April 26, 2021
By Bruce Neyers
Toni’s Cabernet Sauvignon parcel before mowing cover crop. Growth was lower this year as we had less than 10 inches of rainfall compared to the normal of 36 inches.
It’s spring in the Napa Valley, and the season brings with it both new growth in the vines, and a flurry of activity in the vineyards. At Neyers Ranch, we farm sustainably, so we plant a cover crop every year to replace nutrients removed by the previous year’s growth. After several months, that cover crop – a combination of wheat, oats, barley, peas, and vetch – has normally grown to a height of two feet or more, so our first spring project is to go through the vineyards and mow the cover crop.
The mower is followed by a tractor with a spader that mulches the freshly cut vegetation, along with the lignified remains from our winter pruning. At Neyers Vineyards, we don’t have much pruning wood to mulch as the bulk of it is removed by hand, then trimmed to fireplace length – 24 inches or so – then tied in bundles about 12 inches in diameter. They’re great to cook over, and most of ours go to my former colleague Kermit Lynch and his son Anthony, who use them in either a fireplace or outdoor grill. A few Bay Area restaurants have used them as well.
After the cover crop has been mowed and mulched, we make a third pass in the vineyard row with a heavy steel disc, the modern version of a traditional plow. This device ensures that everything on the surface gets worked into the soil, while breaking up dirt clods and leveling the ground.
Our focus now is on the two parcels adjacent to the creek that flows through our ranch. These vines produce the grapes that go into the Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon blend we call Left Bank Red, and are the first to flower every year. Some 2018 Left Bank Red remains available for sale, and it’s possibly the finest example of this wine we’ve produced to date. I love the exotic combination of wild cherry flavors – what the French call ‘Griotte’ – and the subtle chocolate undertone that accompanies it. It’s a soft wine, smooth, and complex, with a delightfully long and complete finish. It has a remarkable similarity to some wines from the Saint Julien area of Bordeaux. I compare it to Château Gloria, in part because of the similar blend and the deep, gravel soil found in both vineyards. It pairs well with a wide range of springtime dishes. A bottle of it was ideal with Barbara’s fried chicken last weekend.
This is our 50th season of growing grapes and making wine in the Napa Valley. Each year has presented us with a unique set of challenges and opportunities, and at the same time given us the unparalleled satisfaction of devoting our lives to this business. It promises to be yet another beautiful year here in the Napa Valley, so as travel grows less restricted, try to find time to visit us at the winery. We’d enjoy the chance to taste some handcrafted wines from Neyers Vineyards with you.
Hill Merlot parcel after mowing.
Hill Cabernet Sauvignon parcel after spading.
Toni’s Cabernet Sauvignon parcel after discing.
Victor on narrow-body New Holland tractor with Domries Disc and ring roller.
Wisteria vines blooming at the winery are a sure sign that spring is here.