June 24, 2020
by Bruce Neyers
‘Wines of France’ by Alexis Lichine
Sheltering down over the past few months has given us all time to reflect on our past. My mind has certainly wandered back over my career in the wine business and the serendipitous circumstances that started me on my way.
In April 1969, I was 22, a recent college graduate, a relatively new husband, and a freshly commissioned Second Lieutenant reporting for duty as platoon leader at a guided missile base a few miles south of the DMZ, just outside of the ancient city of Chuncheon, South Korea. Ours was reputed to be the most remote and vulnerable location of American troops in South Korea.
Bruce Neyers, South Korea – circa 1969
The work was tedious, and after a month or so, it had become almost routine. Barbara decided to travel there so we’d be closer. That was the start of a great adventure. She rented a house in Chuncheon, and we met on weekends. The local military installation, Camp Page, had a modest officer’s club where we enjoyed dinner together. Our Battalion supply office – a career Warrant Officer we all called ‘Chief’ — joined us one night and suggested we have some wine. I wondered where he could possibly find a bottle of wine, but he was resourceful, and was soon pouring me a glass of Châteauneuf du Pape. I learned that he was friendly with the head of the 7th Army officer’s club in Seoul – where all the American top brass dined – and he had access to their wine cellar. Soon, we were eating with the ‘Chief’ every week, and he brought along a nice bottle of wine each time. Time sped by, and in May 1970, I was assigned to the Presidio of San Francisco. At our final dinner with ‘Chief’, he handed me a package – a used copy of Wines of France by Alexis Lichine. Originally published in 1951, this was the Fourth Edition, revised in 1964. It’s a treasure I’ve kept to this day.
We returned to San Francisco in May 1970, and while we had missed the ‘Summer of Love’, it soon became apparent that we were in time for the ‘Summer of Food & Wine’. Barbara worked teaching school, and I reported to another guided missile unit. In our spare time, we went to restaurants, visited wineries, and shopped at fine wine shops. Barbara, meanwhile, absorbed Julia Child’s PBS cooking show, The French Chef. In January 1971 I was discharged.
Twenty years later – after stints in the Napa Valley, West Germany, and Joseph Phelps Vineyards – we were about to harvest the first crop from the vines we’d planted on the Conn Valley ranch we bought in 1984. I went to work for Kermit Lynch, to set up a national distribution for his wines, realizing my life’s dream. I was living in the Napa Valley, growing grapes and making wine, and at the same time importing and selling French and Italian wine.
Kermit was a specialist in wines from the south of France. I developed a fondness for these wines too and began to move the winery in the direction of the red wines from these regions. Our breakthrough came in 2010 when Tadeo produced our first Rhône variety blend, a wine made from Carignan, Grenache, Mourvèdre and Syrah. We named it Sage Canyon Red. When we bottled it the following year, we also bottled a small amount of each of the individual components. The project was a great success. Now, a decade later the 2018 release is one of the best examples of our work to date.
The 2018 Sage Canyon Red is a blend of 50% Carignan, from vines believed to be 140 years old. To it we’ve added 20% Mourvèdre (these vines are 125 years old), 25% Grenache, and 5% Syrah. The grapes come from several locations, ranging from the Sierra foothills, the Sacramento River delta, southern Sonoma Valley, and the Santa Lucia Highlands. They are all harvested by hand, inspected on a sorting table with stems left intact, crushed by foot using a traditional French pigeage, then fermented for 45–60 days with native wild yeast. The finished wine is aged in neutral 60-gallon French oak barrels for one year, then bottled, with neither fining nor filtration. In Wines of France, Lichine refers to the best wines of southern France as “… sturdy, full-bodied with outstanding flavor.” The people, he says, are “… warm-blooded, with a spirit nowhere reflected more brightly than in the wines they make.”
I learned to love these wines, drinking them 50 years ago, in the officer’s club in Chuncheon, South Korea. I couldn’t be happier with our version of them now.
Neyers 2018 Rhône varietals are available!
2018 Sage Canyon Red
2018 Carignan, Evangelho Vineyard
2018 Mourvèdre, Evangelho Vineyard
2018 Grenache, Deering Vineyard
2018 Syrah, Garys’ Vineyard
Find these Rhône beauties here.