Neyers Vineyards

Bruce's Journal

May 6, 2020

A balanced bottle of food friendly wine

by Bruce Neyers

The 130 year old Carignan vines planted in the sandy soil of the Evangelho Vineyard

Dan Fredman has been an important wine industry personality for decades, as a retailer, distributor, and importer. He now combines his love for wine with his gifts for communications in his own company, and works with the wine industry on several levels. He recently wrote about the 2018 Neyers Sage Canyon Red, and had this to say:

‘The years Bruce Neyers spent with Kermit Lynch Wine Merchant are evident in this extremely Rhône inspired red blend from Northern California. Syrah, Grenache, Mourvèdre and Carignan meld gloriously. With no noticeable oak nor alcohol heat, it’s just a really balanced bottle of food friendly wine for under $30.’

Thanks Dan. I always appreciated your judgment.

May 5, 2020

Our Choice for Mother’s Day: 2018 Chardonnay, Chuy’s Vineyard

by Bruce Neyers

As we approach the year’s most important day of celebration, Lori suggested that we give thought to recognizing those whose value becomes even more important in difficult times, our mothers. I’ve been without my mother for over 30 years, while Barbara lost hers only 3 years ago. I’m fortunate, though, to still live with one mother and next door to another – my oldest daughter Liz. Recognizing Mother’s Day with a wine may seem whimsical, but I look at it as just a start. Let’s lift a glass to all mothers, past and present, and all they add to our lives.

True Chardonnay lovers, I’ve found, are most interested in the way this fascinating grape reflects its growing conditions. Rarely does the French term terroir take on greater meaning than with properly made Chardonnay. My years working with Kermit Lynch, and his select group of Burgundian wine makers, provided a series of amazing tasting opportunities, chances to experience  wines made from Chardonnay that displayed vastly different characteristics – wines, say, that were grown in pebbly marl at the base of the hill next to those grown on limestone scree, slightly higher up.

The vineyards of Perrières and Charmes in Meursault, for example, are adjacent to one another, and have an elevation difference of barely 10 feet. Still, many Burgundian winemakers consider the wines that come from them almost as if they were from different planets. The range of styles available to a Chardonnay winemaker are limited only by one’s imagination, and the dry-farmed, rock-strewn acreage we know of as Chuy’s Vineyard has made our winemaker’s imagination extremely fertile.

Tadeo Borchardt introduced me to Chuy Ordaz about 10 years ago, and I was immediately struck by the man’s combination of dignified grace and weathered ruggedness. When we first visited the vineyard that bears his name, these contradictions made sense to me, for the vineyard itself is a complicated mix. It’s a high elevation parcel, laced with rocky soil, steep terraces, and spectacular views. Sitting at almost 1200 feet elevation on the west-facing slope of Mt. Veeder, it’s uncanny that someone would have chosen the parcel to plant Chardonnay. It seems far too inhospitable.

Quite the opposite is true, though, for while grapes struggle to ripen here, the result is Chardonnay fruit that resembles little else grown in northern California. Here are grapes that have high natural acidity, broad ripe flavors, and a textural character that’s rarely encountered in the variety. Here is a Chardonnay that luxuriates in its individuality. When I think of terroir, I first get my mind around Chuy’s Vineyard Chardonnay. The best description for this wine is balance. Chuy told me once that he likes the Neyers version of wine so much better than earlier bottlings because Tadeo’s style has no single trait that stands out. He controls the texture so it’s soft; he obtains maximum flavor without extremes; and he lets the finish bring the other components together as one. This is extraordinary wine-making, but it couldn’t happen without extraordinary grapes.

April 30, 2020

The newly available 2018 Mourvèdre ‘Evangelho’

by Bruce Neyers

The Chicago Peach Rose

We bought our Conn Valley property in the fall of 1984, as a modest cabin, sitting on a gentle hill surrounded by 35-acres of mostly weeds. There wasn’t a single plant or tree near the house. We went to work prepping the plantable acreage for vineyards, and soon began landscaping the area around the house with a mix of sod, trees, and shrubs. Barbara insisted on plenty of roses.

A year earlier, we had traveled to the south of France for the first time. Barbara worked at Chez Panisse then, so with Kermit’s help Alice Waters arranged a visit to Domaine Tempier. I was able to tour the area’s vineyards and cellars with Lucien Peyraud, while Barbara spent time in the kitchen and gardens with his wife Lulu. Richard Olney saw that I needed a translator, and graciously accompanied Lucien and me.

At one vineyard, I asked why there were rose bushes planted at the end of each vine row, having never noticed that in a California vineyard. Richard quickly provided the explanation. Powdery mildew is one of a vineyard’s worst problems in France, he told me – more so in France than California due to the higher humidity in Europe. Roses typically show signs of an infection before the mold has time to move to the vines. Lucien then weighed in, noting that farming practices in France had improved to the point that they no longer relied entirely on this ‘Rose Bush Early warning system’.

The roses were still important to vineyard farming in other ways, he explained. They signal a shortage of moisture in the ground. Additionally, they serve as habitat for beneficial insects. Moreover, their flowers are more attractive than vines to some insect pests. The rose bushes keep the tractor drivers from making sharp turns at the end of the rows, reducing damage to both end-posts and vines. Most importantly though, they are just pretty to look at. Here I was in the south of France, learning the details of an important viticultural concept first-hand from two authorities — one a man who was arguably the world’s most talented writer on wine and food, and the other, one of the most respected grape farmers in France. I was gleefully taking notes in my green steno notebook, amazed at my good fortune.

When we returned to the house to eat, a leg of lamb was cooking over a bed of vine cutting coals in the open fireplace, while Barbara and Lulu alternately basted it with a mix of lemon juice, garlic, and olive oil, using a fresh sprig of rosemary. A small metal trough under the lamb held a collection of just-harvested, tiny potatoes that were cooking in the hot juice dripping from the meat. Nearby, magnums of Domaine Tempier red sat next to two decanters. I noticed that the table had been decorated with a beautiful bouquet of fresh roses from the garden, and explained to Barbara the connection between rose bushes and vineyards. I felt like a fountain of knowledge.

That visit was the beginning of Barbara’s plan to make roses an important part of our landscaping. Now, almost 4 decades later, I walk around the place that I’ve called home for all those years, and I see roses lining the walkway to the house from where we park our cars. Roses cover the outdoor shower alongside our exterior bedroom wall. More roses surround the propane storage tanks that power our wind machines, pumps and other equipment. Roses are scattered throughout the vineyards dividing parcels of Merlot from Cabernet Sauvignon. Roses shroud our large outdoor deck, and they shade most of the external walls of the house. They help us farm better, and contribute to our stewardship of the land. They do all of that, plus they are just pretty to look at.

This time of spring, the first blossom appears on the first rose bush that I pass after I leave the house to walk to my car. It’s called a Chicago Peace Rose, and Barbara planted it almost 30 years ago, on our south exterior wall, just outside the main entrance. The catalog describes the color as ‘Phlox-pink and creamy yellow, with subtle orange tones’. It began to bloom this week, and it’s so beautiful it stops me in my tracks. These days though, it does even more, as it’s a reminder to us that soon everything will be right again. It’s every bit as inspirational as a grape vine. There probably has never been a more important time in my life to simply have something pretty to look at.

That first trip to Domaine Tempier taught me much about life. I have never lost the fondness for Mourvèdre I acquired there — if anything, it has grown stronger. Over the years we’ve been able to locate Mourvèdre vineyards in California, and we’re thrilled to have another bottling ready for release. It’s the 2018 Mourvèdre ‘Evangelho Vineyard’ and it comes from a block of 120 year-old un-grafted vines grown in northeastern Contra Costa County, near Oakley. I could talk about it for hours, but for now I’ll just say that it’s delicious.

 

April 23, 2020

Cornbread Baked in a Cast-Iron Skillet

by Bruce Neyers


Frost protection wind machine in our recently pruned Cabernet South Vineyard – looking southeast

In her seemingly endless quest to put a smile on my face, Barbara recently surprised me with a platter of her homemade cornbread for dinner.  She baked it in the oven in a cast-iron skillet and served it with a thick slab of Niman Ranch apple wood-smoked ham, alongside some sautéed baby carrots and homemade local chutney. With it, I served a slightly chilled bottle of our 2017 Roberts Road Pinot Noir. This wine is showing very well and available to ship. It’s also featured in this month’s wine club.

I rarely see her cornbread more than once a year – mostly in the summer with her 4th of July Buttermilk Fried Chicken – but I sensed she was eager to see how fond I’d be of this long-time favorite on a chilly March night. It was the start of our 2020 frost season, too, so some special sustenance was appreciated.

We’ve had bud-break now all over the Napa Valley, and the fragile new shoots on the grapevines are vulnerable to frost. About half of our vineyards are protected by solid-set Rain Bird sprinklers that spray a fine mist over the vines preventing the shoots from freezing – which would destroy the cells. The balance is protected by a wind machine, a device equipped with an airplane propeller that moves the heavier, cold air away from the surface of the ground and replaces it with the warmer air slightly higher in elevation. The water application has several drawbacks, so if the frost is modest – like that night’s – we prefer to protect the vines using just the wind machine. It’s noisy though, and ours sits close to our bedroom window, making it hard to sleep. Sensing a short night in my future, I treated myself to an extra slice of cornbread.

Barbara said it took her about 30 minutes to make the cornbread, and she stressed the importance of baking it in the cast-iron skillet, rather than one of those devices that faintly resemble a metallic ear of corn. As a result, when finished, it looks more like a cake and is sliced accordingly to be served.

Cast-Iron Skillet Cornbread

Ingredients:

1 cup yellow corn meal
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon sugar
2 teaspoons baking powder
½ teaspoon baking soda
½ teaspoon salt
½ cup unsalted butter melted and cooled, plus ½ tablespoon of butter for greasing the pan
1½ cups buttermilk
2 eggs

Preparation:

Preheat oven to 425 degrees.

In a large bowl sift together the flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda and salt.  Add the corn meal.

Whisk together the eggs and buttermilk

Add the eggs and buttermilk and melted butter to the dry ingredients. Combine until just blended, do not over mix.

Five minutes before baking the cornbread, put the cast-iron skillet in the oven to warm. I prefer one that is 8-9” in diameter, about 1½” deep

Pour the batter into a lightly buttered cast-iron pan.

Cook until the cornbread begins to brown on top about 20 to 25 minutes.

April 21, 2020

Perfect with the 2016 Neyers Ranch Cabernet Sauvignon

by Bruce Neyers


Neyers Ranch Cabernet Sauvignon Vines Looking North towards the Ridge Line

The shelter in place program has begun to grow tedious to many of us, but it seems to have brought out the best in Barbara, allowing her to focus on her cooking. I was more than a little pleased when she came home Friday with a bundle of fresh asparagus – it’s the heart of the season in parts of California now. She offered to make Hollandaise Sauce to accompany it, so I was of course thrilled. I immediately thought back to one of my Kermit Lynch trips to France – March of 2011, I think – when with a dozen fellow travelers we finished up a long two-week road trip with dinner in Paris.

My French colleague then was Nadege Lanier, who coordinated our travels for years. She arranged for us to have our last meal together at a favorite stop of mine, Chez Villaret, hidden away in a quiet neighborhood in the 11th. Chez Villaret had everything we looked for after a busy road trip – great food, a spacious dining room (for Paris anyway), and a first rate wine list. They seated the twelve of us at two rounds in the far corner of the room, brought out several bottles of water, stacks of fresh levain bread, and a few bottles of the white Burgundy we ordered. Our server returned with menus, and announced that asparagus season had just begun, so fresh asparagus with hollandaise sauce was the day’s special. Every one of us ordered it to start.

Our server asked me to choose a wine to accompany the asparagus course. When I briefly hesitated, he directed me to the red Bordeaux section of the list, stating emphatically that’s where the best options were. The choices were many, most of them fairly priced, and I selected three bottles of a familiar St. Estèphe. Our server gave the order to the bartender — who was also the owner and the sommelier — and he looked at me, smiled, and gave a thumbs up. We were going to be fine. The wine was served, and after a brief wait, a cadre of kitchen staff and servers began to work their way to our table with platters loaded with fresh asparagus, steamed to perfection. Each of us received a healthy portion. The chef himself followed and, pouring from a large ceramic pitcher, covered each mound of asparagus with a generous serving of the most beautiful hollandaise sauce I’ve ever seen – rich and aromatic. The wine too was delicious, and I couldn’t recall ever enjoying a red Bordeaux more.

Ever since then, I haven’t been able to look at a plate of asparagus without thinking of Chez Villaret, hollandaise sauce, and a bottle of Cabernet Sauvignon. I knew hollandaise sauce was something that even talented cooks find difficult, but Barbara’s recipe was easy, she assured me, and an hour or so later we sat down to dinner. The California-grown asparagus was magnificent, Barbara’s hollandaise sauce was extraordinary, and the bottle of 2016 Neyers Ranch Cabernet Sauvignon that I opened has never tasted better.

I suggested that Barbara share her recipe, and it’s copied below. I wish we could have each of you join us at our Conn Valley Ranch for a platter of fresh California asparagus, smothered with Barbara’s hollandaise sauce, and served with a glass of our 2016 Neyers Ranch Cabernet Sauvignon. Maybe one day we will.

2016 Cabernet Sauvignon ‘Neyers Ranch’ – “Not shy on ripeness, with lush fig, boysenberry and blackberry notes coursing through. Well-focused, this is girded by graphite and anise details that lend form and a refined structure through the finish. Drink now through 2027. 91 POINTS  – James Molesworth

Please stay healthy, keep safe, and try to maintain a sense of good will during this test of our collective spirits. Continue to watch out for one another as well.

 

Yields 1 cup

Ingredients

4 egg yolks
1 Tablespoon freshly squeezed lemon juice
½ cup unsalted butter melted
Pinch of salt

Preparation

Whisk egg yolks and lemon juice in a stainless-steel bowl until the mixture is thickened. Place the bowl over a saucepan containing barely simmering water (you can use a double boiler). The water should not touch the bowl. Continue to whisk and slowly drizzle in the melted butter until the sauce is thickened and doubled in volume. Remove from heat and whisk in the salt

April 13, 2020

Terroir Based Red Wine

by Bruce Neyers

Cabernet Sauvignon in foreground, with Merlot in background, looking northwest towards Conn Creek. The closest vines have just been pruned

The best vineyards of St. Julien sit, for the most part, close to the Gironde River, so over the centuries, mounds of gravel have formed atop the limestone base, making the wines from the area round and gentle. These wines are attractive in their youth, but are among the longest-lived wines of Bordeaux.

Deep gravel deposits are uncommon in the Napa Valley, but the few that we have are found near year-round streams, normally in the hills above the valley floor. One such site is where Conn Creek passes through our ranch in Conn Valley, on a journey from Howell Mountain, southwest to the reservoir of Lake Hennessey. This trek of nearly 5 miles spends about 500 yards traveling through the southern-most reach of our 45-acre ranch. Over the centuries, it has deposited more than 50-feet of gravel in some spots along the creek’s left bank.

Soon after we purchased the property in 1984, our vineyard manager Dave Abreu brought in a consulting geologist who reported the presence of a significant gravel deposit. We developed the land closest to the creek to Merlot. A few years later, we purchased a neighboring 10-acre parcel, and planted the section on the left bank of the creek to Cabernet Sauvignon. We bottled our two ‘creek-side’ wines separately for several years until winemaker Tadeo Borchardt suggested that we produce a blended wine from the two parcels planted on gravel soil. This new wine was based on terroir rather than grape variety, and we named it ‘Left Bank Red’. Our inaugural offering was the 2014 Left Bank Red, and it was awarded a high score by the Wine Spectator, and selected as the ‘Top Value’ in their cover article.

The Merlot parcel is planted to a spacing of 5’ between vines and 9’ between rows, or 968 vines per acre. The Cabernet Sauvignon parcel is more tightly planted — 4’ X 6’, or 1814 vines per acre. Each block flowers and ripens at different times, so the blends vary from year to year — some years with more Cabernet Sauvignon, and some with more Merlot. The deep gravel soil favorably influences the wine, and each year the Left Bank Red is delightfully perfumed with an underlying note of violets and red fruit. The aroma is subtle but complex. There’s a remarkable softness, along with a blend of flavors that are approachable and satisfying. We seek elegance here, and especially in vintages like the 2018 Left Bank Red, we find it. We bottled 2293 cases.

March 30, 2020

Cornbread baked in a cast-iron skillet

by Bruce Neyers

Frost protection wind machine in our recently pruned Cabernet South Vineyard, looking southeast.

In her seemingly endless quest to put a smile on my face, Barbara surprised me with a platter of her homemade cornbread for dinner last night. She baked it in the oven in a cast-iron skillet, and served it with a thick slab of Niman Ranch apple wood-smoked ham, alongside some sautéed baby carrots and homemade local chutney. With it, I served a slightly chilled bottle of our 2018 Roberts Road Pinot Noir. We just began to ship this wine and when we tasted it in Washington, DC recently it was showing especially well.

I rarely see her cornbread more than once a year – mostly in the summer with her 4th of July Buttermilk Fried Chicken – but I sense she was eager to see how fond I’d be of this long-time favorite on a chilly March night. It was the start of our 2020 frost season too, so some special sustenance was appreciated.

We’ve had bud-break now all over the Napa Valley, and the fragile new shoots on the grapevines are vulnerable to frost. About half of our vineyards are protected by solid-set Rain Bird sprinklers that spray a fine mist over the vines, preventing the shoots from freezing, which would destroy the cells. The balance is protected by a wind machine, a device equipped with an airplane propeller that moves the heavier, cold air away from the surface of the ground, and replaces it with the warmer air slightly higher in elevation. The water application has several drawbacks, so if the frost is modest – like last night’s – we prefer to protect the vines using just the wind machine. It’s noisy though, and ours sits close to our bedroom window, making it hard to sleep. Sensing a short night in my future, I treated myself to an extra slice of cornbread.

Barbara said it took her about 30 minutes to make the cornbread, and she stressed the importance of baking it in the cast-iron skillet, rather than one of those devices that faintly resemble a metallic ear of corn. As a result, when finished it looks more like a cake, and is sliced accordingly to be served.

Here’s the recipe, thanks to David Tanis, a friend and former Chez Panisse chef who now writes for the ‘New York Times’. By the way, a slice can be reheated the following morning, then served with some melted butter and maple syrup or honey, a country version of French toast you may want to introduce to those in your family who cooperate with the idea of ‘Shelter in Place’.

 

Cast Iron Skillet Cornbread

Ingredients

1 cup yellow corn meal
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon sugar
2 teaspoons baking powder
½ teaspoon baking soda
½ teaspoon salt
½ cup unsalted butter melted and cooled, plus ½ tablespoon of butter for greasing the pan
1½ cups buttermilk
2 eggs

Preparation

Preheat oven to 425 degrees.

In a large bowl sift together the flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda and salt. Add the corn meal.

Whisk together the eggs and buttermilk.

Add the eggs and buttermilk and melted butter to the dry ingredients. Combine until just blended, do not over mix.

Five minutes before baking the cornbread, put the cast iron skillet in the oven to warm. I prefer one that is 8-9” in diameter, about 1½” deep

Pour the batter into a lightly buttered cast iron pan.

Cook until the cornbread begins to brown on top about 20 to 25 minutes.

March 26, 2020

The Coldest Syrah Vineyard in California

by Bruce Neyers

Monterey Bay fog rolls in over the hills of Garys’ Vineyard – Summer 2019 

The 50-acre Santa Lucia Highlands property known as Garys’ Vineyard resulted from a 1997 partnership formed between Gary Pisoni and Gary Franscioni – longtime friends and neighbors who grew up in the farming community of the Salinas Valley. Only four acres of the vineyard are devoted to Syrah, but these vines grow in what is generally considered the coldest climate for Syrah in California.

The weather here closely simulates the conditions Syrah vines experience in Côte-Rôtie where it is one of the last red grapes harvested in France. The long, exaggerated growing season at Garys’ Vineyard allows the grapes to reach full physiological ripeness and produce wines of unparalleled flavor, complexity, and finesse. Few grape farmers in California understand the demands of growing Syrah here, as do the two Garys.

In the 17 years that our winemaker Tadeo Borchardt and I have worked together, we have regularly traveled through the heart of the northern Rhône Valley of France, meeting, and tasting wines with, many of the most celebrated Syrah producers in the world. Respected craftsmen like Auguste Clape, Noël Verset, Thierry Allemand, Robert Jasmin, and Marius Gentaz opened the doors of their cellars to me during my years with Kermit Lynch. Tadeo has met most of them, as well, and studied their techniques, tasted their wines, and listened to their advice. As a result, we take what we believe are grapes from one of the finest Syrah vineyards in California and produce from them a small amount of extraordinary wine.

The vines at Garys’ Vineyard are among the most carefully and attentively tended in the world, and the 2018 vintage was remarkable in the Santa Lucia Highlands. We harvested exactly 3 tons on October 10 — the latest harvest in the past five years — and delivered the grapes to the winery in a refrigerated truck to eliminate any risk of damage during transportation. The grapes were fermented in open-top tanks retaining 100% of the stems. We fermented using only native, wild yeasts — without the addition of laboratory developed yeast — and the grapes were crushed by foot — a traditional French pigeage. After 45 days, the tanks were drained and pressed, and the new wine was racked to a combination of new and used 60-gallon French oak barrels. The wine was aged on the lees for six months, then racked for the first time. We racked twice more for natural clarification before the wine was bottled – unfiltered and unfined – on December 13.

We tasted this new wine recently with some of our other favorite bottlings of Syrah. Barbara took advantage of the beautiful spring-like weather we’ve enjoyed lately and prepared grilled beef ribs to accompany the tasting. The 2018 Garys’ already displays the classic aroma of Syrah — an exotic combination of freshly crushed black pepper, hints of crème de cassis, and lovely ripe blueberries. It’s just now beginning to display notes characteristic of bacon fat and smoked meat, and it has that marvelous soft texture that makes Syrah such an attractive wine in its youth.

March 25, 2020

by Bruce Neyers

Bud Break – The annual vineyard sign of life

A friend wrote me earlier this week from his home in New York, and remarked that he had never before felt so overwhelmed. I think I agreed with him, as there’s no shortage of ways to describe the bizarre nature of our lives today. Even the most optimistic among us are beginning to develop short tempers and shorter patience levels as the need to stay home continues. Barbara Neyers – ever the optimist — has a good idea about making the hours pass more agreeably. She’s overwhelming me with good old comfort food. Our two local grocery stores have both returned to sanity now. The lines are shorter and the shelves are stocked. Over the past few days I’ve left my work alcove to be greeted by meals that transported me back in time to the days when food was, simpler. On Sunday we had Chili con Queso – easy to prepare and delicious. Saturday was a beautiful spring day, and it was given over to freshly ground top sirloin burgers, grilled outdoors over mesquite hardwood. Friday night was a classic Black Bean Soup à la Robert del Grande of Cafe Annie fame. Thursday was Spaghetti and Meatballs, with the meatballs a mix of ground chuck and ground veal. I now find myself eager for the evening to arrive, so I can sit down at the table over a meal the likes of which I probably enjoyed 30 or 40 years ago. Our daughter Lizzie lives next door, and she has been enjoying many of these meals with us, bringing along her husband and our two-year-old grandson. We have hand-washing stations scattered through the house, and we’re careful to keep our proper distance. Last night’s meal was the capper though – Pasta in Alfredo sauce, a dish that I remember watching Barbara teach herself to cook soon after we set up our first apartment in San Francisco in 1970. Many things have changed in the ensuing 50 years — I’m not referring to my weight or the amount of hair on my head. We enjoyed the meal with some Chardonnay 304 to start, then moved into a young but delicious 2005 Saint-Émilion Grand Cru. Still, I can’t imagine a red wine from Neyers that wouldn’t go well with this. I don’t remember her early Fettuccini Alfredo ever tastier, but then as Barbara pointed out she’s now cooking with ingredients that are far better than those she used in the 1970’s. This dish was a mainstay in the Chez Panisse Cafe during Barbara’s early years there, and she cooked it often. Alice later included a recipe in her 1984 classic ‘Pasta, Pizza & Calzone’ written with Patty Curtan and Martine Labro. It’s simple and delicious, and can be prepared quickly. She prepared it Monday night with refrigerated prosciutto ravioli she bought from our local Sunshine Foods. A small green salad fancied it up some.

Ingredients

1 cup heavy cream
2 tablespoons sweet butter
1 cup freshly grated Parmesan
Ground black pepper

Preparation

Bring the cream and butter to a boil in a sauté pan. Reduce the heat and simmer for 1 minute. Add half the Parmesan and a little freshly ground black pepper. Whisk the mixture until smooth and remove from the heat. Add the remaining Parmesan.

Cook and drain the pasta of your choice, then add it to the alfredo sauce. Garnish with more black pepper. Serve while steaming.

March 3, 2020

The coldest Syrah vineyard in California

by Bruce Neyers

Monterey Bay fog rolls in over the hills of Garys’ Vineyard
Summer 2019

The 50-acre Santa Lucia Highlands property known as Garys’ Vineyard resulted from  a 1997 partnership formed between Gary Pisoni and Gary Franscioni, longtime friends and neighbors who grew up in the farming community of the Salinas Valley. Only four acres of the vineyard are devoted to Syrah, but these vines grow in what is generally considered the coldest climate for Syrah in California.

The weather here closely simulates the conditions Syrah vines experience in Côte-Rôtie where it is one of the last red grapes harvested in France. The long, exaggerated growing season at Garys’ Vineyard allows the grapes to reach full physiological ripeness and produce wines of unparalleled flavor, complexity, and finesse. Few grape farmers in California understand the demands of growing Syrah here, as do the two Garys.

In the 17 years that our winemaker Tadeo Borchardt and I have worked together, we have regularly traveled through the heart of the northern Rhône Valley of France, meeting and tasting wines with many of the most celebrated Syrah producers in the world. Respected craftsmen like Auguste Clape, Noël Verset, Thierry Allemand, Robert Jasmin, and Marius Gentaz opened the doors of their cellars to me during my years with Kermit Lynch. Tadeo has met most of them as well, studied their techniques, tasted their wines, and listened to their advice. As a result, we take what we believe are grapes from one of the finest Syrah vineyards in California and produce from them a small amount of extraordinary wine.

The vines at Garys’ Vineyard are among the most carefully and attentively tended in the world, and the 2018 vintage was remarkable in the Santa Lucia Highlands. We harvested exactly 3 tons on October 10 — the latest harvest in the past five years — and delivered the grapes to the winery in a refrigerated truck to eliminate any risk of damage during transportation. The grapes were fermented in open-top tanks, retaining 100% of the stems. We fermented using only native, wild yeasts — without the addition of laboratory developed yeast — and the grapes were crushed by foot — a traditional French pigeage. After 45 days, the tanks were drained and pressed, and the new wine was racked to a combination of new and used 60-gallon French oak barrels. The wine was aged on the lees for six months, then racked for the first time. We racked twice more for natural clarification before the wine was bottled – unfiltered and unfined – on December 13.

We tasted this new wine last weekend with some of our other favorite bottlings of Syrah. Barbara took advantage of the beautiful spring-like weather we’ve enjoyed lately and prepared grilled beef ribs to accompany the tasting. The 2018 Garys’ already displays the classic aroma of Syrah — an exotic combination of freshly crushed black pepper, hints of crème de cassis, and lovely ripe blueberries. It’s just now beginning to display notes characteristic of bacon fat and smoked meat, and it has that marvelous soft texture that makes Syrah such an attractive wine in its youth.