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Neyers Vineyards Bruce's Journal

Dinner with a Napa Valley Pioneer

By Bruce Neyers

Wednesday 5th June, 2024


One of the highlights of this past week was having dinner with Bob Travers, the man who hired me for my first Napa Valley job, Assistant Winemaker at Mayacamas Winery. Bob sold Mayacamas several years ago, and he’s now retired in Saint Helena. He joins us for dinner from time to time, and a meal with him is a special event for both of us.


In October 1971, I had recently been discharged from the Army and was working at Connoisseur Wine Imports in San Francisco. Bob Travers showed up on a Monday morning to deliver a load of wine. The 50-case shipment included 1968 Cabernet Sauvignon, 1969 Chardonnay, and 1968 Zinfandel. This was the largest order of California wine in the store’s history, so my boss suggested I build a floor stack in the front of the store. Bob helped, and when we finished, he invited me to lunch.


Over lunch he talked about the winery and remarked that they were in the midst of harvest. This was an important order for him though, and he wanted to oversee the delivery personally. I had never been to a winery before, and after saying so, he invited me to visit. The upcoming weekend was their annual harvest party. They would pick their oldest block of Cabernet Sauvignon, and later, host an al fresco dinner for the harvesters, friends and employees. He invited us to join them and pick grapes. I could barely contain my glee.


We arrived early on Saturday morning, and at first light we were assigned a row of grapes, given picking knives, and a lug box, which holds about 40 pounds of grapes. Bob showed us how to cut the stem of the grape cluster without crushing the grapes. It was a grand experience. By noon, we were hot and tired, and Bob invited us to sit down for a rustic lunch of sandwiches and chilled rosé. I leaned against a grapevine and gazed off into the distance at the San Francisco Bay and skyline. I must be dreaming, I thought. I looked at Barbara and asked, ‘Wouldn’t it be great to do this for a living?’ She agreed.


We finished picking around 5:00, then after washing up, we devoured our dinner before driving back to our apartment in San Francisco, exhausted, but exhilarated. I spent the next two weeks telling anyone who would listen about my winemaking adventure.


A few weeks later, Bob called. He thanked me for my help, then reported that his assistant had accepted a job offer from another winery. Bob thought I might be interested in the open position. We set a date to meet at the winery for an interview, and I was to bring Barbara and join him and his wife for lunch. A week later he called to offer me the job. My life was changed forever.


While Bob Travers started me on my great adventure in the wine business, his role as a pioneer — making wine in those early days when the Napa Valley was hardly known outside of California — helped establish the reputation we enjoy here today. For our recent dinner with Bob, I brought a bottle of red Bordeaux, a bottle of older Mayacamas Cabernet Sauvignon, and a younger bottle of Neyers Cabernet Sauvignon. All three wines were in perfect shape, delicious and easily drained. Did I have a preference? I rarely do when I drink an assortment of fine wines like this. I learned in those early days of my career that it was more important to identify and enjoy the individual characteristics of each wine, the components that make it singular. Our 2018 Cabernet Sauvignon ‘Neyers Ranch’ is a wine from the fruit grown on the old Cabernet Sauvignon vines that surround our home in Conn Valley. The 2018 vintage was a beautiful, ‘cool weather’ harvest, a year when we picked our Cabernet Sauvignon grapes in mid-October, just as we did that vintage long ago at Mayacamas. The wine is dark and plump, with an attractive aroma of mineral, cedar and cassis. I love the long, complex finish, and the exotic spice component at the end of the tasting cycle. After all of these years, I’m still attracted to fine Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon.


Barbara has tried several versions of this dish, finally settling on this one. Ironically, the lemon zest and herbs make it all the more attractive with a well balanced red wine. This dish is ideal with Cabernet Sauvignon, but I decanted the 2018 Cabernet Sauvignon ‘Neyers Ranch’ just to let it open up a little, rather than separate it from any deposit. If you own an older bottling of our Cabernet Sauvignon, open it as well to examine the differences.


A few nights ago, Barbara cooked a new dish for us, lemon chicken with mushrooms, on a bed of flat noodles and fresh peas. I opened the 2018 Cabernet Sauvignon ‘Neyers Ranch’ to serve with it, along with a bottle from an older vintage. It was a delicious meal, and if you’d like to prepare this dish yourself, the recipe is below.


Lemon Chicken with Mushrooms, Noodles, Herbs and Fresh Peas



    • 4 tablespoons butter or extra virgin olive oil
    • 1 pound white mushrooms, sliced
    • 1 ½ pounds boneless, skinless chicken thighs and chicken breasts, cut into bite-sized pieces
    • 2 tablespoons white flour for dusting the chicken
    • 2 large shallots, diced
    • 2½ cups chicken broth
    • 9 ounces of wide egg noodles for serving
    • ¼ cup crème fraîche
    • 1 cup shelled peas
    • 2 tablespoons chopped chives
    • 1 tablespoon chopped tarragon
    • 3 tablespoons chopped Italian parsley
    • Zest of 2 lemons
    • Diamond Crystal kosher salt and fresh ground pepper




  1. Heat 2 tablespoons of olive oil or butter in a stock pot. When the butter or oil is hot, add the mushrooms. Cook the mushrooms until they have softened. Set the mushrooms aside.
  2. Season the chicken with salt and pepper and dust the chicken with flour.
  3. Add 2 tablespoons of butter or oil to the same stock pot.
  4. When the butter/oil is hot, brown the chicken on all sides. Depending on the size of the pot, you may have to brown the chicken in batches.
  5. Remove chicken from the pot and set aside.
  6. Add shallots to the stock pot and cook over medium heat until softened. Add ½ cup of chicken broth and simmer together.
  7. Return the chicken and 2 cups of chicken broth to the pot. Simmer the chicken until tender.
  8. Once the chicken is tender, raise the heat to high to reduce the liquid by half.
  9. While the liquid is reducing, cook the noodles in salted water according to the directions on the package.
  10. Combine the herbs and lemon zest and set aside.
  11. Add the mushrooms, crème fraîche, and peas to the stew. Continue to reduce the sauce until thick enough to coat a spoon.
  12. Stir in half of the herb mixture.
  13. Drain the noodles and transfer to a warm platter.
  14. Spoon the chicken and sauce on top and sprinkle with more of the herb mixture.
Cabernet Sauvignon vines in our Conn Valley Ranch vineyards are sending out the shoots that will produce the 2024 crop. These vines are now 25 years old, and are at the peak of their lives. The black hose you see connecting each vine is a drip irrigation line, but with over 30″ of rain this season, we don’t expect to need it. Photo by Lizzie Neyers Mix

Lemon Chicken with Mushrooms, Noodles, Herbs and Fresh Peas

2018 Neyers Ranch Cabernet Sauvignon

We have now begun to disc our vineyards, removing weeds so they don’t interfere with the vine’s ability to draw water from the ground. Given the rainfall this year, we are discing only every other row, leaving behind some weeds to be mown. Those weeds will continue to draw water from the ground, reducing the amount of water available to the vines. Photo by Lizzie Neyers Mix

Roses are a vineyards best friend, and we have them planted in many spots around our property in Conn Valley. It’s always a delight to see the first rose of the season, and that award this year goes to the Chicago Peace Rose Barbara planted along the walkway on the south side of our house. It’s refreshing to look at every morning as we leave home for the office.