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Neyers Vineyards Bruce's Journal

The Tale of Neyers Sage Canyon Red: How We Got from There to Here

By Bruce Neyers

Wednesday 24th June, 2020

Sheltering down over the past few months has given us all time to reflect on our past. My mind has certainly wandered back over my career in the wine business and the serendipitous circumstances that started me on my way.

In April 1969, I was 22, a recent college graduate, a relatively new husband, and a freshly commissioned Second Lieutenant reporting for duty as platoon leader at a guided missile base a few miles south of the DMZ, just outside of the ancient city of Chuncheon, South Korea. Ours was reputed to be the most remote and vulnerable location of American troops in South Korea.

The work was tedious, and after a month or so, it had become almost routine. Barbara decided to travel there so we’d be closer. That was the start of a great adventure. She rented a house in Chuncheon, and we met on weekends. The local military installation, Camp Page, had a modest officer’s club where we enjoyed dinner together. Our Battalion supply officer – a career Warrant Officer we all called ‘Chief’ — joined us one night and suggested we have some wine. I wondered where he could possibly find a bottle of wine, but he was resourceful and was soon pouring me a glass of Châteauneuf du Pape. I learned that he was friendly with the head of the 7th Army officer’s club in Seoul – where all the American top brass dined – and he had access to their wine cellar. Soon, we were eating with the ‘Chief’ every week, and he brought along a nice bottle of wine each time. Time sped by, and in spring of 1970, I was assigned to the Presidio of San Francisco. At our final dinner with ‘Chief,’ he handed me a package – a used copy of Wines of France by Alexis Lichine. Originally published in 1951, this was the Fourth Edition, revised in 1964. It’s a treasure I’ve kept to this day.

We arrived in San Francisco in May 1970, and while we had missed the ‘Summer of Love,’  it soon became apparent that we were in time for the ‘Summer of Food & Wine.’ Barbara worked teaching school, and I reported to another guided missile unit. In our spare time, we went to restaurants, visited wineries, and shopped at fine wine shops. Barbara, meanwhile, absorbed everything she could regarding French cooking from watching Julia Child on public television. In January 1971 I was discharged.

Twenty years later – after stints in the Napa Valley, West Germany, and years working with Joseph Phelps – we were about to harvest the first crop from the vines we’d planted on the Conn Valley ranch we bought in 1984. I went to work for Kermit Lynch to set up a national distribution for his wines – realizing my life’s dream. I was living in the Napa Valley, growing grapes and making wine, and at the same time importing and selling French and Italian wine.

Kermit was a specialist in wines from the south of France. I developed a fondness for these wines too and began to move the winery in the direction of the red wines from these regions. Our breakthrough came in 2010 when Tadeo produced our first Rhône-variety blend, a wine made from Carignan, Grenache, Mourvèdre, and Syrah. We named it Sage Canyon Red. When we bottled it the following year, we also bottled a small amount of each of the individual components. The project was a great success. Now, a decade later the 2018 release is one of the best examples of our work to date.

The 2018 Sage Canyon Red is a blend of 50% Carignan from vines believed to be 140 years old. To it, we’ve added 20% Mourvèdre from vines 130 years old, 25% Grenache, and 5% Syrah. The grapes come from several locations, ranging from the Sierra foothills, the Sacramento River delta, southern Sonoma Valley, and the Santa Lucia Highlands. They are all harvested by hand, inspected on a sorting table with stems left intact, crushed by foot using a traditional French pigeage, then fermented for 45–60 days with native wild yeast. The finished wine is aged in neutral 60-gallon French oak barrels for one year, then bottled with neither fining nor filtration. In Wines of France, Lichine refers to the best wines of southern France as “… sturdy, full-bodied with outstanding flavor.” The people, he says, are “… warm-blooded, with a spirit nowhere reflected more brightly than in the wines they make.”

I learned to love these wines, drinking them 50 years ago, in the officer’s club in Chuncheon, South Korea. I couldn’t be happier with our version of them now.

Neyers 2018 Rhône varietals

Neyers 2018 Rhône varietals

Neyers 2018 Rhône varietals

2018 Sage Canyon Red

2018 Carignan, Evangelho Vineyard

2018 Mourvèdre, Evangelho Vineyard

2018 Grenache, Deering Vineyard

2018 Syrah, Garys’ Vineyard

bruce korea
Bruce in Korea
Wines of france book

‘Wines of France’ by Alexis Lichine