as geographically diverse as Thomas Keller’s French Laundry in Yountville, California and Michael Mina’s Bourbon Steak in Aventura, Florida. There are plenty of spots to enjoy a bottle in between too. We think it’s an ideal accompaniment to almost any Cello piece.