Neyers Vineyards

Bruce's Journal

September 18, 2018

Lunch With Paul Bocuse – Sort of Anyway

by Bruce Neyers

We had guests for dinner last week — a neighbor of ours and her daughter, who recently joined the family’s winery. The daughter brought along her boyfriend, a young Frenchman who was raised in the Beaujolais region, near Lyon, and now works in the Napa Valley as a vineyard manager. His parents, he told me, were not in the wine business, but they raised him to enjoy wine and food; as a result, he decided to study Viticulture in college. I told him that I loved the Beaujolais region — its wines, food and people — and how much I had enjoyed traveling there twice a year during my almost thirty years with Kermit Lynch. He asked if I had ever made it to Lyon for a meal at Restaurant Paul Bocuse. I had – just once – and it was as memorable as any meal I’ve ever enjoyed, anywhere. But before his untimely death in January of this year, M. Bocuse played another far more important role in my life. I recalled the details.

I had finished my annual March trip to France for Kermit Lynch. My fifteen or so traveling companions and I were loading up our rental vans early on a Friday morning before leaving Chinon for Paris. After sixteen days on the back roads and highways – we had circumnavigated France from Nantes to Alsace to Marseilles, then back to Bordeaux – we’d driven to Chinon for a tasting on Thursday afternoon, followed by dinner in the nearby town. Everyone was particularly cheerful the next morning. The long days of tasting and travel were over, and we had an especially bright prospect ahead of us: a free afternoon in Paris on a beautiful spring day. After dropping the vans at Orly Airport, we taxied to our hotel in Central Paris. I asked everyone to meet me in the lobby at 7:00 that evening so we could leave for dinner together at one of my favorite Paris haunts. I had plans of my own for lunch that afternoon. I assembled a small group and we headed off to our lunch destination, Maison Prunier, one of Paris’ oldest and loveliest restaurants — located on Avenue Victor Hugo in the 16th Arrondisement, two blocks from the Arc de Triomphe. I had been there once before – earlier that year in January actually – at the suggestion of a restaurant friend. Our lunch group in January had been larger, and we’d been seated at a large table on the balcony overlooking the beautiful Belle Époque dining room. The meal was great that day, but the friend who had suggested the place later chastised me for not trying the turbot, the dish he claimed to be “the finest example of prepared seafood in the world.” We were returning to Maison Prunier in March so I could check-off an important block on my lifetime “to-do” list.

We were immediately shown to our table, a comfortable six-top next to the window overlooking busy Avenue Victor Hugo. We quickly ordered a bottle of Champagne from the extensive list. We then began our meal with two orders of the house specialty — Assiette de la Mer, an assortment of fresh clams, oysters, shrimp, crawfish, lobster, and a few shellfish whose names we could only speculate about. For the main course I intended to stick to my plan and order the turbot. After learning that it was prepared for two, I persuaded my friend Peter that he needed to share this “best in the world” experience with me. He agreed. We finished four bottles of Champagne with the shellfish, and then moved on to white wine, choosing a single vineyard Meursault from one of my favorite Burgundian suppliers. My turbot soon arrived, and it was expertly fileted tableside by our server. By this time, he had enthusiastically befriended our entire group. I finished off the last morsel of my portion, and turned to Peter to see his reaction. “Well,” he said, “it may indeed have been the best piece of fish I’ve ever had.” I thought so too.

Then we noticed some uncharacteristic bustle in the dining room. People began to stand up next to their chairs and look towards the balcony. Our server had come back to the table to check on us, and someone asked him what was happening. “Ah,” he said, “today we are honored to have Chef Paul Bocuse dine with us.” At that, I glanced to the top of the curved stairway that led down from the balcony where I had eaten earlier in the year. An elderly, elegant looking man appeared at the top of the steps. He was dressed in a suit and tie. At the bottom of the stairwell, a receiving line was being formed by the entire kitchen staff of the restaurant. As M. Bocuse began to descend the stairway, a ripple of polite applause broke out among the restaurant patrons. Even our server stopped to applaud the great man. Some of the diners began to leave their tables to take a position at the end of the line. The group of four seated next to us stood up and walked over to the reception line. My friend Peter looked at me and said, “Let’s go meet him.”

We stood up and, continuing to clap, moved over to join the line. M. Bocuse meanwhile had reached the bottom of the staircase, and begun to enthusiastically shake hands, smile and make brief comments to the chefs — each of them immaculately done up in their kitchen whites, replete with elaborate toque. He continued to greet each person while gradually working his way to the end of the line. When he reached me, I extended my right hand and he grabbed it with both of his. He had a powerful grip. He looked at me and said simply, “Merci, Monsieur.” I’ve don’t think I’ve ever before been so touched; a tear filled my eye. Here was one of the most gifted chefs in the history of French Cuisine, a man who in one way or another was responsible for most for the great meals I’d enjoyed in my life, and he was thanking me. When he reached the door, a young man helped him into the limousine waiting outside the restaurant entrance, and the car drove off.

Peter and I returned to our table, still in a mild state of shock. One of my colleagues looked at me, smiled and said, “That’s not something you get to do every day.” No, it sure wasn’t. Our server, returning to work, wheeled over the cheese trolley. He opened the cover, then, pointing to a beautifully ripe, white-rind cheese, he said that the Pont l’Évêque was especially good that day. We all agreed, and I picked up the wine list to find a red wine. On the way back to the hotel, Peter and I shared a taxi. At one point he asked, “Don’t you wish you had brought a bottle of Neyers wine to give to M. Bocuse?” The thought had never entered my mind. Later, at dinner, I told Peter that if I ever went back to Restaurant Paul Bocuse, I would take a bottle of our Chardonnay ‘El Novillero Vineyard’ to him as a gift. Of course, he didn’t need to try a Chardonnay from California – or any other place for that matter. The list in his Lyon restaurant was loaded with some of the great White Burgundies of France. After all these years of tasting many of them, though, I’d like to think Tadeo’s work would have intrigued him, if only a little. But then it might have also led to yet another remarkable impromptu moment like the one in Paris.

September 14, 2018

Important News on the 2016 Placida Vineyard Pinot Noir

We’re fiercely proud of our track record with Pinot Noir here at Neyers Vineyards. In the ten years that we have worked with the vines planted in Chuy Ordaz’s Russian River parcel, the Placida Vineyard, we along with many of our customers – trade and consumer alike – have been mightily impressed with the results. Every year, this wine seems to have a decided French Burgundy air about it, making me recall the great wines from Volnay and Pommard that I imported and sold with Kermit Lynch over the past 30 years. As you might expect, this ‘French tilt’ is especially apparent in the chilly 2016 vintage. We were pleased, but not at all surprised, by the news that the Editors at The Wine Enthusiast selected our 2016 Pinot Noir ‘Placida Vineyard’ for some praise, copied below. It will be published in their October 2018 issue:

Neyers 2016 Pinot Noir ‘Placida Vineyard’ – This wine offers lively tones of baking spice, cola, and cherry on the nose.  Gritty in texture, it has nuanced, integrated tannin and well-mannered acidity. 90 POINTS

Our parcel of this vineyard was developed by Chuy using budwood from the old Joe Swan vines in Forestville. That budwood originated in Vosne-Romanée and was brought to California by Joe in the early 1960’s. It was not heat-treated and serves as a direct connection between Burgundy and the Russian River Valley. It remains a fascinating anomaly in today’s California vineyard scene.

September 5, 2018

Important news on Placida Vineyard Pinot Noir

-by Bruce Neyers

We’re fiercely proud of our track record with Pinot Noir here at Neyers Vineyards. In the ten years that we have worked with the vines planted in Chuy Ordaz’s Russian River parcel, the Placida Vineyard, we along with many of our customers – trade and consumer alike – have been mightily impressed with the results. Every year, this wine seems to have a decided French Burgundy air about it, making me recall the great wines from Volnay and Pommard that I imported and sold with Kermit Lynch over the past 30 years. As you might expect, this ‘French tilt’ is especially apparent in the chilly 2016 vintage. We were pleased but not at all surprised by the news that the Editors at The Wine Enthusiast selected our 2016 Pinot Noir ‘Placida Vineyard’ for some praise, copied below. It will be published in their October 2018 issue:

Neyers 2016 Pinot Noir ‘Roberts Road’ – A spicy, floral nose contains elements of forest floor and black tea in this full-bodied, fairly tannic red. It is robustly built, with bright flavor of strawberry and citrus on the palate. 90 POINTS

Our parcel of this vineyard was developed by Chuy using budwood from the old Joe Swan vines in Forestville. That budwood originated in Vosne-Romanée, and was brought to California by Joe in the early 1960’s. It was not heat-treated, and serves as a direct connection between Burgundy and the Russian River Valley, and it remains a fascinating anomaly in today’s California vineyard scene.

August 27, 2018

A Glass of Neyers Chardonnay with Tony Curtis: What a Wonderful Night it was!

– 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   

August 23, 2018

The Neyers Vineyards 2017 Chardonnay ‘304’: Our ‘Department of Good News’ files a report

This is indeed good news, as word just arrived from the Editorial staff at ‘The Wine Enthusiast’, reporting that they tasted our newly released 2017 Chardonnay ‘304’, and scored it 91 POINTS. Now there’s a sound decision!

The ‘304’ Chardonnay from Neyers Vineyards takes its name from the type of stainless steel that is used to make wine fermentation tanks. It’s the highest of the ‘Food Grade’ levels of stainless, which makes it well suited for a range of wine related tasks. We also use one of our cement tanks to ferment a portion of this wine, but at no time does this wine come into contact with oak.

The grapes come largely from Paul Larson’s Carneros District vineyard, which may well be the coldest climate Chardonnay grown in northern California. Moreover, the vineyard is planted on the rocky outcropping of a former creek bed that provides the finished wine with a lovely mineral component. Fresh, bright and crisp, this is a wine that is full of flavor, easy to drink, and goes well with almost everything.

2017 Chardonnay ‘304’ – 91 Points from The Wine Enthusiast

This review will be included in their November ‘Holiday Issue’.

July 10, 2018

Lunch with Lady Bird – And a Primer on Zinfandel

by Bruce Neyers

I’ve been reading the Daily Meal on-line for years, and I was regularly impressed with the content developed by Colman Andrews while he was Editor. I’ve always known him to be one of the most knowledgeable people in the wine and food business, so when he wrote me recently to ask if they could include one of my sales memos in an upcoming issue, I was flattered and immediately agreed. The piece Colman selected recalled a day I spent at Joseph Phelps Vineyards, almost 30 years ago, with Lady Bird Johnson and a group from the American Wild Flower Foundation. I’ve copied it below. You can also read it on The Daily Meal website at: https://www.thedailymeal.com/drink/drinking-zinfandel-lady-bird-johnson-napa

My son Mike was home one night recently, and I solicited his help pulling some hard-to-get-at bottles from my wine cellar. One of the bottles he moved was signed, and he asked me about it. I looked at the bottle and reflected on that wonderful day – almost 30 years ago – when I had lunch with Lady Bird Johnson.

I worked at Joseph Phelps Vineyards at the time, and we had been asked by The Wine Institute to host a lunch for a group visiting the Napa Valley for the American Wildflower Foundation. They wanted to have a lunch there, so we arranged for a local caterer to prepare the meal, and then dealt with the organizers to work out the details. One wrinkle did serve as a possible issue: there would be a pre-lunch talk by a University of California Professor named Walter Alvarez. His topic was The Theory of the Extinction of the Dinosaurs. The morning of the event I received another surprise when the group advised me that Lady Bird Johnson was joining them. Lady Bird, it turned out, was a founder of the Texas Wildflower Center, and much of her work over the past few years had involved promoting the understanding and awareness of wildflowers. She and her longtime friend, former press secretary Liz Carpenter, would be part of the group. The day began with a tremor of concern, but it was going to end without one.

The group arrived promptly at 10:00 am. Lady Bird – as expected — had a private escort, but I never had an inkling that she was anything other than a wildflower enthusiast. She was casually dressed but still strikingly attractive, and she held my arm as we walked on some stepping stones to the back of the winery. It was a beautiful, early spring day, and it crossed my mind that with the mustard and lupine showing at its finest, we were in a bit of wildflower nirvana. The group numbered about 25, and soon they were all seated on the wooden benches that surrounded the west-facing deck. I began to make some introductory remarks about the winery. A sentence or two into my welcome, Lady Bird interrupted me. Mr. Neyers, she said in her slow but enthusiastic draw, this view is absolutely delicious! She spoke those last two words as if each had 8 or 9 syllables, and I’m sure a blush of pride covered my face. I thanked her, but remember saying something about not having had a lot to do with the view. It was the wine for which I was responsible, and with that comment one of my colleagues began to give everyone a glass of chilled Chardonnay to enjoy before lunch. I started to introduce the wine when Lady Bird interrupted me again. Mr. Neyers, she asked, do you have Zinfandel? I paused for a moment thinking out my reply, then decided to take the path of least resistance: Why yes Ma’am we do. I’ll have a bottle brought here at once. Oh thank you, Mr. Neyers, she said. I just love Zinfandel. A tray of red wine glasses appeared, and Lady Bird along with one or two of the others took a glass of the Zinfandel. I talked for a few more minutes, and we went inside to the large oval table that had been set for the group. I hadn’t planned to join them for lunch or the talk by Dr. Alvarez until Lady Bird took me by the arm again and maneuvered me to a seat on the side of the table next to her. She then motioned to Liz Carpenter to take the seat on the other side of me, thus penning me in between them, while she directed Walter Alvarez to the head of the table. He will want to stand up when he talks, Lady Bird advised me, and this is the best place to watch him. As soon as everyone was seated, Professor Alvarez stood up, introduced himself, and held up two rocks, each about the size of a baseball. These rocks, he said, were part of the proof behind the Alvarez Hypothesis. He then went on to talk for the next hour or so about the Cretaceous Period, the extinction of the dinosaurs which he believed was caused by a giant asteroid striking the earth, and how a group of scientists he headed along with his Nobel Prize-winning father had determined this through several years of geological studies that measured variations in the level of iridium in the earth’s crust. We had a chance to examine the rock samples in detail as Alvarez explained how the one rich in iridium differed from the other. When he was finished, I felt like one of the smartest men in the world.

Alvarez took his seat amidst exuberant applause – far more than I expected for a wildflower conference – and our lunch began. Our server poured Lady Bird some Cabernet Sauvignon, and this time I didn’t wait for her to comment. Would you prefer Zinfandel, Ma’am, I asked. Why yes, Bruce, I would. Like I said, I just love Zinfandel. When my colleague brought some Zinfandel for the lunch, she handed a separate, unopened bottle to me — along with a pen — and said maybe you could get Lady Bird to sign this bottle for you. I would have never thought of that, but I offered it to her. She took the pen and said, I’ll just sign it to Bruce. OK? And so I ended up on a first name basis with a former First Lady, and a signed bottle of wine for my son to discover 30 years later.

We originally sent this e mail in the fall of 2016, updating at the time the availability of our 2015 Vista Luna Zinfandel. We just bottled the 2017 Neyers Zinfandel ‘Vista Luna Vineyard’ and it is now ready to ship. It’s a wine that I would have been proud to serve to Lady Bird, and I just know she would have liked it.

July 2, 2018

A Glass of Neyers Chardonnay with Tony Curtis: What a wonderful night it was

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.

June 27, 2018

2016 Left Bank Red – 90 Points

2016 Left Bank Red

We received word from the Editors at Wine Enthusiast that the July 2018 issue will feature a review of our 2016 Left Bank Red. The wine will be given a score of 90 POINTS.

Our 2016 Left Bank Red is a blend of 50% Cabernet Sauvignon and 50% Merlot. Both vineyards are planted in the gravelly soil at the south end of our Conn Valley ranch, on the left bank of Conn Creek as it flows through our property on its way from the top of Howell Mountain to the Napa River in Rutherford. The soil profile from a recent well drilling has shown the gravel deposit on this section of the vineyard is almost 40 feet deep, and with the combination of nearby sandy-loam and basalt soils, serves as an ideal spot for Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot to mingle. Both parcels are certified organic with CCOF, and we practice modern sustainable farming, seeding them each fall after the harvest with a customized cover crop seed mix, which is mowed, then plowed under the following spring to replace those nutrients taken up by the vines during the growing season.

Winemaker Tadeo Borchardt focuses on small yields, grown on vines propagated from heirloom budwood selections. Each vineyard is separately hand-harvested, and each cluster is closely examined on our sorting table before de-stemming. Fermentation is carried out using only native, wild yeast, and the separate wines are aged in a combination of new and used 60-gallon French oak barrels. We bottle the Left Bank Red after 14 months of barrel aging, without fining or filtering the finished wine. The blend is immediately appealing, with its combination of bright raspberry flavors balanced by the charm of the wild cherry component of the Merlot. The gravelly soil provides a subtle hint of minerality, making the wine both complete and complex. We bottled 2200 cases, all of them from estate grapes grown on our 45-acre Conn Valley Ranch.

~ Bruce Neyers

June 19, 2018

A Look at Vista Luna Zinfandel: With Notes from Randy Caparosa and Tom Jones

‘Too much wine will dull a man’s desire – in a dull man.’

This observation from Henry Fielding’s 18th century masterpiece ‘Tom Jones’ seems well designed for today’s Zinfandel drinkers. For years California winemakers have tried to out-muscle one another in their zeal to produce Zinfandel with high alcohol. At Neyers Vineyards, we’ve been going in just the opposite direction. Noted wine journalist Randy Caparosa does a lot to explain this in his recent piece entitled “Why Big Time Producers Like Ridge and Neyers Are Mining Lodi for Zinfandel.” Here are excerpts from Randy’s story:

Since the early 1990’s, Neyers Vineyards has been producing a variety of handcrafted, minimal intervention, native yeast-fermented wines that are sold in the country’s finest accounts. Since 2008, Neyers has been sourcing Lodi-grown Zinfandel from the Bokisch family’s Vista Luna Vineyard, planted on the eastern edge of San Joaquin County, in the AVA known as Borden Ranch. Viticulture here is different from that practiced in Lodi. The vines are trellised on cross-arms, and planted in red clay-loam soil inundated with gravel and nearly boulder-size rocks of quartz and granite. According to Bruce Neyers, the quartz adds a mineral element, the region’s ‘Sierra Rotor Effect’ cools the otherwise hot climate, and the heirloom selection planted at Bokisch provides smaller clusters that ripen evenly. Neyers can, he says, produce a wine made from fully ripened grapes that has only 13% alcohol.

It shows too. The recently released 2016 Vista Luna Zinfandel has a bright floral nose, brimming with cherry/strawberry fruit, nuanced with baking spices of cinnamon and clove, and mercifully free of excessive oak. It’s more reminiscent of a Bordeaux-style red. The backbone is formed by the combination of crisp acidity and svelte tannin, rather than the ‘fat’ feel of alcohol typical of most California Zinfandel.

Thanks for the encouragement, Randy. We still have some of the 2016 Vista Luna Zinfandel available from Neyers. Check with your regional TFE sales rep for pricing and quantities in your market.

Randy’s article in its entirety can be read at: https://bit.ly/2Hm3mXX

June 18, 2018

June 5, 2018

Another Face of Chardonnay: The 2016 Chardonnay ‘Chuy’s Vineyard’

by Bruce Neyers

We had some important visitors at the winery recently — two brothers who own a wine company in Belgium and distribute our wines there and in Holland. As we tasted through the selection of Chardonnay bottlings from Neyers, it was apparent that their top choice was our 2016 Chardonnay ‘Chuy’s Vineyard’. That was no surprise to us. ‘Chuy’s Vineyard’ is easily our most ‘Burgundian’ wine, so it’s reasonable that Europeans familiar with French white Burgundy would favor it. No, we don’t kid ourselves thinking that our wine is French. To the contrary, if we’ve learned anything over the past 30 years at Neyers Vineyards it’s been a broader understanding of the soils, the weather, the plant material and the geography unique to California wines. We rely on much more than the grape variety in our approach to winemaking, and this is an example.

 

The weather in California is too warm in many places to successfully grow Chardonnay grapes. The colder-climate locations better suited to the grape frequently skirt the San Francisco Bay. As a result, they contain clay which holds moisture through much of the growing season. Clay soils are especially efficient at delivering Nitrogen to the roots of grape vines, so grapes from the Carneros District tend to be high in Nitrogen when harvested. When yeast begin to ferment the sugar in these grapes, they draw on the Nitrogen as a nutrient; with lots of it present, the fermentation becomes more vigorous and finishes sooner. The attractive tropical fruit aromas that develop in the early stages of fermentation don’t have time to burn off. These exotic fruit aromas – known as esters — become an important part of the wine, and the millions of wine drinkers who love California Chardonnay find them charming.

 

On the other hand, most of the Chardonnay in Burgundy is grown at high elevations, in the rocky hills of the Côte d’Or, Chablis, Mâcon and the Chalonnaise. Although there’s clay in that soil too, it’s in small amounts, so Chardonnay grapes grown in Burgundy are harvested with lower Nitrogen levels. The yeast cells now have to work harder to convert the sugar to Ethanol and Carbon Dioxide, so the process takes longer. Attractive fruit aromas are still formed. They are soon replaced, though, by other aromatic constituents, compounds that more resemble earth or mineral. In White Burgundy especially, these sometimes smell of hazelnut – what the French call ‘Noisette’.

 

The growing conditions of ‘Chuy’s Vineyard’ Chardonnay more closely resemble those of Burgundy. This vineyard sits on the west slope of Mt Veeder on the Sonoma County line. It’s at 1200’ in elevation, and the soil is largely volcanic rock known as basalt. Because the grapes are harvested with low Nitrogen content the fermentation struggles, developing an attractive combination of minerality and hazelnut in the wine. Additionally, the slow fermentation favors the formation of Glycerol which gives the wine additional body and texture. This is what our Belgian clients were drawn to in the Chuy’s Chardonnay.

 

Which type of Chardonnay is better? The important thing here is not so much to favor one style over the other, but to embrace both for what they are: a result of the conditions under which the grapes are grown. As the legendary Harry Waugh once remarked when asked to explain a personal wine preference, ‘I plan to spend much of the rest of my life looking into this.’

 

June 2, 2018