Skip to main content

Neyers Vineyards Bruce's Journal

Baseball – It’s just a game

By Bruce Neyers

Saturday 2nd March, 2024

One of the most pleasant memories of my youth is that of my first Major League baseball game. I was 8 or so, and my family lived in Wilmington, Delaware, about 30 miles from Philadelphia. I had begun to play organized baseball that year, and my dad offered to take me to a game so I could see the Philadelphia Phillies. The day finally arrived, and we took the train from Wilmington to North Philadelphia. It was a brisk 15-minute walk from the station to Connie Mack Stadium. As we neared the stadium, it stood out – a massive, old-red-brick, warehouse-like structure, that seemed more of an industrial eyesore than home to my beloved sport. A little less eager now, I continued to follow my dad as we weaved our way through the huge crowd, surrendered our tickets, and in near darkness climbed the steps leading to our seats. The light began to grow brighter as we emerged from the tunnel leading to our section. Soon, I could look out the other end. Almost by magic, there was the most magnificent expanse of green I had ever seen. As we approached our seats, the park began to make sense to me. There was the outfield, brilliantly green, and separated from the infield by the sharply delineated, impeccably-groomed base paths. The pitcher’s mound was huge, rising up from the infield in solitary splendor. Everywhere I looked there were players warming up: some batting, some fielding grounders, others shagging fly balls hit by a coach using a strange, skinny bat. The green grass was startling, though. I just stared at it, drinking in the perfection and beauty of it all.

Soon the Phillies took the field, and despite losing that day to the Milwaukee Braves and their celebrated rookie outfielder, Hank Aaron, they remained heroes to me for many years. Last week, I watched a re-run of the great Ken Burns documentary, ‘Baseball’. Famed broadcaster Bob Costas was interviewed, and among other things observed that, “There was no time in my life that I didn’t think about baseball.” His words resonated with me. I’ve loved baseball since I was a kid, but over the past 50+ years, there was no time in my life that I didn’t think about wine.

I’ve seen a lot of wonderful advances in the world of wine during my career. Perhaps the most profound, though, is the extraordinary improvement in California Pinot Noir. In my early days of learning about wine, I was told to not take it seriously. How sad that would have been, as now a new generation of winemakers have turned Pinot Noir into a wildly important success story.

Neyers Vineyards has been part of that success, and Tadeo’s work with the Pinot Noir grown on the Sangiacomo family’s Roberts Road Vineyard in the Petaluma Gap AVA has been game changing for me. The Pinot Noir ‘Roberts Road’ is a remarkable example of our success, with its subtle aroma of mixed-berry jam and scores of subtle perfumes, enveloped in a slight mineral rockiness. It’s a soft wine, with an exotic, lovely richness, and the burst of flavors form a crucial part of the tasting cycle. The finish is complex and satisfying. The fruit here comes from a one-acre parcel on the Sangiacomo Ranch that was grafted to budwood from the old Joe Swan Pinot Noir vineyard in Forestville, along the Russian River. That budwood was brought to the US by Joe in the early 1960’s, and is believed to have originated in Vosne-Romanée. The berries are small as are the yields, but each grape is packed with flavor.

I still love baseball as I did as a youngster. I go to some games every year, and read every baseball book I can find. From time to time I even test my memory by trying to recall the lineup of the 1956 Brooklyn Dodgers, probably my favorite team back then. The world of baseball has been a great thrill to me, but the world of fine wine nudged it out of first place a while ago. Watching California Pinot Noir emerge as an important wine has been a little like watching Kirk Gibson’s walk-off homer in Game 1 of the 1988 World Series. It’s a thrill you wouldn’t want to have missed.

Three Baseballs from Office Collection
Nothing else in sports quite has the grace and craftsmanship of a major league baseball. These three baseballs are from my office collection. From left to right: the first — and only — ball I ever caught at a game, this one off the bat of Colorado Rockie Todd Helton, at a game with the Giants on July 5, 2004; a ball signed by Red Sox star Dwight Evans who, with Don Baylor — just off of a world championship season with the Minnesota Twins — joined me for lunch at Joseph Phelps, with their wives; and a ball signed by Philadelphia pitcher Steve Carlton after he arrived at our home in Saint Helena with some teammates, following a game at Candlestick Park with the SF Giants.
Wild mushrooms

The wild mushroom crop has been wonderful so far during this rainy season. We don’t harvest them, but they sure are beautiful to look at. This group is next to our House Vineyard, and gives an indication of the rainfall so far this season. Since the end of harvest in early November, we’ve had almost 11 inches of rain. A normal season is 34 inches, and with rain predicted for most of next week and again in mid-February, we are expecting to have another year of more than adequate rainfall.

Pruned Vines in January

During this time of year, there is much to do in the vineyard. All of the vines have now been pre-pruned to remove most of last year’s new growth. A small crew of pruning specialists will be back later this month to do the final pruning. Photo by Lizzy Neyers Mix.

Pomace grape skins used for soil amendment

We save the pomace or decomposing grape skins from every year, and spread them by shovel around each individual vine for moisture retention, some nutrient draw, and as a soil amendment. Photo by Lizzy Neyers Mix.

2021 Neyers Pinot Noir, Roberts Road, Sonoma Coast

First rose bloom in 2024

I’ll leave with this photo, the first rose to bloom this year. It’s a sign that we can plan on yet another season of growing grapes, and yet another season of enjoying baseball.