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Bruce's Journal

March 2, 2021

Wine with Fruit, and a Person Who Made Both More Important to Us

By Bruce Neyers

Fruit and cheese selection

Barbara prepares dinner. The fruit clockwise from top left is Pink Lady Apple, Pippin Apple, Comice Pear, and Bartlett Pear. The top cheese is 18-month-old Reggiano Parmesan, and bottom cheese is French Roquefort. Missing is the Wagon Wheel cheese from Cowgirl Creamery (we ate it before dinner).

We planted two more fruit trees on our ranch last week, and it was an especially important moment as we remembered the recent loss of an important friend – Bob Cantisano, who we knew as Amigo Bob. Bob had a role in every aspect of our vineyard as our farming consultant, but viticulture work supported his first love of breeding heirloom fruit trees. All of our fruit trees came from Bob’s ranch in North San Juan. Many of our ideas came from him as well.

Bob started working with us 25 years ago when we began to farm our Conn Valley vineyards organically and sustainably. On the coldest day of winter, he arrived at 8:00am in shorts and sandals, wearing a tie-dyed t-shirt and a large-brimmed straw hat. He had a long, unruly pony tail, and a grizzled, unkempt look. We’d walk the vineyards together, looking for signs of crop damage, insect or invasive plant activity, or – his specialty – nutrient deficiency. He’d jot down an occasional note: “Add 3 tons per acre of gypsum to Block B to reduce the binding effect of the clay particles in the soil.” No detail was too small.

Bob was a farmer’s farmer, and I still enjoy going back now and re-reading his memos from the early days, when he was teaching us about personal vine care, organics, and sustainability. At the height of the Pierce’s Disease epidemic, we were advised to clear a buffer between the creek on our property and the vines. The barren area would be sprayed with enough pesticide to kill the bacteria-carrying vectors en-route to the vineyard. Bob nixed that, and planted a six-foot, mixed vegetation strip between the creek and the vineyard. The bacteria-carrying vectors stopped in the strip to feed, and preoccupied with the tastier vegetation, stayed until the vines were no longer tender enough to attack. He outsmarted the insects.

Bob’s first love was fruit trees, and in 2003 he founded the Felix Gillet Institute in Nevada City to honor the Frenchman responsible for much of the work advancing California’s orchards. For almost two decades, Bob provided the scientific knowledge and agricultural labor behind the identification and cultivation of hundreds of fruit tree varieties. We’ve planted several trees from Bob’s orchards on our ranch over the years, and we now enjoy Mission Figs, Fuyu and Hachiya Persimmons, Pippin Apples, Golden Delicious Apples, and Bartlet Pears. Last week we planted a bare-rooted King David Apple and a Kieffer Pear, both the result of Bob’s work. The Institute, according to their mission statement, is dedicated to the appreciation, preservation and propagation of edible and ornamental heirloom perennials from the Sierra.

Over the years working with French vignerons, I learned the inviting aspect of enjoying the simple pleasures of fine wine. Barbara will often serve wine with fresh fruit, accompanied by cheese and a crusty baguette. It’s a favorite meal that she calls ‘dinner with no cooking’. Thanks to Amigo Bob, we can sometimes just walk outside and pick the fruit for our evening meal. I like this meal most when it’s served with a bottle of our Sage Canyon Red. No recipe is needed.

If you’d like to learn more about Amigo Bob and his work, the Los Angeles Times had an especially moving obituary.

A five-year-old Bartlett Pear tree

A five-year-old Bartlett Pear tree which produced its first crop in 2020.

A 15-year-old Fuyu Persimmon tree.

A 15-year-old Fuyu Persimmon tree.

A 20-year-old Pippin Apple tree

A 20-year-old Pippin Apple tree that has furnished apples for pies, tarts, dinners, snacks and school lunches.

February 20, 2021

A New Vintage of Roberts Road Pinot Noir

By Bruce Neyers

Mike Sangiacomo at the start of a row of the Roberts Road Pinot Noir block

Mike Sangiacomo looking southwest at the start of a row of the Roberts Road Pinot Noir block. This one-acre parcel of vines is planted to non-clonal budwood brought to the US by Joe Swan in the mid-1960s.

Barbara and I found ourselves last week with the manager of a local bank working on a personal matter. After clearing up the details, he handed me a copy of his business card. His name was long and complicated, and as I was about to ask his nationality, he sensed my curiosity, and advised us that he was Thai. We ate at a Thai restaurant regularly when we lived in Chuncheon, South Korea, I remarked, and we’ve both loved Thai food ever since. We chatted for a few more minutes, and I asked him where he liked to go for Thai food.

He began to list some restaurants he thought we’d enjoy. He mentioned that while the best of them were in San Francisco and Berkeley, his favorite was Thai Kitchen, a family owned spot in Calistoga. Be sure to get extra chiles, he advised. He jotted down a handful of his favorite dishes, and we left.

I suspected that it wouldn’t take Barbara long to start looking into it. Before we had backed out of our parking space, she had them on the phone. She reported that while they were open, it was only for takeout. Calistoga is only 15 to 20 minutes away, though, and since it was Friday, we could easily drive up there after work, pick up some food, and dine at home. I suggested she call our daughter Lizzie – her husband is a firefighter so she’s often home alone with their young son when he works an overnight shift. She loves Thai Kitchen, and immediately told us what to order for her.

Thai chicken satay

A classic dish in any Thai restaurant, charcoal grilled Chicken Satay is a mainstay of the cuisine. Served with a spicy peanut sauce, the version at Thai Kitchen is also accompanied by pickled cucumber in red-Chile and oil vinaigrette.

When we arrived we were treated like royalty. We wanted to try everything that looked like an old favorite, and half an hour or so later we left with three shopping bags full of food. We arrived home and Barbara set the table in the dining room. It looked like the reception following a Thai wedding.

What to drink didn’t require much thought, as I always prefer red Burgundy and Pinot Noir with spicy food, and this meal promised to be spicy. I selected a bottle of our 2017 Pinot Noir ‘Roberts Road’, a wine we made from grapes grown on the Sangiacomo family’s Petaluma Gap AVA property near Adobe Road in the Sonoma Coast. I think it’s one of the best bottlings of Pinot Noir that Tadeo has made, and would be ideal alongside another favorite, the 2017 Bourgogne Rouge ‘La Digoine’ from A&P deVillaine.

2017 Bourgogne Rouge ‘La Digoine’ from A&P deVillaine

Aubert deVillaine is perhaps the most consequential figure in Burgundy today, as the co-owner and manager of Domaine de la Romanée-Conti. The red and white wines he makes with his American-born wife Pamela at his beautiful property in the Côte Chalonnaise south of Chagny are the sort of wines that turn the wheels in Burgundy – red or white, they’re all brilliant. Opening a bottle of Aubert’s wine with one of mine, then serving both with a dazzling assortment of classic Thai dishes seemed like the perfect way to finish the week. It was.

I can’t tell you how you might go about acquiring some of the A & P deVillaine wines, as the production is small, and what Kermit gets sells out quickly. Still, most stores in the fine-wine business can special order some if you’re interested. There may even be some available at Kermit’s Berkeley store, so call for information. They are wines well worth the search. We are now sold out of the 2017 Neyers Vineyards Pinot Noir ‘Roberts Road’, but we just released the 2018 vintage, which is every bit as good. Give it a try, and if you have a Thai food take-out location nearby, be sure to include them in your evening.

Neyers Roberts Road Pinot Noir

The Sangiacomo Family Pinot Noir Vineyard at Roberts Road in the Petaluma Gap AVA

Looking to the southwest down the gentle slopes of the Sangiacomo Family Pinot Noir Vineyard at Roberts Road in the Petaluma Gap AVA

February 11, 2021

Neyers ÂME Cabernet and My Favorite Pasta

By Bruce Neyers

Fresh rigatoni pasta with black trumpet mushrooms, chanterelles and pancetta

Fresh rigatoni pasta with black trumpet mushrooms, chanterelles and pancetta

The site development for our ÂME Cabernet Sauvignon Vineyard was begun by Dave Abreu in 1998 with cross-ripping, then removing the rock from this parcel on our Conn Valley Ranch. Within two years, a drainage system had been installed, and we began to lay out and plant the vines. The drainage system was designed and engineered by Drew Aspegren to conform with the requirements under the then newly passed Hillside Erosion Control Ordinance.

The project was a monumental undertaking for us, given the combination of land clearing, grading, rock removal, Hillside Ordinance dictates, and the complications of planting grapevines on steep slopes at high elevation. Had we known what we were in for, we probably never would have seriously considered it. Dave’s enthusiasm, as well as that of our three children after whom the vineyard would be named – ÂME, for Alexandra, Mike and Elizabeth is the French word for ‘SOUL’ – kept up our interest through the several years of work, and now the vineyard is responsible for our finest wine. The 2017 ÂME Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon, though, is something even a little more special.

Over the past year, we’ve had more opportunities than ever to get better acquainted with our wines. Barbara’s cooking horizons have broadened, and I’ve been the fortunate recipient of that change to our lives. On several occasions over the past few months, Barbara has come up with a new dish or an unfamiliar twist on an old favorite, and my long-time love affair with the classic reds of Bordeaux has nudged me in the direction of opening and decanting a bottle of Neyers ÂME. For a variety of reasons, though, the 2017 has become my favorite.

Barbara has always had a way with pasta, it seems, and ironically it was a staple at our dinner table during that first year of our marriage when we were undergraduate students at the University of Delaware, getting by on a weekly food budget that allowed for a celebratory meat loaf on Wednesday. During Barbara’s 20+ year tenure at Chez Panisse, I think Alice relied on her pasta ideas more than any others, and even now I get a few heart palpitations when I learn she has planned pasta for dinner. This time of year, that news is especially welcome, as our local grocery store seems to have a ‘fungi forager’ on the payroll, and even with rainfall far less than normal, they offer an ambitious selection of wild mushrooms these days.

As my old friend Dennis Foley taught me, if you think Cabernet Sauvignon is well matched with steak, try it with wild mushrooms. Barbara has been able to find both Chanterelles and Black Trumpets at Sunshine Foods lately, and there are not many dishes that add to the magical combination of tastes displayed by fine Cabernet like this pasta dish. We had it last week and Barbara used some freshly made Rigatoni she found locally. A number of other ‘thick pastas’ – as Darrell Corti calls them – will work, because the wine requires food with texture. He suggests also Penne, Shells, or one that might be a little more difficult to find called Cavatelli. Be sure to slightly chill the 2017 ÂME, then decant it for maximum enjoyment. You’ll find a wine that has everything we look for in an expressive Cabernet Sauvignon. There’s a wonderful earthy base, that supports the core of cassis and wild blackberry. And like all great Cabernet Sauvignon, there’s a long, mineral finish that reflects the exotic nature of the basalt and gravel in the soil. As Sam Spade so eloquently put it, ‘This is the stuff that dreams are made of.”

Rigatoni Pasta with wild mushrooms

Serves 4 to 6

Ingredients

  • 2 cups loosely packed Black Trumpet mushrooms cleaned and sliced in strips
    or
  • 2 cups chanterelle mushrooms cleaned and sliced
  • 1/2 white onion minced
  • 4 tbsp extra virgin olive oil (when using black trumpet mushrooms, more olive oil may be required)
  • 2 slices of pancetta, 1/8–1/4 inch thick, cut into 1/2-inch pieces and cooked until crisp
  • Freshly grated Reggiano Parmesan
  • Kosher salt & fresh ground pepper
  • 1 12-ounce package of rigatoni
  • 2 cloves minced garlic (optional)

Preparation

Cook minced onion in a frying pan over medium heat until translucent. If using garlic, cook with the onions.

Add the mushrooms and continue cooking until the chanterelles begin to shrink, or in the case of black trumpet mushrooms they will begin to rehydrate. If necessary, add more olive oil to the black trumpet mushrooms

Add kosher salt and fresh ground pepper while the mushrooms are cooking.

While preparing the mushroom, cook the rigatoni in salted water following the directions on the package.

Add the cooked pasta to the mushroom mixture.

Just before serving add the pancetta.

Serve the pasta and sprinkle each serving with freshly grated Reggiano Parmesan.

 

The ÂME Vineyard looking north

The ÂME Vineyard looking north just after pruning. The rows run east to west and catch the rising and setting sun. The spacing is 2 feet by 6 feet, and the vines are non-clonal selection budwood, trained in unilateral cordon. The elevation rises to 1,000 feet.

Neyers 2017 ÂME Cabernet Sauvignon

“Juicy and ripe, with an unctuous edge to the mix of plum and blackberry fruit, showing notes of cocoa and black licorice in the background. The finish reveals a toasty side, but the fruit keeps pace. Best from 2021 through 2026. 329 cases made. 91 POINTS” –James Molesworth

February 8, 2021

The Vineyard Cover Crop

By Bruce Neyers

Left Bank Merlot Vineyard

The first of the new cover crop emerges in the Left Bank Merlot Vineyard in December.

We’ve had some cold weather here in the Napa Valley over the past few weeks, but we finished out December with warm, sunny days, and enough rain to get our cover crop started. For sustainable grape growers like us, every new vintage begins by deciding the composition of the cover crop, and the preparation of a corresponding seed mix. I just received the following note from our vineyard manager Hugo Maldonado:

We planted a legume based cover crop this year. It works as a soil builder, and helps re-place nitrogen, while adding organic matter to the soil. It’s a combination of vetch, beans, peas, clover and oats. It will grow to a height of two-three feet in the winter, then we will mow it in the spring, let it decompose for a few weeks, then till it into the soil with the tractor disc.

The ideas behind our sustainable farming decisions were originally the work of the late – and justifiably famous – Amigo Bob Cantisano, who would do a petiole analysis after every growing season, analyze it for depleted elements and minerals, then seed the vineyards with the plants capable of replacing what the vines removed. Each year, we naturally replace what’s used during the growing season without using artificial fertilizers.

Going back through my records, I found a memo Amigo Bob sent us after the 2010 harvest, explaining the following year’s cover crop:

We’ll plant 3 kinds of vetch. All are legumes, and add nitrogen to the soil. Having three varieties insures we get a good stand of vetch. Some years, one of the varieties may not germinate or grow well due to cold, drought, frost or heavy rain. The three types bloom and mature at different times, so if we need to incorporate them early due to a drought, or late due to heavy rains, we still get at least one to take. They are also great sources of nectar and pollen for beneficial insects and honeybees.

The peas are chosen because they have good biomass, add nitrogen, and attract a wide variety of beneficial insects, both during the winter and again when they bloom in the spring. I listed both Magness and BioMaster peas because in some years one type or the other is hard to get. I will have both varieties in the mix.

The Cayuse oats are chosen for their quick developing root system that gives early-season erosion protection. They have deep, fibrous roots that really improve the soil texture and water infiltration. Also the oats act as a ‘ladder’ to give the vetch and peas, which are ‘viney’ growers, a way to climb up on the oats and get more sun. Also, oats succeed in even the driest year, and tolerate ‘wet feet’ in spring. Cayuse oats are chosen because they are the last variety of oats to go to seed, thus avoiding any risk of them becoming a weed in future years. They have a lot of pollen in their blooms, so they feed numerous beneficial insects.

For us at Neyers Vineyards, being good grape growers involves being sensitive stewards of the land as well. Our Left Bank Red does an extraordinary job of showing the long-term benefits of conscientiously applied, sustainable farming practices. Try a bottle of this classic blend of Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon, and see if you agree with us.

Neyers 2018 Left Bank Red

Left Bank Red Merlot vineyard in late January

The Left Bank Red Merlot vineyard in late January. The growth of the oats is especially obvious, and the other plants are climbing along with them. The leaves have all dropped off now as the vines enter dormancy. We will begin to prune in a few weeks.

January 15, 2021

Classic Pot Roast

By Bruce Neyers

Barbara's New Year's Eve Celebratory Pot Roast

Barbara’s New Year’s Eve Celebratory Pot Roast

Whether it’s called Daube of Beef, Beef Bourguignon, Pot Au Feu, or one of many other regional names, the French are masters when it comes to cooking the American classic I’ve known as ‘Pot Roast’. I no longer get to spend a month or two in France every year, but when I was traveling there regularly, one form of pot roast or another was a frequent part of my diet. I still remember well the version prepared at La Gourmandin in Beaune — one of my favorite Burgundian watering holes — with those wonderful white potatoes and delicious pearl onions. The beef just fell apart on the fork, and like many things French seemed to have flavors rarely encountered elsewhere.

A particular delight of pot roast in France is drinking red Burgundy with it. Red Burgundy wines with their fascinating combination of fresh jam, bright minerality, and exotic earthiness always work. Barbara and I spent New Year’s Eve alone this year — for the first time since we were married in 1967. We based our celebration around dinner. Barbara tried some new ideas for pot roast, and I had an assortment of Pinot Noir bottlings — including one from Neyers — that I wanted to serve. It seemed like an ideal way to bring in 2021.

Properly done pot roast requires a commitment to prepare, and Barbara started on hers around 2:00pm. The plan was to have Champagne at 7:00pm, then eat at 8:00pm, so there was plenty of time to peel carrots and potatoes, chop celery, prep the pearl onions, and braise the beef. She then let everything start cooking together around 4:00pm. Besides eating it, the best thing about pot roast is smelling it cook. The aroma was distracting, but I focused on the wines.

I finally settled on three: a 1999 Corton Grand Cru that had been a gift from Pierre Guillemot of Savigny-les-Beaune after his grandson Vincent’s extended stay with us in 2004; one of my more recent treasures, a 2015 Nuits-St. Georges ‘Aux Murgers’ from Domaine Mêo-Camuzet; and from the winery, I brought a bottle of our 2018 Pinot Noir ‘Roberts Road’, a wine I’ve long considered one of the best examples of Pinot Noir that Tadeo has made.

Before long, the aroma of Barbara’s pot roast wafted through the entirety of our house. Finally she pronounced it ready to serve. I opened the bottles of Pinot Noir, poured a glass of each, and then sat down as Barbara brought out the stew, served in bowls. I was delighted with how well the wines held up to the roast, and even more pleased with the showing of the Neyers Pinot Noir.

When I taste our Roberts Road Pinot Noir, I remind myself that this is a wine made from grapes grown on vines that were brought to the US by Joe Swan as heirloom cuttings, directly from vineyards in Burgundy. The vines are planted now on a gentle, southeast-facing slope of gravel and basalt in the chilly Petaluma Gap AVA of southern Sonoma County. In 2018 the vines were 18 years old, and yields were barely two tons per acre. We fermented the must for six weeks on the skins, retaining 50% of the stems. The wine was then aged for 14 months in 30% new François Frères barrels before bottling without fining or filtration. It has a beautiful combination of fruit and rusticity, and will bring out the best in a well-made pot roast.

Neyers 2018 Roberts Road Pinot Noir

Pot Roast Recipe

Developed by Barbara Neyers for New Year’s Eve 2020

Serves 6 people

Ingredients

2 pounds cubed beef stew meat, preferably chuck roast. Carefully remove all external fat.
4 tbsp olive oil
4 cups beef stock
1/2 tsp black pepper
1 bay leaf
3 large potatoes cubed, preferably Yukon Golds
3 carrots cut into 1-inch length pieces
3 celery stalks cut into 1/2-inch length pieces
1 white onion minced, and two dozen pearl onions (pre-cooked)
3/4 cup flour

Directions

In a large pot or Dutch oven, cook beef in 2 tablespoons olive oil over medium heat until brown. Add 2 cups beef stock and 1 bay leaf. Bring to a boil and reduce heat. Cover and simmer 1 hour. Remove bay leaf.

In a separate pot, lightly sauté minced onion in 2 tablespoons of olive oil. Add flour and cook until the flour is combined with the olive oil. Add the remaining 2 cups of stock and the cooked beef. Simmer the mixture until it thickens. Add the potatoes, carrots, celery and pearl onions, and cook until the vegetables are soft enough to eat.

December 4, 2020

Learning to Appreciate Carignan

By Bruce Neyers

An old Carignan vine at the Evangelho Vineyard

An old Carignan vine at the Evangelho Vineyard, looking northwest towards Carquinez Strait

During my almost 30 years of regular travel to France for Kermit, I learned a lot about ‘Dining Abroad’. My education came to me informally, as I rarely looked to study the foods of France, but spending time visiting with small, family-owned domaines exposed me to the traditional food of many regions. I learned to love it.

We regularly enjoyed great meals in the rustic cellar at Château Thivin in Beaujolais. These were multi-course lunches built around hearty stews on cold winter days while sitting in front of a roaring fireplace drinking chilled Côte de Brouilly. Aubert deVillaine always served us a Daube of Beef for dinner in the spacious room next to his office at Domaine A&P deVillaine in Bouzeron. As much as I enjoyed the daube, I remember the cheese course there fondly, as Aubert would serve a selection of perfectly aged local cheeses, then entertain us with a scholarly background story of each.

There were many such meals, but the one that still rings loudest in my memory is one of the simplest: a breast of veal grilled amidst Maxime Magnon’s 100-year-old Carignan vines, in the hills just outside of Villeneuve les Corbières, in the northern Languedoc, between Carcassonne and Narbonne.

It was a beautiful spring day in late March in the south of France, and after an extensive tasting through Maxime’s cellar, our appetites were sharpened. We drove to the vineyard, where Maxime built a fire using old vine stumps he’d removed the previous winter. When they were reduced to red hot coals, he covered them with a large, portable grill, then placed on it several cutlets of veal breast, each cleaned of bone, then marinated overnight in a mix of olive oil, garlic, lemon juice, and local herbs. He grilled each cutlet for about ten minutes, then sliced it lengthwise into strips. He poured some of his home-made olive oil onto a wedge of fresh baguette, placed a strip of veal across it, then lightly salted it. A jar of spicy, homemade peppers was available to those whose sense of adventure wasn’t already sufficiently challenged. I’ve never had a finer meal.

Maxime brought out several bottles of his Carignan for us to enjoy with our lunch, and never before had I found this variety both so refreshing and so satisfying. Our winemaker Tadeo Borchardt was traveling in France then and had joined us for the visit with Maxime. We were absolutely wowed.

About a week after we returned, Tadeo called. ‘I’ve found a grower who has some Carignan vines that he believes are about 120 years old. The crop is small, but the grapes are available, and he’d love to work with us,’ he reported. The grower was Frank Evangelho of Oakley, in the northeast corner of Contra Costa County. This was the beginning of a relationship that lasted until Frank’s death many years later.

After Frank died, we continued to buy grapes from the new owner. Moreover, we found some similarly old parcels of Carignan in different regions of northern California, and we continue to work with this fascinating grape variety. I’ve maintained an open-minded approach to all wines ever since that day, and thank Maxime often for expanding my world.

We still have some of our 2018 Carignan ‘Evangelho Vineyard’ for sale. It’s dark ruby colored, with an attractive glow that engages you to drink. The aroma is rustic and earthy, and it shows the softness of an aged red Bordeaux. That youthful attractiveness combines with a flavor both exotic and uplifting. It appeals to a wide range of foods. Grilled veal breast works for us, as does a traditional Blanquette de Veau. Carignan is equally satisfying with pasta or risotto. One of my traveling companions years ago asked me if I could imagine any food that didn’t go well with Carignan. I still haven’t found one.

Maxime grills with the 100-year-old vines in the background

Maxime grills with the 100-year-old vines in the background

The old vines used for fuel are in the upper-left corner

The old vines used for fuel are in the upper-left corner

Marinade for grilled veal breast

Ingredients

1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
1/4 cup fresh squeezed lemon juice
1/4 cup coarsely chopped herbs: thyme, tarragon, basil, oregano, parsley
1 tbsp freshly grated lemon peel
2 cloves garlic chopped
Kosher salt and fresh ground pepper

Preparation

Combine the ingredients and marinate the veal in the refrigerator for 3 hours or overnight.

You may need to special order the veal breast from your butcher, but it’s easy to do. Ask for a piece weighing 2–3 pounds, and ask that it come from a section of the breast of uniform thickness, as the breast will vary in thickness from top to bottom. Ask your butcher to remove any bones as well.

November 20, 2020

Mourvèdre and the Daily Grind at Neyers Vineyards

By Bruce Neyers

Lulu Peyraud c. 1975

Lulu Peyraud c. 1975 returning from the fish monger with the makings of her famous Bouillabaisse. Godspeed, Lulu. Thanks for leaving us with a better world.

The 2018 Bandol from Domaine Tempier just arrived, and since it was a small crop year, my customary allocation was trimmed back to only five cases. Wine buffs the world over are already beginning to talk about the wine, using words like ‘legendary’ and ‘fabled’. More importantly though, the wine world is lamenting the recent death of the grand matriarch of Domaine Tempier, Lulu Peyraud, who we lost in October, at age 102. She left behind a trail of broken hearts.

I could talk about Lulu for a while and not cover all of the great times, great wines, and great meals I enjoyed with her over the past 45 years. We celebrated with her from California to Venice. She devoted her life to making the wine world a better place, and succeeded beyond her wildest dreams. Having had her as a part of our lives is a highlight for both of us, and we’ll never visit the south of France and not think of her. Her most important contribution to me though, was to pass along a love for wine made from Mourvèdre, and for the great food that accompanied her wine. I’ll be eternally grateful to Alice Waters and Kermit Lynch for introducing us.

Whether coincidence or fate, the Neyers 2018 Mourvèdre ‘Evangelho Vineyard’ is the most successful version of this wine we’ve produced. We bottled 164 cases – our largest crop ever. Visitors regularly ask me what my favorite wine is, and I’m reluctant to answer. It’s like asking me which of my children is my favorite. It changes. Still, when I look at the empty bottles in my recycle bin at the end of the week, Mourvèdre regularly seems to win.

The flavor of Mourvèdre is bright and fresh, like a beautiful mid-spring day. The wine is soft and approachable early on, yet I’ve drunk bottles that were 30 years old and still showed stirrings of youth. The flavors are complex but seem to vary as much as the weather, and always at the heart of the wine is that combination of exotic ripe fruit, with subtleties that entertain like a sophisticated magic act.

The Mourvèdre we make at Neyers is the essence of California. The aroma is of plum and cherry, with soft, almost chewy flavors highlighted by a fascinating minerality. Tadeo has captured the nuance of the grape, the multi-faceted aspect that makes a second swallow irresistible after the first.

The flavors combine powerful fruit with earthy undertones that add to the complexity. The attractive finish includes a unique, wild flavor that my friend Daniel Ravier – winemaker at Tempier for the past 20 years – calls ‘rustic’. It tastes best when drunk with a slight chill.

Leg of lamb grilling in the wood fireplace at Tempier

Leg of lamb grilling in the wood fireplace at Tempier

Alain Pascal grills fresh mussels over wood at Bandol Gros Noré

Alain Pascal grills fresh mussels over wood at Bandol Gros Noré

 

November 17, 2020

Our 2017 Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon

By Bruce Neyers

The Ron Smith cabernet sauvignon vineyard in Oak Knoll, looking west to the Napa River tree line

The Ron Smith Cabernet Sauvignon vineyard in Oak Knoll, looking west to the Napa River tree line

We just got the news that our 2017 Cabernet Sauvignon ‘Napa Valley’ has been selected by the Wine Spectator for inclusion in an upcoming issue as one of the top scoring bottlings of Cabernet Sauvignon of the vintage, and was awarded a score of 90 points. Here’s what they had to say:

“Fresh and focused, with a pretty beam of cassis and raspberry coulis notes, flecked with floral and anise accents. Judicious toast on the back end lets this play out nicely. Drink now through 2027. 700 cases made.” 90 points – James Molesworth

This is our first release of a Cabernet Sauvignon made from purchased grapes since 1995, and accurately reflects our fondness for the wines of the southern reaches of the Napa Valley. The vineyard providing these grapes is in the Oak Knoll district, just south of Stag’s Leap.

In 2017, this section of the Napa Valley enjoyed especially cool weather during the final stages of ripening, which extended the length of the growing season and yielded ideal fruit for the wine.

The grapes were fermented on the skins for 45 days using only the native yeast trapped on the skins, and the finished wine was aged in a selection of new and used 60-gallon French oak barrels for 18 months, before we bottled the wine, unfined and unfiltered.

Look for a complex aroma of wild cherries and chocolate, with hints of tobacco leaf and berry. The wine is softened by the extended skin maceration, and is already attractively drinkable.

Neyers 2017 Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon

The rows in Smith's Vineyard run effectively east and west to capture the full arc of the sun

The rows in Smith’s Vineyard run effectively east and west to capture the full arc of the sun

November 7, 2020

Classic Baked Goat Cheese Salad

By Bruce Neyers

Baked goat cheese salad

Baked goat cheese salad using fresh Laura Chenel goat cheese

Alice Waters didn’t invent the baked goat cheese salad, as it’s been a French bistro mainstay for decades. She did, however, bring it to America — or at least to California — where she and her staff labored for years to refine it. Barbara Neyers was one of them.

The ingredients are key to success here, so I was especially pleased last week when Barbara reported that our ‘late planted’ summer garden had given up the last of its squash, peppers, and tomatoes, but there was still a good ‘bowl’s worth’ of mixed lettuces. She planned to make goat cheese salad. During the early days of her tenure at Chez Panisse, Barbara was a ‘salad station’ cook in the cafe, so she did everything from shucking fresh oysters, to making the soup, to dressing and arranging the salads. This latter job was of special importance to Alice.

No dish required more attention than the goat cheese salad that had quickly become a customer favorite. Barbara made hundreds of them. It’s a seemingly simple dish, but a difficult one to master, and on a busy evening getting it right for the diners who order it is not easy. It is among the most ‘wine friendly’ dishes I know, however, and over the years I’ve come to especially enjoy it with Pinot Noir. The version that Barbara makes for us at home is entrée-sized, so I immediately thought of two wines that I wanted to taste, side by side.

We make two bottlings of Pinot Noir at Neyers — one from grapes grown by the Sangiacomo Family at their Petaluma Gap ranch on ‘Roberts Road’. The other is from Russian River grapes grown by Chuy Ordaz on land named for his daughter Placida. The parcels that we buy have in common the fact that they are planted to non-clonal budwood that was taken from the Joe Swan vineyard in Forestville. This budwood was brought directly to California from Burgundy in the mid-1960s, and was neither heat-treated nor cloned. There is a certain purity to it as ‘Selection Massale’ plant material. After 30 years of working with Kermit and his group of Burgundian producers, I have come to think of the ‘Roberts Road’ Pinot Noir as more closely resembling a wine from Gevrey, while the wine from Chuy’s vineyard I liken more to Aloxe-Corton.

Barbara made a large platter of goat cheese salad — see the recipe below — and I opened the 2017 Pinot Noir ‘Placida Vineyard’. Next to it I served a 2017 Corton Grand Cru from one of my favorite producers, Franck Follin of Domaine Follin-Arbelet in Aloxe-Corton. Franck is married to a great-granddaughter of Louis Latour, and is enormously talented. No one in Burgundy makes better Corton. His wines are the work of a bona fide genius.

How was the Placida Pinot Noir? I adored the way it went with the rich vinaigrette tossed with the flavorful lettuces and croutons sautéed in olive oil. The crunchy goat cheese discs — saturated as they were with bread crumbs — were a good foil as well. It was a great wine and food fit. I still have several bottles of Franck’s Corton in my cellar, and I think I’ll devote some of my remaining life to drinking them alongside Chuy’s Pinot Noir. I loved them both.

We still have some of the 2017 Pinot Noir ‘Placida Vineyard’ available. It is impressive Pinot Noir.

Chuy Ordaz

Chuy Ordaz

Parcel of Placida Pinot Noir planted to Joe Swan budwood selection

The parcel of Placida Pinot Noir planted to Joe Swan budwood selection

Goat Cheese Salad

Serves 4

Ingredients

  • 1 8-ounce fresh goat cheese log
  • 1 tablespoon minced shallot
  • 2 tablespoons Dijon mustard
  • 1/2 cup breadcrumbs
  • 1/4 cup red wine vinegar
  • 3/4 cups extra virgin olive oil
  • 8 cups loosely packed lettuce leaves
  • 8 croutons
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper

Preparation

Slice goat cheese into 1/2-inch thick discs. Drizzle each disc with olive oil, then coat both sides with breadcrumbs.

Whisk together shallots, mustard and vinegar, then slowly whisk in the olive oil.

Lightly brown goat cheese on both sides in olive oil. I prefer to sauté the cheese but at Chez Panisse they frequently broil it in the oven.

Toss lettuce leaves with vinaigrette to lightly coat with dressing, then season with salt and pepper. Immediately top with the lettuce, garnish with croutons, then top with warm goat cheese discs.

October 30, 2020

An Ideal Appetizer: Strips of Roasted Bell Peppers

By Bruce Neyers

Roasted and peeled bell pepper strips

Roasted and peeled bell pepper strips in a sauce of olive oil, garlic, and red pepper flakes

Barbara and I had traveled to Italy many times before we were able to arrange a trip to Florence, and it’s almost embarrassing that it took so long to discover this most wonderful of all European cities. We must have just come into some money, as we spent a week at an absolutely splendid hotel. Our first night out we visited what proved to be one of our favorite dining spots, Restaurant Il Cibreo, in front of the San Ambrogio market. It was recommended to us by my old friend Colman Andrews, and it’s one more reason I am deep in his debt. I think we ate there five of the next seven nights, and loved every meal.

One of its greatest charms is the assortment of small plates that seem to appear magically before you as you read through the menu and the wine list. The server provides an excellent description of each dish as it’s placed on the table, but as memorable as each was, one stood out above the others: a bowl of red bell peppers, their skins removed after a quick roasting on an open fire, separated from the core, cut into strips, then bathed in a mix of olive oil and garlic. A scoop of the peppers is placed on a slice of fresh-baked baguette, and the perfect appetizer is born. We finished the entire bowl and I brazenly asked for another. Our server seemed almost flattered.

This is a simple dish yet it draws raves whenever Barbara serves it, which is often this time of year. It’s flavorful, healthy, and refreshing, especially on the warm evenings we still enjoy in northern California. Barbara will serve it alongside a platter of Prosciutto or — my personal favorite — as a side dish to her baked goat cheese salad. When she makes them, I love to smell the peppers as they cook, the pleasant aroma of roasting pepper skins penetrating every nook and cranny of the kitchen.

At Il Cibreo I recall we had the dish with a glass of Pinot Grigio, but at home I prefer it with a Chablis, like those we imported at Kermit Lynch. Recently, Barbara and I tried it with the Neyers Chardonnay ‘304’, our Chablis-style bottling of Chardonnay from Paul Larson’s chilly Carneros District vineyard. It was a perfect match, the crisp acidity of the wine was artfully balanced by the richness of the oil, the texture of both an ideal pairing. We let this wine sit on the lees until bottling which heightens both the body and complexity.

A light, refreshing appetizer isn’t an easy thing to find these days, especially one that’s loaded with flavor. Here’s a simple and delicious way to bring a little bit of Italy to your table, and to give yourself another excuse to open a bottle of the 2018 Neyers Chardonnay ‘304’.

Neyers 2018 Chardonnay '304'