May 19, 2020
by Bruce Neyers
Chuy Ordaz at work in his vineyard
I started working for Joe Phelps in March of 1975. He hired me as the National Sales Manager, then gave me a job description that was three pages long, covering everything from laboratory analysis to visitor tastings. The next 17 years were the ride of a lifetime, but looking back on them today, I can’t help but feel a touch of nostalgia.
Joe lived in Colorado then, and he would fly to California every Monday morning, pick up the car he kept at his construction company’s regional office, then drive to the winery. He’d normally arrive around 5:00 or so, and I’d wait around for him. We’d meet in the office for an hour or two, then he’d invite Barbara and me out to dinner with him. Later in the week, we’d return the hospitality, and ask him to our house for dinner. He enjoyed the home-cooking, and we would try wines from my cellar. One of my favorite meals was sautéed breaded chicken breasts, a dish Barbara had learned to cook from a restaurant friend. Joe liked it enough to occasionally ask Barbara to prepare it. Before long we began to call the dish ‘Joe’s Chicken’. I still like it so much I ask for it on my birthday. I would always serve it with a red Burgundy. After dinner in those days, we’d sit up late into the evening — Joe talking to me about business, while we talked about Burgundy.
The dish is best when it’s prepped two days in advance, so we don’t have it often. Barbara made it last week, though, and it wasn’t even a special occasion. I asked her to write down the recipe, and after looking at it, I thought to myself ‘Something this delicious should be more complicated’! I still love French Burgundy as much as ever, and since we were being joined by our daughter Lizzie, I brought out a special bottle that night. I also opened a bottle of 2017 Pinot Noir ‘Placida Vineyard’ for comparison.
The success of Pinot Noir from California is the wine story of the last 30 years. I drink our Neyers Pinot Noir often, and try to serve one whenever I open a serious red Burgundy. The Pinot Noir ‘Placida Vineyard’ is a wine from grapes grown on the Russian River parcel that Chuy Ordaz planted 15 years ago, using ‘Heirloom’ budwood from the original Joseph Swan vineyard in Forestville. I was amazed at how Burgundian the Placida Vineyard bottling was. I wasn’t amazed — but I was really pleased — at how delicious the Sautéed Chicken Breasts were.
I couldn’t help noticing that after we’d eaten everything, the bottle of Placida Pinot Noir was empty, while the bottle of red Burgundy – a pretty consequential one – was half full. To my mind, Tadeo’s 2017 Placida Vineyard bottling is a great success, and a testament to his skills as a talented and gifted winemaker. It displays the irresistible combination of voluptuous fruit and complex minerality that defines all fine Pinot Noir. It’s soft and delicate too, and immediately attractive. It reminds me of some of the memorable bottles of red Burgundy I’ve enjoyed over the years.
I don’t get to eat those delicious Sautéed Chicken Breasts often, and I don’t often run across a Pinot Noir that I like this much either, so I’ll continue to act on both when the opportunity comes along. I only wish Joe Phelps were still here to enjoy both with me. I could use a little bit of his salty advice right now.
Breaded Chicken Breasts
4 boneless, skinless chicken breasts pounded thin
½ cup of flour
½ cup fresh sourdough breadcrumbs
½ cup grated Italian Parmesan cheese
5 tablespoons olive oil
Kosher salt and fresh ground pepper
Lemon wedges for serving
In a shallow dish whisk eggs together with 1 tablespoon olive oil. In another shallow dish put flour.
In a third dish combine the breadcrumbs and grated Parmesan cheese.
Coat each chicken breast with flour, shaking off excess. Dip the chicken in the egg mixture, and then dip in the breadcrumbs and Parmesan mixture turning twice and pat so the mixture adheres to the chicken.
At this point you can refrigerate the chicken breasts and cook the next day.
Put remaining olive oil in a cast-iron skillet and cook the chicken over medium heat until chicken is browned. Approximately 4 minutes a side. Adjust heat as necessary during cooking.
Salt and pepper chicken before serving.
Serve chicken on a platter garnished with lemon wedges.