August 20, 2019
by Bruce Neyers
We were advised that the October issue of Wine Enthusiast will feature an enormously positive review of the 2017 Pinot Noir ‘Roberts Road’, a wine that winemaker Tadeo Borchardt produced in collaboration with our long-standing friends, the Sangiacomo Family and their team at Sangiacomo Vineyards.
The Roberts Road Vineyard was developed in 1999 and sits at the northern edge of what is locally known as The Petaluma Gap, an especially cold and rocky area of eastern Sonoma County soon to be recognized as an AVA. While the Pinot Noir blocks on this vineyard were planted to several different clones — principal among them Clone 777 which originated in Morey-St. Denis — a small, one-acre block was reserved for planting to a non-clonal ‘selection massale’ that came from Joe Swan’s vineyard in Forestville. This plant material originated in Vosne-Romanée and was brought to the US and planted by Joe in the early 1960’s. For the next decade or so, it served as the source of Pinot Noir for bottlings under the Joseph Swan label, many of which were regularly thought to be among the highest quality bottlings of Pinot Noir from California. The Roberts Road Pinot Noir from Neyers Vineyards comes exclusively from the fruit grown in this small parcel.
The wine has impressed us for its traditional Burgundian characteristics, including the lovely purple robe, and an aroma combining exotic elements of jam, coffee and chocolate, followed by flavors that convey finesse, opulence and complexity. It’s an extraordinary example of what we can achieve with Pinot Noir in California, and we’re delighted to see the wine recognized in this way.
The photo above was taken by Mike Pucci, and shows the vines running to the southwest. The block planted to the Swan selection is at the base of this hill.
Neyers 2017 Pinot Noir ‘Roberts Road’
92 pts Wine Enthusiast
(The finished review will be published in the October issue.)
July 25, 2019
-by Bruce Neyers
I don’t think I’ve ever known anyone nicer than Joan Rombauer. I met Joan through her husband Koerner who, after retiring as a commercial pilot, began a small winery in St. Helena. Part of his start-up plan involved leasing space to other wineries, an idea now widely practiced, but one that was just beginning to take shape in those days. We were among their first clients.
Koerner loved to fly and had a twin engine Cessna. When he began to sell his wines, he invited me to join him on a sales trip, and soon, we were flying everywhere together – Washington, Oregon, Nevada and even Colorado. At one point, we began to make regular trips to Los Angeles which proved to be a great idea. Our trip would begin early in the morning at Angwin airport, about 15 minutes from my home, and it took about two hours to fly to Santa Monica airport. The terminal there offered rental cars, and I would book one for my arrival. When we landed, they would back it up to the disembarkation ramp, with the engine running — just like they did for rock stars – and I could be on the Santa Monica Freeway in ten minutes. We’d meet again near the end of the day and fly back to Angwin.
Joan would be waiting to drive Koerner home when we returned, and one night she suggested that Barbara and I plan to join them for dinner. Barbara had by then established a reputation as a talented cook, and it was sometimes awkward, as it made others uncomfortable, to cook for her. Joan could not have been more comfortable though, and when we arrived, she proudly announced that she had made her specialty that night, which was also Koerner’s favorite meal — meatloaf.
Now I have a very special relationship with meatloaf myself, one that goes back to my days as a student at the University of Delaware. During our senior year, after we were married, both Barbara and I had full course loads and worked part time jobs as well – Barbara’s in the university library, mine with a grad student at the Chemistry lab. We returned home late in the day, and Barbara would make dinner. Her cooking was limited, of course, by our extremely tight budget. On Monday we would have Sloppy Joes, on Tuesday grilled hamburgers. Wednesday was spaghetti and meatballs, then Thursday was Bell Peppers stuffed with ground beef. Friday was my favorite day, though, because Barbara would make meatloaf. She learned how to make it from her mother, Marie, who was the oldest daughter in a family with ten children. Marie’s father owned a grain mill on a farm in upstate New Jersey, and she became a very talented cook simply because she had to help run the farm. Marie’s brothers and sisters all loved her cooking, and after she married, so did her husband Harry. Barbara and her family ate well, and during the years we were dating, I was a regular dinner guest. I got to know Marie’s cooking almost as well as the rest of her family. A lot of her skills rubbed off on Barbara, so our year of tight budget dinners wasn’t nearly as painful as it might sound. Meatloaf Friday became an almost sacred part of our week, and Marie’s recipe added a few twists that made a meatloaf dinner more than respectable.
When Joan Rombauer announced that we were about to enjoy her specialty – and her husband’s favorite dinner – she had no idea that she was talking to a bit of an authority on the subject. Well, her rendition was spectacular, as good as Barbara’s on her best night! I took one bite and looked at Barbara, raising my eyelids in pleasant surprise. She responded accordingly. This was great stuff, and I could see why Koerner loved it.
Koerner played an important role that night too, as he had selected the wines. Knowing my fondness for French wines, he went to a local shop with substantial stocks of red Bordeaux and bought several wines that the proprietor told him would please me. He then included an older bottle of Neyers Cabernet Sauvignon, so we spent the night comparing the Neyers wine to the others while we enjoyed a great meal.
That dinner set the stage for our relationship as Joan and Koerner were our landlords until we built our current facility in Sage Canyon. If it wasn’t for these two gracious and enormously generous people, Neyers Vineyards would undoubtedly be a much different business today. We try to live up to their examples of generosity every day, and I think of Joan whenever Barbara cooks meatloaf. We lost Joan way too soon, but she left her spell on many, through her soft manner, gentle ways and simple kindness.
I forget the vintage of Neyers Cabernet Sauvignon we drank that night with Koerner and Joan, but since those days in the early 1990’s our vineyards have gotten older, our wine-making practices have become more refined, and our wines have continued to improve. Our 2016 Neyers Ranch Cabernet Sauvignon is a beauty. It was recently singled out by James Suckling with the following notes:
Neyers 2016 Cabernet Sauvignon ‘Neyers Ranch’
“Both ripe and polished, this has a very appealing interplay of rather fine tannins and generous fruit. Then the full, supple tannins come through and move it in a drier direction that’s more compatible with the dining table. Drink or hold.”
90 POINTS – James Suckling
July 9, 2019
By Bruce Neyers
Golf isn’t a part of my life today, but there was a time – from around 1985 through 2000 — when both Barbara and I played often. It began when a neighbor of ours moved to Maui to take the job as tennis pro at the Kapalua Resort. We visited him often, and eventually he persuaded us to take golf lessons. After a few days of instruction, we went out for a round. We enjoyed the exercise, being outdoors in beautiful weather, and, of course, the cold beer at the end. Through him, we also met the resort’s golf pro, who soon suggested our winery be a sponsor of their Golf Tournament. We agreed. In exchange, he waived the golf fees for the rest of our trip.
At the time, there were two 18 hole courses at Kapalua. The older Village Course was a bit more rustic, but it was slower paced, and far less crowded. We made a daily reservation there, and played early so there was little or no audience watching us fumble along our way. One morning as we began to head out for our round, the starter – with whom we had also become friendly — asked if we would like some company. He had another twosome without a reservation and he suggested they team with us. He introduced us, and jokingly mentioned that we could probably answer their wine questions. One of the players was retired football great Fran Tarkenton. He was joined by a former teammate, a lineman named Ron Yary. I knew we were going to be way over our heads, but the two of them were certain that it would be fine. Ron even mentioned that he did have some wine questions for us. I suggested that after playing together for a few holes they could play ahead of us. They declined, insisting that they always enjoyed the game better as a foursome.
No one would ever doubt the athleticism of Fran Tarkenton, but he was effusive in his praise for Ron Yary, who he referred to as one of the most gifted players he knew. We went to the tee box for the first hole — a short, slightly uphill par 4 — and I hit a three iron that, while straight, didn’t cover much distance. But that was my game. Fran hit next and he creamed the ball, driving it almost to the green, but it sliced to the right, into the trees separating the 18th fairway. Ron hit his tee shot with even more power, but he hooked into a pineapple patch to the left of the green. From the ladies’ tee, Barbara – playing with her trusty five iron — hit her shot right down the middle of the fairway. We were out-muscled, but we played straight. I shot a par for that hole, Barbara hit a double bogey 6, and both Fran and Ron shot bogey 5.
When we got to the second hole – all tied after one — Ron said to Fran loud enough for us to hear that he hoped they weren’t being sandbagged by Barbara and me. Their reputations were safe, but they still suggested we have a small wager on the game. I asked what “a small wager” was, and they proposed a dollar on the front nine, another dollar on the back nine, and a third dollar for low team score. We agreed. Well, it didn’t take long for the wheels to fall off as we caved in from the financial pressure. The sixth hole – a long downhill par 5 — was especially treacherous, and Barbara shot a twelve. I barely fared better, with a nine. Both Fran and Ron shot pars.
The snack bar was at the 9th hole, and the starter met us there to see how the round was going. I apologized for our lack of competition and repeated my offer that they play ahead of us. They declined again, and said that playing with a foursome was an important part of the game. They both insisted on finishing with us.
As we began the back nine, they began to ask us questions about the wine business. We told them about our vineyards and winery, briefly describing our wines. I also mentioned that my favorite restaurant in the area – the popular Bay Club – was one of the best customers for our Chardonnay. Soon enough we were teeing up for our shots down the 18th fairway – recognized as the narrowest par four on Maui. We spent very little time in that fairway, but fortunately, I had bought another dozen golf balls at the snack bar, so we had enough to finish the round.
Fran and Ron were as affable on the 18th hole as they had been on the first, and both Barbara and I were delighted that these two talented athletes had been patient enough to play 18 holes of golf with us. We finished the hole, got into our carts and drove back to the starter’s shed to turn in our equipment. We walked to the nearby clubhouse, found an empty table, and ordered a beer. When the server arrived, I reached for my wallet to pay, but Ron was faster, and said, “Please, we’ve got this one.” He paid the server, took our scorecard and compared it to his. After a few strokes of the pencil and a slight furrowing of his brow, he said, “Looks like you owe us three dollars.” I paid him. We enjoyed another round of beer, and by this time our table was deluged by autograph seekers. Most of the people recognized Fran of course, but one young boy, pointing to Ron, asked who the other guy was, Fran didn’t hesitate. “Young man,” he said, “That person is Ron Yary, probably the best athlete I’ve ever known in my life. You should get his autograph.” Only a great athlete with enormous self-confidence could so ably redirect attention away from himself, towards a less famous athlete. How impressive. I’ve often thought about that moment, and reflected on what a great lesson it was.
Later that night, Barbara and I went out to dinner at the Kapalua Bay Club, and as the hostess seated us she pointed in the direction of a table on the next level. “I think you have some friends dining with us tonight,” she said. I looked in that direction and saw Fran and Ron, just as both of them lifted an empty bottle of Neyers Chardonnay. There were six people at their table, and they raised their glasses in a toast us. Fran and Ron were a class act.
The Carneros Chardonnay at Neyers Vineyards is produced using the most traditional Burgundian wine-making techniques. We work exclusively with hand-harvested fruit from three Carneros District vineyards, all of them planted to ‘Shot-Wente’ selection (see photo above). We ferment in 25% new French oak barrels from François Frères Cooperage in St. Romain, using native wild yeast. Secondary fermentation occurs naturally as well, with no added M/L starter.
May 29, 2019
It Was Probably the Best Sandwich Ever Made: An Impromptu Lunch with Alice Waters
I met Alice Waters on a Saturday afternoon in September 1971, soon after she opened Chez Panisse Restaurant in Berkeley. I was working at Connoisseur Wine Imports, a wine importing business in San Francisco owned by two brothers-in-law, Art Formicelli and Bal Gibson. Art was an attorney in San Francisco, but he lived in Berkeley, and had heard about Chez Panisse when it opened. He met Alice there one night, and after learning of her interest in French wines suggested that she visit the store. Connoisseur was one of the largest fine wine shops in California at the time, and because of a wrinkle in the state alcoholic beverage laws, we could — unlike other wine stores — sell wine both to consumers and to other licensed businesses. Alice began to visit us regularly on Saturday mornings to assemble a few carefully selected cases that would then serve as the basis for the restaurant’s wine list for the next week or so. I loved waiting on her as she was filled with enthusiasm about every wine she saw, and she talked about France in a way that made it come to life for me. Moreover, I was comfortable answering her questions, and she seemed to listen attentively as I explained to her what I knew about the different wines. I was helping her load her car after one visit when she took a business card out of her wallet, and wrote on the back of it ‘Dinner for Bruce and guest’. She signed it, then handed it to me. ‘Come to dinner tonight,’ she said. ‘We’re grilling lamb from the Dal Porto Ranch.’ I’d never had lamb before and didn’t know anything about the Dal Porto Ranch, but an evening out was a big deal back then. When I arrived home, I announced to Barbara that we were going out to dinner that night. We ate magnificently at Chez Panisse – I can still remember many details about our meal – and after dinner, Alice sat with us and helped drink one of the bottles of wine that I’d brought along. It was the first of what became countless meals we have enjoyed at Chez Panisse, and the beginning of a friendship with Alice that continues today. One Friday night a few years ago, Barbara and I celebrated our wedding anniversary at Chez Panisse. In addition to making a special meal, Alice invited us to spend the night in her guest house, so we didn’t need to drive home after dinner. The next morning she suggested we have coffee at Cafe Fanny, the small coffee bar named for her daughter. After breakfast together we were about to drive Alice back to her house before going home ourselves, but she wanted to stop first at Acme Bakery to buy some bread. When she walked out a few moments later, she waved a loaf of Challah bread at us. ‘I’ve got a great idea,’ she reported. ‘They only bake Challah bread here on Saturday, and there was still some left. My tomatoes are ripe, and I’m going to make BLT’s for lunch!’ Spontaneity has always been one of Alice’s long suits. We drove back to her house with our loaf of freshly baked Challah bread, stopping along the way at a local charcuterie shop to buy some bacon. Once in her kitchen at home, she set about frying the bacon while Barbara went to the backyard garden with a basket and began to pick ripe tomatoes and some of Alice’s famous ‘baby lettuce’. The aroma of that sizzling bacon was making me even hungrier. Alice carefully sliced the Challah bread, and began to toast it in the stove. The bacon was almost done, and Barbara had already begun to slice the tomatoes and wash the lettuce. I opened a bottle of wine. What about the mayonnaise, I thought? I opened the refrigerator, looked around, and reported the bad news to Alice: ‘There is no mayonnaise,’ I said. ‘Of course not,’ she replied. ‘We haven’t made it yet.’ With that she scooped up a bowl that contained the eggs she had brought home from the restaurant the night before, cracked them and expertly separated the yolks. She started to whisk the eggs while she slowly added some other ingredients arranged neatly next to the stove. As she wielded the whisk, she handed me a bottle of Laura Marvaldi olive oil with its distinctive gold foil, and instructed me to slowly drizzle it into the bowl as she whisked it. After ten minutes or so she finished and handed me the bowl. ‘Taste it,’ she said. It was wonderful. At Alice’s house, I learned, you don’t buy mayonnaise — you make it. Alice began assembling the sandwiches. It was August, and it was already beginning to warm up in Berkeley. We sat down at the kitchen table, a little flushed. Alice opened a window to let in some fresh air, and I took a bottle of chilled rosé from the refrigerator. ‘August is always the best time to drink Tempier rosé,’ she remarked. Maybe, but that sandwich was the best one I have ever eaten.
Not long after that, Barbara and I visited Chez Panisse to meet with Jonathan Waters – no relation to Alice – who for the past two decades has been the talented and knowledgeable wine buyer there. Alice stopped by and sat with us briefly as we tasted through a handful of Neyers wines with Jonathan. It was a Friday afternoon and she was leaving to prepare dinner at home for some guests visiting from Italy. I asked her if she would like to take one of the Neyers bottles home with her. She didn’t hesitate, and reached out immediately for the bottle of ÂME Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon that we had just tasted. She’ll probably never know just how flattering that gesture was.
We recently began shipping our 2016 ÂME Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon. This remarkable wine comes from vines planted by Napa vineyard manager Dave Abreu in 1996 on the highest and rockiest parcel on our Conn Valley Ranch. It’s a Massale Selection vineyard developed from budwood that originated in Margaux, and was brought to the US in 1940, then planted on the Inglenook property. The yields were barely two tons per acre, and the wine was fermented using only native, wild yeast, aged 16 months in 60-gallon François Frères barrels, then bottled unfiltered. It’s a complex wine, rich and loaded with wild blackberries, cassis and minerals. The finish is bright and long, and it’s sure to complement anything you’d like to try it with. By the way, Barbara frequently makes the Chez Panisse version of fresh mayonnaise, and if you’d like the recipe, please write and we’ll get a copy off to you. You’ll never look at store bought mayonnaise the same way again.
Our mailing address is:
PO Box 1028
Saint Helena, CA 94574-0528
May 27, 2019
April 11, 2019
by Bruce Neyers
|When Barbara was working at Chez Panisse in the 1980’s, a colleague of hers – Robert Messick – took us to The San Francisco Opera to see ‘Othello’. In addition to his job at Chez Panisse, Robert was the staff photographer at the Opera, and had access to front row seats. Within the small group of opera lovers at Chez Panisse, these became known as ‘Robert Seats’, and watching an opera from one changed forever the way you looked at music. Not only was the performance enormously alive and vibrant, the ‘Robert Seats’ were next to the conductor, so close in fact that you could watch the active ones perspire. My modest love affair with opera began that night. We just received the schedule for the Fall 2019 opera season, and we wanted to get tickets for a performance of ‘Manon Lescaut’, so I called Robert. He wasn’t available and I left a message. An hour or so later he called back. He apologized for missing my call, but explained he was listening to a live PBS broadcast from the Met of Gaetano Donizetti’s ‘Daughter of the Regiment’. ‘I never interrupt an opera for a phone call,’ Robert stated. We talked briefly about ‘Daughter of the Regiment’, as I saw that opera with him ten years ago, and still had some questions about it. Asking Robert a question about opera is a little bit, I suspect, like asking Stan Musial about playing first base. You get a lot of details in the answers. After our post-performance dinner together and Robert’s report on the intricacies of the story, I’ve always been especially interested in ‘Daughter of the Regiment’. It’s an ‘opéra comique’, a form of opera developed by the French in the early 18th century, combining both songs and dialogue. While it has its lighthearted moments — for years it was regarded as ‘simple’ by some — it’s both serious and complex. Donizetti wrote the original score in Italian, but since he was living in Paris at the time of its debut, he agreed to write a second version in French for its premiere. It’s said that Donizetti never felt like he was fully appreciated by the French opera community, so he wrote into the heart of ‘Daughter of the Regiment’ a complicated aria sung by the hero, Tonio. It’s been called the ‘Mt. Everest’ for tenors, as it features nine high C’s sung in rapid succession, a feat that even today can be accomplished by only a handful of the most talented singers. The French tenor performing this inaugural production was frequently off pitch, and given its many other problems, ‘Daughter’ was originally panned by French music critics. French composer Hector Berlioz wrote about the work that ‘Donizetti seems to treat us like a conquered country’. Donizetti, however, seemed more than a little pleased by his operatic ‘nose-thumbing’ to the French court. Today, ‘Daughter of the Regiment’ takes its rightful place as one of great examples of Italian musical genius. Writing opera is obviously difficult, even in one’s native language. Writing one in or for a foreign language is probably even more difficult. Writing an opera and planting in it a political statement of this scale might have seemed impossible – but not for Donizetti. He got his point across.
I listened to Robert retell this story, and I was every bit as fascinated as I was after the San Francisco performance in October 2009. When we hung up this time though, my thoughts drifted off to wine – not surprisingly – and I began to think about our 2018 Chardonnay ‘304’, a wine we recently bottled. While on the road earlier this year, a customer tasted the 2017 Chardonnay ‘304’, then remarked to me that making a wine with no oak influence must be ‘a lot simpler’. It’s not, and I wish I had thought of the story behind Donizetti and his remarkable opéra-comique. To make a wine like this, Tadeo first must find grapes that can ripen over a longer stretch of time, in order to keep the natural acidity high and the pH low. Additionally, our Chardonnay ‘304’ relies on soil like that in Chablis which is both rocky and alluvial. This adds a touch of minerality to the wine. The grapes must be completely free of residual sulfur, to avoid the development of any awkward aromas. Properly made, the wine displays a complex aroma of ‘hazelnut’, a component the French call ‘Noisette’. A wine like this might appear ‘simple’ to produce, but like a great opera, it’s not. Our 2018 Chardonnay ‘304’ is shipping now. We love having it around for the spring, just as the warm weather arrives.
2018 Neyers Vineyards Chardonnay ‘304’ – Please ask your local Trinchero Family Estates representative for availability and pricing information
April 10, 2019
March 20, 2019
I received word from winemaker Tadeo Borchardt last week that we finished bottling our 2018 Chardonnay ‘304’, and the wine is now ready to ship, so it’s timely to explain the idea behind this wine we produce with no oak contact, and the root of its name. The AVA for the 2018 vintage is ‘Sonoma County’, as once again we have combined fruit from the Larson Vineyard in Sonoma Carneros with fruit from the Trinchero Family Vineyard in the eastern Russian River Valley. Both vineyards were selected for their cool climate, necessary to keep the pH low and the total acidity high, and for their rocky soil base responsible for the characteristic minerality in the wine. The 2018 Chardonnay ‘304’ is especially lovely, with its combination of crisp acidity, refreshingly bright flavors and an expressive, lingering finish. The grapes were hand harvested in mid-October, whole cluster pressed, then using indigenous wild yeast allowed to ferment naturally in 3000-gallon stainless steel fermentation tanks. To increase contact with the yeast lees, we adopted a traditional Chablis technique of gently circulating the lees over the top of the fermenting wine, a process that adds texture, flavor and stability to the finished wine. This circulation or pump-over allows for lees stirring in a tank otherwise too large for manual ‘battonage’. The wine then continues aging on the lees for about four months after fermentation is complete. The 2018 Chardonnay ‘304’ completed 50% of a natural malo-lactic fermentation. The finished wine was lightly filtered and is now ready to enjoy.
The name ‘304’ comes from the grade of stainless steel that is used to fabricate wine fermentation tanks. The process begins with basic steel to which Nickel and Chromium is added during the smelting process. The result is ‘Food Grade’ stainless steel, which is easily cleaned, non-corrosive and anti-bacterial. The Gateway Arch in St. Louis is made of stainless steel ‘304’ because of the alloy’s anti-oxidative qualities, and it’s been shining bright since 1965.
Past vintages of this wine have been an eye-opener for many as they display the charm of new-world Chardonnay, while offering the satisfaction, complexity and flavor range we associate with traditional oak-free wines, especially those from Chablis and the Côte Chalonnaise.
March 7, 2019
The 2017 Pinot Noir ‘Placida Vineyard’ – A Wine Spectator Favorite
We are delighted to report that our 2017 Pinot Noir ‘Placida Vineyard’ was tasted recently and awarded a score of 90 POINTS from the editors of the ‘Wine Spectator’. The full review will appear in the March 31 issue. Here’s what they had to say:
Neyers 2017 ‘Placida Vineyard’ Pinot Noir
“Well-knit, offering delicate dried red fruit and spice flavors that are filled with minerally richness. Sandalwood and smoke notes emerge on the finish. Drink now through 2022. 505 cases made.”
90 POINTS – Kim Marcus
We are just wild about this newly released bottling of Pinot Noir. The fruit came entirely from a one-acre parcel of heirloom vines on Chuy Ordaz’s Russian River Valley vineyard. Chuy sourced the budwood from the old Joe Swan Pinot Noir Vineyard in Forestville. This plant material originated in Vosne-Romanée, and was never subjected to the plant indexing and cloning program at U.C. Davis, adding to its historical importance.
February 26, 2019
by Bruce Neyers
Terra Restaurant opened in St. Helena in 1988, and it was clear from the start that it was going to be a big deal in the Napa Valley. It was founded by Carl Doumani, the legendary figure who rebuilt the original Stags’ Leap Winery Estate in the early 1970’s. Recognized for his taste as an art collector, respected for his success as a vigneron, and admired for his wisdom as a businessman, Carl has never failed at anything. In the mid 1980’s, his oldest daughter Lissa became the pastry chef at Wolfgang Puck’s Spago in Hollywood, and later married Spago’s talented chef Hiro Sone. When the beautiful fieldstone Duckworth building in St. Helena came on the market in 1987, Carl bought it for a restaurant, with plans to install Lissa and Hiro as the operating partners. Their agreement with Spago still had several months to run, however, so Carl persuaded Barbara Neyers – yes, that Barbara Neyers — to take a leave of absence from Chez Panisse and serve as the temporary Manager. Her primary responsibility was to hire and train the staff until Lissa and Hiro arrived to run the business. It soon became one of the most popular restaurants in town, and after Barbara moved on we still ate there frequently. In June of 1995 Barbara and I celebrated an important anniversary at Terra, and when we entered the restaurant, the hostess – a young woman who Barbara had hired – led us to our favorite table, in the far corner of the main dining room. She mentioned that we would be sitting next to Ruth Bader Ginsburg and her husband, who were celebrating their wedding anniversary. Justice Ginsburg had just been confirmed to the US Supreme Court, and had already begun establishing the reputation that follows her still today. As we approached their table, we noticed that they were drinking a bottle of Neyers Cabernet Sauvignon, thanks to the help of a clever server. We had brought some older wines for the evening, and after they were opened, Justice Ginsburg turned to us and mentioned how much they enjoyed our wine. I thanked her, and congratulated them on their anniversary. We poured them a glass of one of the wines we brought with us – a red Bordeaux — and she remarked that our wine was better. I didn’t argue. Later their check arrived, and we said goodnight to them, as the evening concluded. But as they walked towards the exit, I grabbed a copy of the day’s dinner menu, and handed it to her with my pen, asking for her autograph. She wrote us a lovely note, signed the menu, which I later had framed. It hangs on the wall in my office today, as a constant reminder of this marvelous woman, notable for her intellect, her fairmindedness, and her genial disposition — to say nothing of her taste in Cabernet Sauvignon. It was exhilarating to have met her.
Over the past 20 years we have produced Cabernet Sauvignon only from our Conn Valley Ranch, on the vines Dave Abreu planted for us in 1994 and 1996. We have just begun to ship the 2016 Cabernet Sauvignon ‘Neyers Ranch’, and Dave would be proud of the wine we made from those vines. Planted using 3’ by 6’ spacing, in rows that run east and west parallel to the arc of the sun, the vines are farmed organically and sustainably. Budwood came from the Thorvilas Vineyard that Abreu also manages. This plant material is believed to have originated at Château Margaux. From ten acres of vines, we harvested a total of 25 tons. We think of this wine as one with an especially bright future, and we’re intrigued with its combination of ripe cherry flavors, slight minerality, and an aroma of tobacco leaf. There is an underlying suggestion of chocolate, something I have long appreciated in Napa Valley Cabernet.
February 21, 2019
by Bruce Neyers
|Time Spent with a Legendary Food Scholar
~ by Bruce Neyers
Barbara and I traveled to Lake Tahoe recently on a sales trip planned with our California distributor’s ‘Mountain Man’, Jeremiah Schwartz. Jeremiah is the Sierra resort area’s most respected wine salesman, and I’d been looking forward to working with him for some time. Ski season in northern California usually begins at Christmas, and this year the Tahoe resorts were getting off to an early start with an unseasonably deep snow pack.
Our day promised to be a busy one. Jeremiah planned to begin on Tuesday morning, so we opted to leave home on Monday for the long drive. This allowed time to stop in Sacramento for one of life’s greatest pleasures — a visit to Corti Brothers Grocery Store, arguably the world’s finest source of rare and original foodstuffs. The owner and genius behind Corti Brothers is Darrell Corti, a man whose knowledge is beyond words. Darrell invited us to join him for lunch at one of his favorite Sacramento restaurants, The Waterboy on Capitol Avenue.
We arrived at the store an hour earlier than expected though, as we wanted to spend some time walking through the aisles, searching for treasures. Barbara had just received the Corti Brothers ‘Holiday Season 2018’ brochure, and when I came home and found her standing up in the kitchen reading it, she had already circled ten or eleven items — artichoke hearts in olive oil from Abruzzo, wild rice from Minnesota, air-dried Baccalà from Norway, dried pasta from Trento, fine salt from Japan, and luxurious handmade soap from Liguria. Within an hour after we arrived at the store, we had located all of the circled items on her list, then filled up another cart with breadsticks, prosciutto, fresh fava beans, tomato sauces, olive oil, blood oranges, pistachios, dried salami, an assortment of marmalade, and a selection of biscotti that would rival the greatest bakery in Milano. We had barely made it through half of the store. We had two bags of provisions to take home at the end of our trip, with some black truffles still to be shipped.
Darrell was busy waiting on customers, but as he saw us leaving with our shopping bags, he told us to meet him in the parking lot behind the store. We loaded into his car and headed off to lunch. The Waterboy bills itself as a casual neighborhood restaurant, and once you visit there you’ll wish it was in your neighborhood. The menu is a thoughtful mix of dishes from northern Italy, southern France, and California. The special that day was ‘Pasta e Fagioli’, a traditional Italian soup that often serves as a meal in itself. The restaurant was donating a portion of that day’s proceeds from sales of the soup to victims of the recent northern California wildfires, and each of us ordered it as a starter. It arrived, looking and smelling delicious, and was placed before us amidst a loud chorus of ‘wows’. It’s basically a soup of pasta and beans, in a flavorful broth of olive oil, garlic, herbs and sautéed vegetables. It has been called the most national dish of Italy, as each Italian region has its own, local version. This version was simply delicious. Barbara indicated she’d like to make the soup when we returned home, so I asked Darrell which pasta we should use. He began by explaining that the normal version of Pasta e Fagioli was made with a wide rigatoni called ‘Mezze Maniche’. The soup before us, he went on, was made using ‘Orecchiette’ or ‘little ears’, a pasta more common in southern Italy. This was perfectly fine, Darrell explained, but using ‘ditalini’ or ‘ditaloni’ would have been more consistent with the northern Italy direction of the kitchen. No question Darrell fields gets a casual answer. I bit into the garlic crouton accompanying the soup. Confirming that this was a place where attention to small details is important, it was absolute perfection – crisp yet chewy.
We finished our lunch, said our goodbyes, and headed off to Lake Tahoe. We returned home later in the week with our several bags of gourmet treasures, and Barbara announced that she had located a recipe for the ‘Pasta e Fagioli’. It came from her longtime friend and former Chez Panisse colleague, David Tanis. David now writes a weekly column for the ‘New York Times, and with David’s help, Barbara prepared Pasta e Fagioli, using our Corti Brothers ingredients. It was delicious. I opened a bottle of Neyers Carignan from the ‘Evangelho Vineyard’, a wine I especially like to drink when Barbara is being creative in the kitchen.
Grapes for this wine come from vines more than 140 years-old. They are own-rooted – not grafted on to rootstock — as the soil is too sandy for Phylloxera to live. The crop yield is barely one ton per acre. Tadeo insists on crushing the grapes by foot – no mechanical crushing device is used – and the wine macerates on the skins for 35 to 40 days before we drain the tank and press the skins. It’s a strikingly attractive wine, with a bright ruby color, and an exotic aroma of tropical fruit, mineral and wild plum. Most importantly, it’s soft already, and just as easy to drink by the glass as by the bottle.
By the way, if you don’t already receive the monthly brochure from Corti Brothers, contact them at http://www.cortibrothers.com and ask to be included. It’s a great read.
February 14, 2019
-by Bruce Neyers
Word just arrived that the March 31 issue of the Wine Spectator will include reviews of several California wines produced from traditional southern Rhône grape varieties. We were delighted to learn that our 2017 Sage Canyon Red was one of the highest scoring wines, and received the following review:
“Loaded with personality yet balanced and well-knit, offering lively, floral pomegranate and cherry flavors accented by savory bay leaf and white pepper notes, finishing with snappy tannins. Carignan, Grenache, Mourvèdre and Syrah. Drink now through 2024. 1,575 cases made.” –Tim Fish – Score 91 POINTS
The Neyers 2017 Sage Canyon Red is a blend of 45% Carignan, 25% Grenache, 15% Mourvèdre and 15% Syrah. We retain 100% of the stems during the long skin contact fermentation – using exclusively wild, natural yeast – so the grapes are crushed entirely by foot, using a traditional French ‘Pigeage’. There is no mechanical grape crushing. The new wine is then aged 1 year in 60-gallon French oak barrels. The 2017 may be the finest version to date.
The photo here is of our winery tasting room last spring, with the winery in the background. Both are in the heart of the Sage Canyon region of Napa Valley.