November 17, 2016
…An Insider’s Look at the American Wildflower Foundation,
A Primer on Zinfandel, and Thoughts on the Dinosaurs – by Bruce Neyers
My son Mike was home one night recently, and I solicited his help finding some old bottles in my wine cellar. It’s not a difficult chore, but reaching the bottles in hard-to-get-to places requires someone more agile than me. He picked up a bottle hidden away in a corner rack, and remarked that it caught his interest because it was signed. Who signed it, he asked? I looked at the bottle, saw the inscription, and thought back to that wonderful day – almost 30 years ago – when I had lunch with Lady Bird Johnson.
I worked at Joseph Phelps Vineyards at the time, and it was common for us to allow groups to visit the winery for private events, then use the opportunity to sell them some wine. The Wine Institute had asked us to host a lunch for a group of visitors traveling to the Napa Valley on a tour scheduled by the American Wildflower Foundation. We arranged for a caterer to prepare the meal, and worked out the details with the person in charge of the group. One wrinkle – while minor – did concern me: there would be a pre-lunch presentation by a University of California Professor named Walter Alvarez. I wondered how his topic — The Theory of the Extinction of the Dinosaurs — could be tied to a wine sale, especially to a group of wildflower enthusiasts, but stranger things have happened. The morning of the event I received another surprise when the trip organizer called to tell me that Lady Bird Johnson was joining them. Lady Bird, it turned out, was a founder of the Texas Wildflower Center, and much of her work over the years had involved promoting the awareness of and appreciation for wildflowers. She and her longtime friend, former press secretary Liz Carpenter, would be part of the group. I was eager to meet them both.
The group arrived promptly as scheduled. Lady Bird, not surprisingly, had a private escort, but I would have never suspected that she was anything other than a wildflower enthusiast. She was more petite than I imagined, casually dressed, lively, and strikingly attractive. She held my arm as we took the stone walkway to the back of the winery. It was a beautiful, early-spring day, and it crossed my mind that with the mustard and lupine showing at their finest just as the new vine shoots were beginning to emerge, we were surrounded by a bit of wildflower nirvana. The group, about 25 of them, was seated on wooden benches, looking off the west-facing deck. I began with some introductory remarks. A sentence or two into my welcome, though, Lady Bird interrupted me. Mr. Neyers, she said in her slow but polite drawl, this view is absolutely delicious. She spoke those last two words as if each had 8 or 9 syllables. I’m sure a blush of pride covered my face. I thanked her, but I remember saying something about not having had much to do with the view. It was the wine for which I was responsible, and with that comment one of my colleagues began to serve everyone a pre-lunch glass of chilled Chardonnay. I had started to describe the wine when Lady Bird interrupted me again. Mr. Neyers, she asked, do you have Zinfandel? I paused for a moment, mulling over my reply, and deciding to take the path of least resistance: Why yes Ma’am we do. I’ll have a bottle brought right out. Oh thank you, Mr. Neyers, she said. I just love Zinfandel. A tray of red-wine glasses soon appeared, and Lady Bird, along with one or two of the others, took a glass of the Zinfandel. I talked for a few more minutes, and we went inside to the large oval table that had been set for lunch. I hadn’t planned to join them, but Lady Bird took me by the arm again and maneuvered me to a seat on the side of the table next to her. She then motioned to Liz Carpenter to take the seat on the other side of me. She directed Walter Alvarez to the seat at the head of the table. He will want to stand up when he talks, Lady Bird said, and this is the best place to watch him. As soon as everyone was seated, Professor Alvarez stood up, introduced himself, and held up two rocks, each about the size of a baseball. These rocks, he said, were part of the proof behind the Alvarez Hypothesis. He then went on to talk for the next hour about the Cretaceous Period, the extinction of the dinosaurs, which he believed was caused by a giant asteroid striking the earth, and how a group of scientists he headed (along with his Nobel Prize-winning father) had developed this theory through several years of geological studies that measured variations in the level of iridium in the earth’s crust. We had a chance to examine the rock samples in detail as Alvarez explained how the one rich in iridium differed from the other, and how iridium was rarely found naturally in the earth’s crust but regularly found in asteroids. When he was finished, I felt like the smartest man in the world.
Alvarez took his seat amidst exuberant applause – especially given it was a wildflower conference – and lunch began. Our server poured Lady Bird some Cabernet Sauvignon, and this time I didn’t wait for her to comment. Would you prefer Zinfandel, Ma’am, I asked. Why yes, Bruce, I would. As I said, I just love Zinfandel. When my colleague brought some additional wine, she handed me an unopened bottle — along with a pen — and said, Maybe we could get Mrs. Johnson to autograph this bottle. I offered it to Lady Bird and asked for her autograph, to which she said, I’ll just sign it To Bruce. Will that be OK? And so I ended up on a first name basis with a former First Lady, and a signed bottle of wine for my son to discover 28 years later. I’m also sort of an authority about asteroids and the extinction of the dinosaurs.
We’re now offering the 2015 Zinfandel ‘Vista Luna Vineyard’ at Neyers. It’s a wine made from fruit grown on heirloom vines farmed by Markus Bokisch. They’re planted in the quartz-laden soil of the Sierra foothills, in the AVA Borden Ranch. It’s bright, polished and flavorful, with a lovely finish of berries and mineral. I would have been proud to serve it to Lady Bird.
October 11, 2016
Last Friday’s New York Times column from Eric Asimov covered his look into the world of California Grenache, a grape seen by some as ‘Humble’:
Neyers in the New York Times
“Grenache can make superb wines in diverse places. It can achieve magnificence in the stony and sandy soils of Châteauneuf, in France, and in the slate of Priorat, in Spain… Grenache is a main constituent of humble but satisfying wines made all over the south of France and Mediterranean Spain.
In California, older Grenache producers have always made balanced wines, even if their styles were not celebrated. They are now being joined by younger producers who, like them, see wine’s place as on the table rather than in a cocktail bar.
In pursuit of a better understanding of the state of California Grenache today, our wine panel recently tasted 20 bottles from vintages ranging from 2012 to 2015. It was a fascinating tasting with a real diversity of styles among the 20 bottles.
Our top bottle, the 2014 Neyers Vineyards from Rossi Ranch in Sonoma Valley, was also a great value, at $33. This wine, just 13.6 alcohol, was fresh, floral and beautifully balanced with a spine of minerality and luscious flavors of red fruit. It’s not so easy to make a serious wine of Grenache under 14 percent, although the Neyers proves it can be done.”
Tasting California Grenache
★★★ NEYERS SONOMA VALLEY 2014 GRENACHE ROSSI RANCH
Fresh, floral, balanced and delicious, with flavors of red fruit and a strong vein of earthy minerality.
The entire piece by Eric can be viewed here: http://nyti.ms/2d6q5w8
We’ve spent years working with ‘Humble’ grapes here at Neyers Vineyards, and if my experience has taught me anything, it’s that well tended grape vines planted on interesting soils can – with inspired winemaking — produce great wines.
If you haven’t experienced the great ‘Humble’ wines of Neyers Vineyards, do yourself a favor and look at these, all currently in stock:
2014 Carignan ‘Evangelho Vineyard’ – $35/bottle
2015 Mourvedre ‘Evangelho Vineyard’ – $35/bottle
2015 Sage Canyon Red – $26/bottle
(A blend of Carignan, Grenache, Mourvedre and Syrah)
Order Wine Here
September 28, 2016
When I first visited Tewksbury Fine Wine, I was amazed by the number of wines they stocked that I regularly buy. It’s a small but well appointed neighborhood wine shop, and I just loved the fact that they had selected a half-dozen Neyers Vineyards wines and included them alongside wines from many of my favorite producers.
In their latest flyer, they list Neyers Merlot as one of three wine selections of the week. They do a great job of telling our story, and I thought you might enjoy reading it as well:
“About the Winery
In 1999, Bruce and Barbara purchased and renovated a winery on a thirty-acre parcel in the Sage Canyon area of Napa Valley. Over the next 14 months they built their modern, highly functional winery designed for traditional winemaking practices. They produced their first vintage in this state of the art facility in 2000.
Just two short years later in 2002, Wine and Spirits Magazine named Neyers Vineyards the Artisan Winery of the Year. About 25% of production is Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon grown on their 50-acre Conn Valley ranch.
Neyers Vineyards sits in the heart of the Napa Valley, but Bruce’s experience with French wine importer Kermit Lynch has had a clear influence on their wines. Their barrels, for example, are made in France, from oak that is bought in bulk and air dried for three years — two years longer than normal. All of the grapes are picked by hand, into small bins that hold only one-half ton. They are then laboriously hand sorted and inspected again at the winery before fermentation begins.
About the Wine
The Merlot comes entirely from their Conn Valley ranch in the Bordeaux inspired vineyards surrounding their home. The combination of a cordon-pruned, vertical-trellis system on a tightly spaced planting grid serves to keep yields low and quality high.
The vineyard is planted to a traditional mix of Merlot, Cabernet Franc and Cabernet Sauvignon. With harvesting low yields at optimum ripeness, then fermenting for 30 days or more to ensure maximum extraction of color and flavor, greater complexity invariably results.
The wines are aged with as little intervention as possible, and bottled with neither fining nor filtration, using a state of the art mobile bottling line. No expense has been spared in grape growing, winemaking, or processing equipment, yet the wines represent great value in today’s highly competitive wine market.”
We are currently sold out of the final commercial bottling of Neyers Merlot, the 2013 Merlot ‘Neyers Ranch’. In the future, our entire production of Merlot will be blended with the Cabernet Sauvignon grown in the adjacent parcel called Toni’s Vineyard to create a Bordeaux-style blend we call Left Bank Red. Both vineyards are planted on gravelly soil blocks on the left bank of Conn Creek.
We still have available some magnums of previous vintages of Neyers Ranch Merlot:
2006 Merlot ‘Neyers Ranch’ – $75/magnum
2 bottles available2010 Merlot ‘Neyers Ranch’ – $85/magnum
24 bottles available
2011 Merlot ‘Neyers Ranch’ – $95/magnum
3 bottles available
1994 Merlot ‘Neyers Ranch – $900/3 Liter bottle
1 bottle available
September 20, 2016
The designation of MS or Master Sommelier is one of the most coveted titles in the world of wine today. Few have passed the rigorous exam necessary for the recognition, and those that have are among the most respected in our business.
Chuck Furuya received this award more than 20 years ago when there were only a handful in the world. He continues as an industry leader today in his roles as restaurateur, wine buyer, writer, and consultant.
His recent comments about Neyers Vineyards from one of the several publications that carry his work are copied below:
Comments from Chuck Furuya, MS
‘We truly believe Neyers is producing some of the very best wines in California today!!! The quality and mojo is definitely in the bottle. What makes them even more remarkable is that while it is hard to find wineries who can do ONE grape variety well, here is a winery that produces wines of standout quality from at least SEVEN grape varieties! I have true admiration and respect for how Bruce and Barbara Neyers passionately believe in heirloom/heritage grapevines and sustainable farming, and bring their artisanal, ‘Old World’ approach to winemaking. In short, they do it all the right way, from farming to winemaking.
2015 Neyers “Sage Canyon Red”
While Bruce Neyers tells the story how he and winemaker Tadeo Borchardt set out to grow and produce a Châteauneuf-du-Pape-like red wine, I think this Carignane based (140 year-old vines) wine is more like the wines from southern France’s revolutionary winemaker, Maxime Magnon of Corbières. Traditional production techniques include crushing by foot and wild yeast fermentation. There is absolute deliciousness here.’
Thanks Chuck! We love being compared to our hero Maxime Magnon. We have learned a much from Maxime over the years, and a lot of that knowledge has found its way into our Sage Canyon Red, a blend of 45% Old Vine Carignan, 25% Grenache, 15% Mourvèdre and 15% Syrah. It’s a striking wine that does much to explain the connection between our old world winemaking practices and new world grape vines.
2015 Sage Canyon Red – $26/bottle
September 13, 2016
Andrew Lanpasone’s Wine Watch in Ft. Lauderdale, FL has for many years been a bellwether wine shop, always ahead of the curve, always a little savvier than the competition. We were flattered – honored really – to have our Carneros District Chardonnay selected by Andrew and his team as one of their Top Ten Wines of the Year. It’s a great honor for us, and a sign of great judgment for them!
Here’s what they had to say:
The Neyers Chardonnay Carneros
Their bread and butter wine; there is 25% new barrel here and the grapes are sourced from three different vineyard sites. Has a good amount of ripe tropical fruit on the nose with hints of lightly toasted oak spice, a touch of vanilla and nutmeg. A fruit-forward California Chardonnay with a nice hand of lightly toasted oak, with good freshness and balance on the finish; not a blockbuster style but has lovely balance and a nice touch of oak. Finish 40 + Excellent +
Our 2014 Carneros District Chardonnay is now available. You’re going to love it.
2014 Chardonnay ‘Carneros District’ – $30/bottle
August 31, 2016
Probably our best ever Mourvèdre
Our Mourvèdre vineyards are all very old — more than 120 years old to be precise — and they have taken a beating with the five consecutive years of drought here in California. We’ve been able to make a wonderful wine every year, but in 2015 — probably our best ever Mourvèdre — we had less than half of what was the normal tiny harvest. From that vintage, we now have only 30 cases of wine remaining, and it promises to be a Mourvèdre for the ages. Let us know if you’d like to reserve some of these final bottles.
August 24, 2016
Now this is a difficult connection to make, but it’s an important one, so stay with me please.
I attended a dinner a few weeks ago, here in the Napa Valley, where Barbara and I were included with a group of – I thought – like-minded winery owners. All were assembled to show their wines to one another. Basically it turned out to be a get-together of Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon producers, and as usual I was the odd man out.
I brought along my 2014 Carignan ‘Evangelho Vineyard’, and near the end of the evening opened it and passed it around, with more than a little bit of pride. After all, this is the same wine that my hero Maxime Magnon pronounced as equal to any Carignan he could recall tasting from France. It’s a wine that we at Neyers are proud of beyond description, and to me it stands as a great example of the potential and the realization we find working with the classic terroir of California.
One proprietor – a stranger to me actually – looked at me a little puzzled, and remarked that I must be crazy to make Carignan in the Napa Valley. I thought of Edgar Allen Poe, and some of the crazy characters I’ve met through him. Perhaps I am. Then this morning an e-mail came in from Rick Lilley, wine manager at Twelfth Street Grill in Honolulu, a restaurant with one of the most creative and selective programs in the world. Every one in the business works hard to get on Rick’s wine list. Neyers Vineyards had eight wines on that list – more than any other single winery – until this morning, that is, when Rick wrote me about the Evangelho Carignan:
‘Damn-it man! This is delicious!!! It finally arrived Thursday so I let it rest for a couple nights. Wanted to make sure I could sample without any shipment issues… well worth the wait my friend. Extraordinary effort here. I’ll need some for the list. Please pass along my compliments to Tadeo as well.’
No, we’re not crazy at Neyers Vineyards. To the contrary, taking on a mission like producing America’s most noteworthy Carignan is a project that is close to my heart. Little but important victories like this keep us moving in that direction. We still have a few cases of our 2014 Carignan ‘Evangelho’ available. If you haven’t tried it yet – or introduced it to your friends – you are missing an important chapter in your book.
This wine is made from grapes grown on vines that are 140 years old! All grapes are crushed by foot, not by machine, in order to avoid breaking stems.
2014 Carignan ‘Evangelho Vineyard’ – $35/bottle
August 9, 2016
The tale behind this wine dates back to my first California trip with Daniel Brunier. You may recognize him as the owner and winemaker of Domaine Vieux Télégraphe, the Châteauneuf du Pape that many refer to as the most legendary wine of the southern Rhône. Daniel and I travel together frequently and he loves America and things American, including the wines of California.
During a trip 15 years ago we spent a day traveling through the Central Valley. Daniel was amazed at the endless sea of vineyards, and was especially taken by what was obviously a significant amount of old vines. ‘You should find some old vineyards planted to historical southern Rhône varieties,’ he said, ‘And I’ll help you make a traditional Rhône-style wine from them.’
The search took several years, but it paid off when in 2007 Tadeo found a block of 130 year-old Carignan vines in Oakley. We had already discovered some Grenache from Borden Ranch, along with Mourvèdre from Sonoma County and Syrah from Santa Lucia Highlands. All four wines were made as separate varietals at our Sage Canyon winery, but when blended together we knew we had something special.
The whole was far greater than the sum of its parts.
One drawback, however, was that we had no opportunity to label the finished wine as a variety, or even as a regional blend, coming as it did from four separate regions in northern California. Instead we opted to name it after the location of our winery which is in the Sage Canyon area of the Napa Valley.
After more than a decade of work, several trials, a few errors, and even a little bit of heartbreak, we’ve honed our techniques to produce this wine which seems to have captured the imagination of most who taste it.
The wine is a blend of four wines, each produced using the traditional Rhône process of ‘Pigeage’ where all of the grapes are crushed by foot, not by machine. Each wine ferments separately, and when complete we drain and press the tank, rack the new wine to used 60-gallon French oak barrels, then let the wine age on the lees for a year before blending.
We then bottle, unfined and unfiltered. The finished wine is complex and old-worldly, a blend of 45% Carignan (vines are 140 years-old), 25% Grenache, 15% Mourvèdre and 15% Syrah. There’s earth and mineral along with some wildly exotic fruit, and an attractive soft finish. We’ve regularly heard it referred to as the best example of an old-world blend made today in California. We think it’s at least that.
2015 Sage Canyon Red – $26/bottle
July 26, 2016
In her recent San Francisco Chronicle piece on the Evangelho Vineyard, wine editor Esther Mobley fashioned another of her timely California grape history studies, this one around the old-vine parcels in Contra Costa County farmed by the Evangelho family in Oakley.
As important as these vines have been to the emerging history of the California Winemaking tradition, we owe a huge debt of gratitude to Esther for her research and reporting. Her comments about the Neyers Mourvèdre were, I thought, particularly insightful.
Neyers Mourvèdre ‘Evangelho Vineyard’, Contra Costa County – Winemaker Tadeo Borchardt maintains plenty of the vineyard’s characteristic bramble – blackberry, plum, dried currant – but weaves it through a satiny, seamless mouthfeel. Densely packed with black fruit, there’s a hint of old leather on the mid-palate, and a bright lift at the end.
This was about the 2012 Mourvèdre, but my friend Daniel Ravier of Domaine Tempier would be proud to see how far we’ve come.
We just bottled the 2015 Neyers Vineyards Mourvèdre ‘Evangelho Vineyard’, and given the low yield and the long, even growing season, I’m happy to report that it is as good as anything we’ve yet produced from these magnificent grapes.
Five consecutive years of drought have had an impact on these 130 year-old vines, but the small crop they yielded produced a wine that will be a valuable companion for many years to come. It’s rich and complex, but with a fascinating rustic side that combines minerality with exotic fruit flavors, along with that trademark long, soft finish.
2015 Mourvèdre ‘Evangelho Vineyard’ – $35/bottle
July 12, 2016
Borden Ranch is a tiny Sierra foothills AVA approved by the BATF in 1995, largely on the strength of its combination of rocky soil and uncharacteristically cool climate. It sits in the northwestern corner of Calaveras County, at the base of the Sierra Nevada Range, in an outcropping of hard rock – mostly quartz and granite – brought to the surface during the formation of the mountain range several million years ago. This rocky base serves to reduce vigor in the vines, and provides a host of mineral components to the vines that will later influence flavors in the finished wine.
Moreover, the vineyard is planted to an heirloom selection of Zinfandel, so the clusters are small, and ripen evenly. This latter factor allows us to harvest the fruit at low sugar levels and still attain ideal fruit maturity. You don’t have to wade through a lot of alcohol to get to the heart of the wine. Moreover, while much of this part of California’s Central Valley simmers at high temperatures during the growing season, the climate at Borden Ranch is relatively cool – sometimes downright chilly – as a result of the brisk, westerly winds set in motion by a phenomenon known as the ‘Sierra Rotor’. The net result here is a Zinfandel from fully ripe grapes, loaded with flavor and low in alcohol.
I don’t know that there is any other place in California so well suited to the production of traditionally made Zinfandel, produced as our forebears intended.
We harvested the grapes in early September at 23.0 Brix, de-stemmed the fruit in our Delta grape de-stemmer, pumped the must to a chilled stainless steel tank, then, after warming the tank slightly, allowed the grapes to ferment naturally using the native yeast trapped on the skins. The must was macerated for 45 days or so, drained and pressed, then racked into 60-gallon used French oak barrels.
We aged the wine on its lees for six months, then bottled without fining or filtration in early July. The Neyers Vista Luna Zinfandel engages me primarily because of its grace and charm. At a finished alcohol level that is barely 14%, it provides plenty of satisfaction, without the hot, alcoholic finish. Here’s a chance to get acquainted with Zinfandel as it tasted before the days of ‘muscle wines’.
2015 Zinfandel ‘Vista Luna’ – $26/bottle