Neyers Vineyards Bruce's Journal
Even More Reasons to Love Zinfandel
By Bruce Neyers
Wednesday 21st December, 2022
The days are getting shorter here in the Napa Valley, and the weather colder. We’ve already enjoyed several rainstorms, with more rain on the way. The last of the grapes from the 2022 harvest have been picked, and while we fell slightly short of our estimates, the quality looks good. Tadeo and his team are walking around the cellar with smiles on their faces, and this makes me smile too. Barbara is smiling as well, now that she has begun planting her winter garden. Soon enough, I’ll begin to see her eyes light up over the prospect of those exotic mixed lettuce salads she so loves to make. She also planted a selection of green beans, three types of peas, and several herbs. All are convincing evidence that another summer is over. Her lettuce mix this year – all planted from seeds – includes arugula, romaine, curly endive, watercress, butter lettuce, and red leaf. There’s also some spinach, parsley, sage, and thyme, all grown from starter plants. Our diet at home is about to change for the better.
It’s no coincidence that as Barbara starts the winter garden, our viticulturalist Hugo Maldonado has now planted our cover crop. This year we used a mix known as Organic Soil Builder. It contains favas, several types of vetch – they climb on one another, and allow other plants to climb as well — peas, oats, barley, and a number of different clovers. We seeded the vineyard on October 25, then got lucky, with a rainstorm November 1 to help germinate the seeds. With further luck, the cover crop will be a foot high or more by early spring, and we can mow it, then disk it into the vineyard to serve as a soil amendment and an organic nutrient source.
So, while the vineyard is growing its winter crop, Barbara is growing hers, in the elevated beds we built in the secluded corner at the rear of the backyard, next to the wine cellar and adjacent to our grill patio. We just brought in a case of our favorite olive oil — a blend from Corsica produced by Domaine Marquiliani – and Barbara uses it for everything. She’ll be making her Caesar salad with it soon, using the small leaves of crisp romaine when they are just large enough to pick. It’s a favorite dish of mine in the cold of winter. While she doesn’t make the dressing tableside, it’s still the best version of this old standard that I’ve ever had. She takes special care making the croutons, and you should as well. Her recipe is included here. A properly made Caesar salad can almost seem to add a couple of hours of daylight to an otherwise shortened winter day.
The chilly weather of late Autumn increases my hankering for Zinfandel as well. My fondness for this wine started in my early days of wine appreciation, after we moved to San Francisco in 1970. I grew to love wines made from this grape variety with their youthful approachability, distinctive raspberry fruit, and their charming ability to make every meal taste better. Our winemaker Tadeo Borchardt has found a reliable source for Zinfandel grapes, and we’re able to replicate those pleasant experiences from my first days in food and wine.
Our Zinfandel is labeled ‘Vista Notre.’ The grapes come from three vineyards in the Sierra foothills, all of them subject to the ‘Sierra Rotor,’ a little-known wind phenomenon that artificially cools some of the vineyards in the eastern foothills of the central valley. Each parcel is planted on soil that combines sandy loam with some underlying hard, rock-like quartz. The clusters are naturally small so they ripen evenly, yielding bright, fresh wines of low alcohol. The parcels are dry farmed to keep the crop small, and there is a delicious mix of fresh berries and rustic minerality. The wine that got me started on my career path several decades ago is back in my life again. You should get acquainted with it. Thanks.
Classic Caesar Salad
- 2 egg yolks
- 2 tablespoons lemon juice
- 2 cloves garlic minced and mashed into paste
- 2 anchovy fillets minced or to taste
- Dash Worcestershire sauce
- 1 cup grated Reggiano Parmesan cheese
- 1 cup extra virgin olive oil
- Diamond Crystal Kosher salt and fresh ground black pepper
- Levain Bread sliced and cut into large (1/2 – 3/4 inch) cubes
- Depending on size, 2 heads of romaine lettuce – use only the crisp inner leaves
- In medium sauté pan, toss the levain bread cubes in olive oil. Brown bread on all sides.
- Remove from heat and set aside on a plate to cool.
- Wash and dry the romaine leaves.
- In a medium bowl whisk together the egg yolks, lemon juice, garlic, anchovies, and Worcestershire sauce. Continue whisking and slowly add the olive oil until the vinaigrette begins to thicken. Add salt and pepper to taste.
- In a salad bowl, toss the romaine lettuce with the vinaigrette. Serve the salad and cover each plate of lettuce with grated Parmesan cheese.
- For an interesting twist, substitute Radicchio lettuce for the romaine.