Neyers Vineyards Bruce's Journal
A Visit to the White House
By Bruce Neyers
Friday 25th February, 2022
Recently, Barbara and I received a note from the White House reporting that our 2018 Sage Canyon Red had been selected for service at a dinner honoring German Chancellor Angela Merkel. It was paired with ‘Crispy Sea Bass,’ which sounded delicious. We were of course flattered at the news.
The letter reminded me of a visit to the White House in the 90’s, one that was arranged by a former colleague, Jim Arseneault, who distributed our wines then. I was in town with a group of Kermit Lynch producers from Beaujolais. Jim advised me that the White House Head Usher was from the Napa Valley where he had managed a local restaurant. I called him, and he set up a private tour for us.
The leader of the group was a winemaker named Marcel Lapierre. I had met Marcel two years earlier while visiting his winery with a group of customers. At that visit, he introduced us to four of his winemaking neighbors, and after an extensive tasting, we broke for lunch. It was a spectacular meal, consisting of a whole pig prepared 12 ways. Old vintages of Morgon from everyone were served, most from magnums. Joining us for lunch was the mayor of Morgon, a regional inspector from the INAO, and the town butcher who had prepared the pig. The lunch went late into the evening, and we canceled our other appointments that day.
Marcel later advised me of his interest in coming to the US to sell his wine. I jumped at the chance, and we set up a trip that included his colleagues. We’d begin in Washington, then go to Maryland, Georgia, and Florida. We planned to end in Alabama. Frank Stitt, owner of a restaurant in Birmingham had been at the legendary ‘Pig 12 Ways Lunch’ and offered to prepare a dinner showcasing their wines. That actually gave me pause. As much as I loved these wines, they were made using traditional ‘Old World’ techniques, and to the casual observer, they could appear unusual. Marcel and his friends insisted on using only small amounts of the common anti-oxidant SO2, for example, so the wines could be gassy. They clarified their wines naturally by settling, without filtration or fining, so there was an occasional cloudy bottle. They fermented using native, wild yeasts and allowed the wines to age on the yeast lees for several months in cask. These steps were considered ‘high risk’ to conventionally trained wine producers then, whether French or Californian. While these issues are now minor, they were of concern at the time.
We proceeded ahead, though, and met in Washington. I spent the next 10 days traveling with Marcel and his ‘Gang.’ We drank a lot of wine together, and as I became fond of the producers, I grew equally fond of their wines. They made wine the way it had been made 100 years before and valued it for being much closer to its natural state. Day after day, we’d taste the wines from Marcel, then taste wines from his competitors. Marcel’s wines were invariably preferred. I returned from that trip determined that at Neyers Vineyards we would employ the practices that I’d learned from Marcel. With only an occasional look back at our conventional winemaking, the traditional approaches we adopted have been part of what we’ve done to produce our wines ever since. We owe a huge debt of gratitude to Marcel and his vision to return winemaking to its historical roots. We lost Marcel in 2010, far too early, but not before he had changed winemaking for an entire generation.
The Neyers Chardonnay ‘Carneros District’ is a blend of grapes from vineyards from the Sangiacomo family and the Yamakawa family, both located in Sonoma Carneros. It was produced using many of the ideas I learned during that trip with Marcel. The use of SO2 is minimal. The wine is fermented with native, wild yeast in 60-gallon French oak barrels and then aged in contact with the yeast lees for eight months. We do no clarification other than a light, polish filtration at bottling.
It’s also a wine that will provide enjoyment with a wide variety of foods. One of my favorites this time of year is a Sauté of Local Baby Artichokes. It’s the beginning of artichoke season in nearby Castroville, and Barbara has written down her recipe here. Try them as a side dish, or with your favorite pasta.
Sautéed Baby Artichokes by Barbara Neyers
- 2 ½ pounds baby artichokes
- Juice of 1 to 2 lemons
- ½ cup Extra virgin olive oil
- 2 tablespoons chopped fresh Italian parsley
- Kosher salt and fresh ground pepper
1. Snap off the outer leaves of artichokes, leaving only white leaves. Trim stems and cut off thorny tops. As you trim the artichokes, place in medium bowl of cold water and add lemon juice. Cut artichokes into quarters.
2. Drain the artichokes and pat dry.
3. Sauté the artichokes in extra virgin olive oil over medium heat until they soften. They should be tender to a fork’s touch. Approximately 4 to 6 minutes.
4. Season with salt and pepper and sprinkle with chopped parsley, then serve.