February 26, 2019
by Bruce Neyers
Terra Restaurant opened in St. Helena in 1988, and it was clear from the start that it was going to be a big deal in the Napa Valley. It was founded by Carl Doumani, the legendary figure who rebuilt the original Stags’ Leap Winery Estate in the early 1970’s. Recognized for his taste as an art collector, respected for his success as a vigneron, and admired for his wisdom as a businessman, Carl has never failed at anything. In the mid 1980’s, his oldest daughter Lissa became the pastry chef at Wolfgang Puck’s Spago in Hollywood, and later married Spago’s talented chef Hiro Sone. When the beautiful fieldstone Duckworth building in St. Helena came on the market in 1987, Carl bought it for a restaurant, with plans to install Lissa and Hiro as the operating partners. Their agreement with Spago still had several months to run, however, so Carl persuaded Barbara Neyers – yes, that Barbara Neyers — to take a leave of absence from Chez Panisse and serve as the temporary Manager. Her primary responsibility was to hire and train the staff until Lissa and Hiro arrived to run the business. It soon became one of the most popular restaurants in town, and after Barbara moved on we still ate there frequently. In June of 1995 Barbara and I celebrated an important anniversary at Terra, and when we entered the restaurant, the hostess – a young woman who Barbara had hired – led us to our favorite table, in the far corner of the main dining room. She mentioned that we would be sitting next to Ruth Bader Ginsburg and her husband, who were celebrating their wedding anniversary. Justice Ginsburg had just been confirmed to the US Supreme Court, and had already begun establishing the reputation that follows her still today. As we approached their table, we noticed that they were drinking a bottle of Neyers Cabernet Sauvignon, thanks to the help of a clever server. We had brought some older wines for the evening, and after they were opened, Justice Ginsburg turned to us and mentioned how much they enjoyed our wine. I thanked her, and congratulated them on their anniversary. We poured them a glass of one of the wines we brought with us – a red Bordeaux — and she remarked that our wine was better. I didn’t argue. Later their check arrived, and we said goodnight to them, as the evening concluded. But as they walked towards the exit, I grabbed a copy of the day’s dinner menu, and handed it to her with my pen, asking for her autograph. She wrote us a lovely note, signed the menu, which I later had framed. It hangs on the wall in my office today, as a constant reminder of this marvelous woman, notable for her intellect, her fairmindedness, and her genial disposition — to say nothing of her taste in Cabernet Sauvignon. It was exhilarating to have met her.
Over the past 20 years we have produced Cabernet Sauvignon only from our Conn Valley Ranch, on the vines Dave Abreu planted for us in 1994 and 1996. We have just begun to ship the 2016 Cabernet Sauvignon ‘Neyers Ranch’, and Dave would be proud of the wine we made from those vines. Planted using 3’ by 6’ spacing, in rows that run east and west parallel to the arc of the sun, the vines are farmed organically and sustainably. Budwood came from the Thorvilas Vineyard that Abreu also manages. This plant material is believed to have originated at Château Margaux. From ten acres of vines, we harvested a total of 25 tons. We think of this wine as one with an especially bright future, and we’re intrigued with its combination of ripe cherry flavors, slight minerality, and an aroma of tobacco leaf. There is an underlying suggestion of chocolate, something I have long appreciated in Napa Valley Cabernet.