Neyers Vineyards

Bruce's Journal

May 9, 2018

South Korea, Sage Canyon Red and Châteauneuf du Pape: How it all began

By Bruce Neyers

In my Junior year at the University of Delaware I signed up for ROTC, so when I graduated in June of 1968, I was commissioned as a Second Lieutenant, then called to active duty in January 1969. I spent several months in Guided Missile School in El Paso, Texas, then was assigned to a unit in South Korea. I traveled first to Chuncheon, a beautiful, ancient city of 10,000 people located about 75 miles northeast of Seoul. From there I was sent another 50 miles northeast, to Missile Site Delta, on a mountaintop about a mile south of the DMZ. It was the most remote American troop position in the country. Assignment to Korea was a hardship tour, so families were not allowed to accompany servicemen. Barbara listened to the rules, then heeded the advice of her father – an Air Force General – and traveled there anyway. Two months after I arrived, she flew to Seoul and joined me. With the help of a friendly Sergeant and his Korean wife, we rented an American-style house in Chuncheon. We couldn’t live together, though, as I needed to return to my base for duty. Our first night we went to the officer’s club at nearby Camp Page for what would be our last dinner together for a while, and I left Chuncheon the next morning. A month later I was able to return, and by then the house was unrecognizable. It had been thoroughly cleaned, elaborately decorated with local artifacts, and comfortably furnished courtesy of our neighbors. Barbara had sublet a bedroom to a young woman named Younghi — a student attending a local girl’s college — who was invaluable to us. They hired a housekeeper who looked after every detail of our new home and Barbara’s new life. That night, we walked the short distance to Camp Page and once again went to the officer’s club for dinner. As we were about to be seated, the affable voice of Chief Warrant Officer Walter Reddick rang out: ‘Can I join you kids (we were both 23) for dinner,’ the chief asked? As the only American woman in a town that housed over 1000 soldiers, Barbara was already a bit of a celebrity, so I wasn’t surprised to have company. Chief Reddick was a likable career soldier, and a welcome dinner companion. Warrant Officers occupy an imprecise middle ground in the army, between Non-Commissioned Officers (Sergeants) and Commissioned Officers, but each one is normally a unit’s most knowledgeable authority in a specialty, giving them an enviable degree of independence. Mr. Reddick was the Battalion Supply Chief, and no one knew more about military supply. We were seated at a booth in the rear of the club, away from the crowded bar, and as Barbara and I looked over the menu Mr. Reddick asked, ‘Would you like some wine with dinner?’ I was puzzled by how he expected to get a bottle of wine in Chuncheon, but the mystery was solved when our Korean waiter approached us. Mr. Reddick gave him a long chain of keys and said, ‘Go down to my wine cellar, Mr. Park, and get a bottle of Châteauneuf du Pape. Get the same wine we had last week with the Colonel.’ Mr. Park turned and left the club. A few minutes later he returned, clutching the still chilly bottle of red wine. He opened it like an experienced server, and handed it to Chief Reddick who poured us each a glass. It was delicious with my steak dinner, and I suddenly acquired a new interest. A few months later, I was promoted to First Lieutenant, and was transferred from the mountaintop outpost to Camp Page, where I was put in command of HQ Battery, and permitted to live off base with Barbara. Barbara in the meantime had become even more important to the community, teaching English to the wives of local politicians and businessmen. She volunteered at the local community center, taught Math at Younghi’s school, and even took Tae Kwon Do lessons at a local martial arts studio. On Saturday nights we would join Chief Reddick at the officer’s club for dinner and another wine experience. One day the Chief gave me a dog-eared copy of Alexis Lichine’s ‘The Wines of France’. I read it repeatedly and constantly asked him questions about French wines, many of which we enjoyed together. The long Korean winter eventually gave way to spring, and my 13 month tour came to an end. At our going-away party, Barbara was presented with an honorary award for having survived her experience as a civilian in Chuncheon. With dinner, Chief Reddick poured us a glass of Châteauneuf du Pape. I learned that I was assigned to The Presidio of San Francisco, and we prepared to move on with our lives. I was determined to learn more about wine.

 

Eight months later I was discharged from the army and went to work for a small wine company in San Francisco. Soon after, we moved to the Napa Valley. Eventually we started our own winery, and decided to produce a Châteauneuf du Pape-styled wine from California grapes. We call it Sage Canyon Red, and it’s made from Carignan, Grenache, Mourvèdre and Syrah. It has quickly developed a large and enthusiastic following. We crush these grapes by foot — a French technique called ‘Pigeage’ designed to keep the stems from being broken during fermentation. We work with low-yielding old vines, and have successfully combined traditional winemaking with new world knowledge. Neyers Sage Canyon Red is a remarkable wine, and we’d like you to experience it. It’s really delicious.

 

2016 Sage Canyon Red

A blend of 45% Carignan, 25% Grenache, 15% Mourvèdre and 15% Syrah

 

May 9, 2018

April 25, 2018

The 2016 Left Bank Red from Neyers Vineyards: Good news from The Wine Enthusiast

by Bruce Neyers

Our 2016 Left Bank Red is a blend of 50% Cabernet Sauvignon and 50% Merlot. Both vineyards are planted in the gravelly soil at the south end of our Conn Valley ranch, on the left bank of Conn Creek as it flows through our property on its way from the top of Howell Mountain to the Napa River in Rutherford. The soil profile from a recent well drilling has shown the gravel deposit on this section of the vineyard is almost 40 feet deep, and with the combination of nearby sandy-loam and basalt soils serves as an ideal spot for Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot to mingle. Both parcels are certified organic with CCOF, and we practice modern sustainable farming, seeding them each fall after the harvest with a customized cover crop seed mix, which is mowed, then plowed under the following spring to replace those nutrients taken up by the vines during the growing season. Winemaker Tadeo Borchardt focuses on small yields, grown on vines propagated from heirloom budwood selections. Each vineyard is separately hand-harvested, and each cluster is closely examined on our sorting table before de-stemming. Fermentation is carried out using only native, wild yeast, and the separate wines are aged in a combination of new and used 60-gallon French oak barrels. We bottle the Left Bank Red after 14 months of barrel aging, without fining or filtering the finished wine. The blend is immediately appealing, with its combination of bright raspberry flavors balanced by the charm of the wild cherry component of the Merlot. The gravelly soil provides a subtle hint of minerality, making the wine both complete and complex. We bottled 2200 cases, all of them from estate grapes grown on our 45-acre Conn Valley Ranch.

 

2016 Left Bank Red

March 28, 2018

Al Fresco Dining in the Wine Country

By Bruce Neyers

We were recently invited to dinner at the home of a friend who had arranged for a local chef to cook for a small group of guests. The chef was very talented – we knew her from the several years she had cooked at Chez Panisse in Berkeley – and the dinner featured a succession of great wines, along with superb food. The main course was a brilliantly executed dish of perfectly done spit roasted Wolfe Ranch Quail. It was delicious, of course, but soon after it was served, one of the guests asked me almost as an aside if I’d ever tasted better quail. I thought for a minute and reflected back to an al fresco lunch, 45 years ago, and sitting on the ground on the side of a Napa Valley hillside vineyard. That’s too long a story to recount, I thought. No, I said, I haven’t. Not ever. To be truthful though, I had.

 

Barbara and I moved to the Napa Valley in early January 1972. I had accepted a job at Mayacamas Winery as the assistant winemaker, and this was the start of my new life. I was eager to learn, and the job soon proved to be all that I had hoped for. Winter is the rainy season in northern California, and during my first week it rained every day. Because of the weather we were limited to indoor work — wine racking, barrel topping, cooperage repair, maintenance of the bottling line, and the near-constant cleaning that is a staple of winemaking. I loved all of it. Week two though began a second and more demanding part of my wine education – farming. This chapter of my career began when we drove to the vineyards and I was taught to prune. Before making that trip though, I had to invest in some outdoor equipment — a pair of Felco pruning shears, a folding ‘Buck’ pocket knife, the familiar red Swiss Army Knife with several tools, a Stanley Stainless Steel coffee thermos, a pocket watch, and a pair of insulated, waterproof work boots. Properly equipped, I was now ready to take the steps that were to change my life. We began pruning at Mayacamas with the Chardonnay vineyard called the Terrace. Planted in the early 1940’s, this 8-acre section of vines was the prized parcel for the famed Mayacamas Chardonnay. The combination of high elevation, southern exposure, gravely-volcanic soil, and old ‘Shot-Wente’ selection vine stock made it the principal source of grapes for what was generally thought to be one of the best examples of Chardonnay produced in California. The pruning crew grew to three people when I joined — the vineyard manager Mike Clancy who worked alongside me watching and critiquing, and an old friend of his named Tom Fogarty who would leave his full-time logging job in Oregon every winter, return to his former home in the Napa Valley, and prune grapevines at Mayacamas. He liked the outdoor work, and pruning was far more dependable as a source of income in January than cutting down trees in the Pacific Northwest. Both Tom and Mike had been pruning grapevines for years, and they were great teachers. I’ve heard people say that pruning is the best job in the wine business, and after only a few days at it, I understood why. It was cold and damp outside, but the weather was subject to wide swings, and we took frequent coffee breaks to stay warm. What started out as a day of seemingly unbearable cold could quickly develop into a beautiful one, with a limitless blue sky overhead. The work is almost Zen-like, as it involves one person working alone, carrying out a single agricultural operation, but one that changes with every vine. Moreover, the work is crucial to the wine that will be made the following autumn. The singularity with nature is invigorating, and a competent pruner looks at a freshly-shorn vine almost like a completed painting. Pruning requires constant attention to each vine. Most of the last season’s growth is removed, while the vine is shaped to carry the fruit for the upcoming year. At the same time, the clusters must be positioned to ripen properly, and be accessible to the harvesters. Most importantly, the pruner must plan for shoot positions that will support the crop in two years, as fruit clusters develop only on two-year old wood. It’s difficult work and takes time to learn, but within a week or two I was pruning most vines without a negative comment from either of my instructors. It was great work, and it was about to get better. A little before noon one day I heard several gun shots. I looked in the direction of the noise and saw Tom, walking up the hill carrying a shotgun. When he got closer to me I could make out that he had a string of quail tossed over his shoulder. I hope you’re hungry, he said when he reached me. We’re going to have quail for lunch. We had pruned enough vines by then that there was work to be done tying the new canes to the wires. This was the specialty of an elderly single woman named Edna Bryant who had retired to a small home on the ranch. She paid off her annual rent to the owners by doing vineyard work during pruning season. Edna would tie the newly pruned canes to the wires, following behind us, tying canes as we pruned them. She’d been doing it for years so she was very good at it. She also knew from her experience what was going to follow when she saw the quail, and she immediately began collecting vine cuttings to build a fire. Mike went off to the nearby woods to cut a few oak branches for spits to roast the quail, while Tom left for the creek at the bottom of the hill to clean the birds. What should I do, I asked? Take the truck down to the winery and get us a bottle of Chardonnay, were Tom’s instructions. I did just that, and returned 20 minutes later with not one but two bottles of chilled 1970 Mayacamas Chardonnay. Edna’s vine cutting fire had burned down to the coals by then, and Tom returned with a dozen freshly plucked and gutted quail. We rigged a wooden support for the two spits, and began roasting the birds over the impromptu grill. The coals were red hot and the birds were small so they were thoroughly cooked in ten minutes or less. Almost as if he had planned on a meal like this, Tom brought out a large bag with napkins and paper plates, and handed each of us a paper cup. I opened the wine using the corkscrew on my Swiss Army Knife, poured everyone a glass, and using our fingers we each removed a quail from the spit. Sitting down on the ground in the middle of the vineyards, we all tore hungrily at the delicious birds, and eagerly sipped our Chardonnay. What a delicious wine and food pairing, I thought. This may well be the best lunch I’ve ever had. When our meal was finished, the birds were all eaten and the wine bottles were empty. Tom – ever environmentally friendly – cleaned up the trash and put it on the fire with the remaining wood to burn. We went back to work, replete from our nourishing and creative break. That was really the best quail I’ve ever eaten. Fittingly enough, a glass of Chardonnay had never more enhanced the meal for me.

The next time you decide to dine al fresco, consider serving the 2015 Chardonnay ‘Carneros District’ from Neyers Vineyards. It’s perfectly balanced so it works in cold weather or warm, and it accompanies almost anything you’ll want to eat. It’s naturally fermented with native wild yeast, aged on the lees for 10 months, then bottled with a minimum of intervention. It’s fragrant, rich and satisfying, and works especially well with spit roasted quail.

2015 Chardonnay ‘Carneros District’

February 20, 2018

Our 2017 Chardonnay ‘304’: A California winemaker looks at Chablis

by Bruce Neyers

A few years ago Tadeo Borchardt accompanied me on one of my regular trips to France, and we arranged a visit in Chablis with my favorite winemaker there, Roland Lavantureux. The tasting was a career turner for both of us, as we moved through wine after wine, each bursting with bright flavors, crisp acidity, and an aftertaste of refreshing minerality. Later that day, we made our plan to produce a bottling of Chardonnay with no oak contact.

First we needed a source for the grapes. Paul Larson’s family has been growing grapes in the Carneros District of Sonoma County for over a century, and Paul has a parcel that is thought to be the southern-most Chardonnay vineyard in Sonoma County. That proximity to the Bay makes it one of the coldest grape-growing spots in northern California. Moreover, many of the vines are in the bed of what used to be a large creek, so the soil is rocky, with a deep gravel deposit. Those two factors – cold climate and rocky soil – make the vineyard particularly attractive for a Chablis-style Chardonnay, as the combination of high natural acidity with strong minerality are two elements we look for in classic Chablis. We arranged to buy the grapes. That fall, the weather at Larson’s vineyard was so chilly that these were the last grapes we harvested. We whole-cluster pressed the fruit, then fermented the juice, relying only on the yeast naturally trapped on the skin of the grapes. It was fermented entirely in Stainless Steel tanks which are produced from what the industry refers to as Grade ‘304’ Stainless, a reference to the high percentage of Nickel and Chromium used in its production. After the fermentation started, we began to circulate the new wine over the top of the tank in order to extend the contact with the yeast lees. After two months or so of slowly fermenting in the Stainless ‘304’ tank, the wine was dry. We then chilled the wine, and by late February, it was stable, relatively clear, and beginning to taste delicious. We filtered and bottled it later that week.

Our Chardonnay ‘304’ is fresh and crisp, low in alcohol and delicately flavored. The gravelly soil adds the expected mineral component. It’s a wine that is easy to drink, loaded with character, and enormously satisfying.  When we bottled the 2017 Chardonnay 304, Barbara grabbed a bottle off the line for us to enjoy that night. She served it with one of my favorite dishes, her Shredded Chicken Salad, served open-face on an Acme Bakery Sourdough Baguette.

See Barbara’s recipe below:

 

Chicken Salad Sandwich Recipe

Ingredients:

4 skinless boned chicken breasts, about ½ pound each

½ head lettuce, chopped (either a mixture of lettuces or iceberg lettuce)

2 red bell peppers, seeds removed, deveined, and cut into thin strips

2 yellow bell peppers, seeds removed, deveined, and cut into thin strips

1 scallion (using the bottom white part), minced

1 Armenian cucumber, peeled and thinly sliced

2 stalks celery, cleaned and finely chopped

2-3 sliced garden tomatoes

Juice from 2 lemons

1 teaspoon ground cayenne pepper

1 ½ – 2 cups mayonnaise

Salt & pepper to taste

 

Preparation:

Chicken breasts can be sautéed in olive oil for 10 to 12 minutes or poached, then allowed to cool.

Shred the chicken to a size that is no larger than a small mouthful.

Combine the chicken in a bowl with the bell peppers, scallion, cucumber, and celery.

In a separate bowl, add the lemon juice and cayenne to the mayonnaise.

Combine the mayonnaise with the chicken mixture and the chopped lettuce.

Cut the baguette in sandwich size sections, split each section in half and lightly toast.

Spread the chicken salad on the baguette and add the sliced tomato on top.

 

Serve with a chilled glass of Neyers 2017 Chardonnay ‘304’

February 16, 2018

A Little Bit of Great Wine, and a Lot of Great Music: Time spent with George Shearing and Pinot Noir

by Bruce Neyers

In the late 1980’s we had an important breakthrough in our business when we made our first sale to a cruise ship line. They were a demanding customer, but the results were worth the many hours of work. A few weeks after our inaugural shipment, the purchasing manager advised me that I had been invited to join a cruise and conduct a ‘Wine Tasting at Sea’. Barbara could come too, and I was expected to do three tasting seminars over a five day cruise. I selected some wines to illustrate what I called ‘A Napa Valley Wine Tour’, then developed a slide show to accompany them. The slides depicted a grapevine through the growing season, including the harvest and the processing of the grapes. They liked my plan, and our program was set. Soon enough we found ourselves on board the biggest boat I’d ever seen, and we slowly chugged under the Golden Gate Bridge, before turning north towards Glacier Bay. Later that day I met with the entertainment director, and learned that I would be introduced that evening at dinner, and my first seminar was set for mid-morning the next day. That evening, Barbara and I were invited to meet the trip’s principal entertainer, jazz pianist George Shearing. After dinner, we were directed to the lounge and seated as George began his show. We were at a table next to the piano, with George’s wife Ellie. She surprised me by saying how happy they were we could join them. George was a serious wine buff, she said, and was looking forward to meeting us. When his show was over, Ellie got up, walked to the piano, put his hand on her shoulder and guided him back to our table. He wore dark glasses, and I then realized that he was blind. When Ellie stopped to seat George, he extended his hand, grasped mine, remarked what a pleasure it was to meet, and asked if it was OK if he and Ellie joined us. We quickly made room for them, afraid I think that if we moved too slowly they might sit elsewhere. After a quick exchange of pleasantries, he called to a server and ordered a bottle of our wine. The bottle came and I suggested it be put on our bill. He denied my offer, explaining that his arrangement with the cruise line was that they put his wine expenses on his bill, and then he didn’t pay the bill. I was silenced by his total command of the room. Barbara and I felt like 200 or so pairs of eyes were all focused on us. We drank a toast to one another, one to our meeting, one to his music, and finally one to wine. Then George ordered another bottle. There was no further discussion about who was in charge at our table.

 

The next morning I showed up at the wine tasting auditorium with a couple of small hammers banging in my head. I thought back to how wonderful our evening had been. We had spent most of it listening to George talk about his adventures in the world of music and theater, his life growing up in Britain before moving to New York City, his friendships with past musical greats from Hoagy Carmichael to Nat King Cole to Mel Torme, and some of his most memorable stage experiences. He’d performed for several presidents, many heads of state, and even for Queen Elizabeth. My head was spinning, but I forced myself to test the slide projector and the sound system, then directed the staff to set up the wine glasses and open the bottles. The doors opened at 11:00 and I was met with a crush of people come to attend the event. The entertainment director took me aside, remarking that the crowd was much larger than expected because so many people had seen us the night before with George and Ellie. Moreover, George had signed up for the tasting himself, so a small, private table had to be set up for him by my lectern. Eventually everyone was seated, I turned on the projector, and clicked on the first slide. As I brought the picture into focus, I asked rhetorically, ‘Can everyone see this?’ The now familiar voice of George Shearing boomed back at me from his side of the room, ‘No, I can’t.’ I was unable to speak, but was quickly saved by Ellie. ‘Be quiet, George,’ she said. ‘You can’t see anything.’ The entire room erupted in laughter. George’s was the loudest.

 

So it went for the next several days. We ate and slept – and I did my required seminars – and then after dinner we’d head to the lounge to sit with Ellie, drink some wine and listen to George perform. A natural-born entertainer, he was wonderful at it. He mixed popular music with jazz, then mixed both with colorful tales about the background of his songs, and the people who brought them to life. A favorite was his rendition of ‘Georgia On My Mind’, the song written by his great friend Hoagy Carmichael, then made famous by Ray Charles. After our way too brief trip through Glacier Bay, we headed back south, then docked at the port in Juneau, just long enough for us to disembark. Our sea journey was over. Barbara and I spent the night in Juneau before flying back to San Francisco the next morning. We talked about our time with George and Ellie, and how wonderful it had been, mulling over our good fortune. We returned home and reluctantly went back to work.

 

About six months later, I was surprised to hear from Ellie. She was calling from her home in New York City to tell me she and George would be in California in a few weeks, where he would be performing at the Concord Jazz Festival. She was hoping they could travel to the Napa Valley during their stay, and I immediately invited them to join us for dinner. We all met at our house, and Barbara prepared George’s favorite meal: grilled steak and potatoes, with lots of fresh vegetables. I knew how fond George was of Pinot Noir, so I chose one from my cellar. It would be an appropriate welcome to both California and to our home. George spent most of the evening raving about the wine. When I started to play some music he asked me not to. The wine was so good, he said, he wanted to enjoy it without any background noise. He made jokes, sang a little bit, and even played a tune on our old piano. I kept his wine glass full.

 

George died a few years later, in 2011, but in the years immediately after our cruise we enjoyed his annual Christmas card – in Braille – along with the handwritten notes we regularly received from Ellie, telling us how much George enjoyed our friendship, and our wine. She would mention the restaurants they visited, and carefully point out the Neyers wine George had selected for the meal. He’ll never know how much we enjoyed those few days at sea, drinking probably a little more than we should have, and listening to one of history’s greatest musicians.

 

I was going through some old files recently and ran across a note from George and Ellie. I thought back to the good times we had shared during our short trip together, and the dinner we had at our home. I reflected on our 2016 Placida Vineyard Pinot Noir. It’s a wine we made at Neyers from grapes grown by Chuy Ordaz at his Placida Vineyard in the Russian River Valley, not far from the source of the Pinot Noir we enjoyed that last night with George. Chuy used budwood from this vineyard to develop his vines, so there’s a direct connection I think of whenever I open a bottle. That’s a pretty good reason to open one too. It’s a wine that combines the best of Pinot Noir from California with that from Burgundy. It has the silky elegance of a Volnay with the fragrant power of a Pommard, combined with the earthy minerality we find in California.

 

2016 Pinot Noir ‘Placida Vineyard’

 

February 14, 2018

February 2, 2018

92 Pts – WINE SPECTATOR – 2015 ÂME Cabernet Sauvignon

The January 31 edition of the WINE SPECTATOR INSIDER just arrived, and with it came news that our 2015 ÂME Cabernet Sauvignon was selected for inclusion as one of ‘Our Editors’ Most Exciting New Wines’. Here are their comments:

“Clean, complex, elegant and refined, with rich dark berry, spice, cedar and black licorice flavors, holding a tight focus and ending long and lingering. Drink now through 2020.

– J.L. 264 cases made 92 POINTS”

January 29, 2018

The 2016 Carignan ‘ Evangelho Vineyard’: Our step into another world

by Bruce Neyers

There can’t be too many wineries in the Napa Valley other than ours that choose to produce a varietal Carignan. When I look back on my experiences with Maxime Magnon though, I have no trouble reconciling our long-standing interest in this noble grape, and the wine made from it. It all began in March 2007.

Since 1992, my job with Kermit Lynch Wine Merchant has required several trips annually to France and Italy. Normally, I go for a couple of weeks in January to taste the new vintage, then return in March to see how the wines have evolved. In 2007, Tadeo Borchardt accompanied me on the March trip, and for the first time in years I visited Corbières, in the south of France near Narbonne, where we were to meet with Maxime Magnon. Maxime had just begun to work with us. He’s in his late 30’s now, but his combination of movie-star good looks, charismatic joie de vivre, and exciting new approach to winemaking seem to make him ageless. His property is modest – as is almost everything in this part of southern France – and his wines were unknown. Not for long, I was to learn. We arrived in mid-morning, and our convoy of four vans and 20 people were about as much traffic as the small village of Villeneuve-les-Corbières had ever experienced. I noticed the faded old sign hanging from the cellar entrance, ‘Maxime Magnon, Vigneron’. It was hardly uplifting. Before we began to park the cars, Maxime emerged from the building and told us to stay put. We were going on a short drive to his vineyards for lunch. It was a beautiful almost-spring day, with the sky a brilliant blue dappled with bright sunshine, and the temperature nearing 60 degrees. A few minutes later we arrived at the vineyard, parked, and then hiked to the top of a vine-covered plateau. There were several tables set up with seats scattered about. A fire made of vine cuttings burned nearby, where a young man was grilling a paillard of beef — breast of veal it turned out. As soon as one was finished, it was transferred to the slicing board, and replaced by another. I asked Maxime where the meat came from, and he told me it was from one of his new calves. This one, he pointed out, kept trying to run away, so ‘we decide to eat him’. It was the centerpiece of our vineyard bar-b-que. On the table were a collection of wine glasses along with several open bottles of wine. Loaves of crusty fresh baguette covered the table as well, as did a half-dozen bottles of olive oil, and several platters of Maxime’s home-cured olives. It’s oil from our harvest last year, Maxime reported. The meal was a stunner. I’ve been traveling to France for over 40 years, and I think I’ve eaten at almost every great restaurant in the country, but here was one of the single greatest meals I’ve ever enjoyed. As we began to taste through his wines, Maxime cautioned us that all three of his reds were made largely from old-vine Carignan, but in each case the soil was different, and since he farmed without mechanical help — using only his farm animals; cows, oxen, horses, goats and sheep – each parcel also reflected its individual farming techniques. Here first was Carignan grown on sandstone. Next we tasted Carignan on schist. Then we finished with Carignan planted on clay and limestone — a single vineyard wine made from fruit harvested from vines well over 100 years old. Each wine was brilliantly made, and each was distinct. The flavors were fresh and bold, but there was a striking, bright tone in each, carrying flavors that were soft and delicious, followed by a long, complete finish. I had never before tried anything quite like them. We cleaned up after our hearty lunch, then drove back to town to tour his cellar. It could hardly have been more simple, but again we tasted through a few more wines, and each seemed to out-do the previous one. Someone asked what was his secret. He shrugged. There is no secret, he said. Anyone can do this with old-vine Carignan. Yields must be kept low, farming must be natural, and the wines must be free of additives, and allowed to express themselves purely. We left shortly after, and I think everyone in the group was slowly shaking their head, and muttering under their breath. We had just witnessed a life changing moment in our business. I got behind the wheel of my van, loaded up the group, and backed out on to the street in front of Maxime’s cellars. He was standing by the doorway, under the sign, ‘Maxime Magnon, Vigneron’. Yes, I thought to myself, but he really is so much more. I turned to Tadeo and remarked, this was one of the most illuminating winery visits of my career. A week later we were home, and Tadeo called. I found a guy who owns a vineyard with 120-year-old Carignan vines, he reported. He’d like to sell us the grapes. Are we interested?

Indeed we were, and we’ve been buying grapes from the Evangelho vineyard ever since. These vines are now approaching 140-years-old, we get only a few tons each vintage, and we ferment the fruit naturally in an open-top fermenter, using only native, wild yeast. The grapes are all crushed by foot – not machine – and after a 45-day maceration, the wine is aged for one year in neutral French oak barrels, then bottled unfiltered the following July. The finished wine offers much of what I found charming in the Carignan of Maxime Magnon, and the bright, fresh flavors introduce an element rarely seen in wines made from other varieties. We just released the 2016 Neyers Carignan ‘Evangelho Vineyard’.

2016 Carignan ‘Evangelho Vineyard’

January 25, 2018

2010 Cabernet Sauvignon, Neyers Ranch: There’s More

2010 Cabernet Sauvignon, Neyers Ranch: There’s More

By Bruce Neyers

Few varieties show off as well after some additional bottle age as does Cabernet Sauvignon. When we recently opened a bottle of our 2010 Cabernet Sauvignon I was delighted — but not at all surprised — at how well it had developed over the past few years.

The 2010 growing season was a long and uncommonly cold one. As a result, the slow ripening fruit was able to reach complete physiological maturity, without growing either overripe or flabby, while the natural fruit acid levels were high. From the very beginning when we first tasted the wine from barrel, Tadeo and I were enthusiastic about it. Now that we’ve been able to watch it after an additional five years of bottle age, our long-term expectations have only improved. We don’t have a lot of the 2010 Neyers Ranch Cabernet Sauvignon salted away, but we’d like to offer what we have to our mailing list readers.

The Neyers Ranch Cabernet Sauvignon vineyard was planted in 1996 by David Abreu, using budwood from the old Inglenook Vineyard in Rutherford. The vines are farmed organically and sustainably, and the crop was harvested the last week of October. Yields were about 2.4 tons per acre. The wine is dark purple in color, aromatic with hints of cedar and tobacco leaf. The fruit is an impressive combination of black cherry, plum and red cassis, with an underlying hint of mineral earthiness.

The recent bottle we tried was thrilling, and we’d like to offer our followers the opportunity to try it as well.

January 11, 2018

2016 LEFT BANK RED: A WINE WITH A SENSE OF PLACE

 2016 LEFT BANK RED:  A WINE WITH A SENSE OF PLACE

By Bruce Neyers

We just finished drilling a new well on our Conn Valley Ranch, the first one since the previous owners built the original house on the property in the 30’s. We chose for the well site the southwestern corner of the ranch, about 20 yards east of the left bank of Conn Creek where it enters our property on its run from the top of Howell Mountain, near Angwin, to the Napa River.

The drilling report gave us details of the soil on the way to the eventual water strike at a depth of around 150 feet. The drill bit encountered a gravel deposit at 14 feet, then continued through gravel for 24 feet before it hit sandstone at 38 feet. Then followed a layer of clay-loam before the drill struck the aquifer. This gravel deposit is an important backdrop to the grapes we grow here. We learned of this geological phenomenon just a few months after we bought the property in 1984. We had a test hole dug by a local agronomist, and from it he was able to draw a soil profile showing the underlying deposit of gravel. A geologist speculated that it resulted from centuries of having the creek bed pushed to the west, away from the new hills being formed at the time by volcanic activity in the Chiles Valley east of us. Now, probably a million years or more after the fact, we find a 24-foot deep gravel deposit along the creek bank, making this plot ideal for vineyards.

Both Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot are vigorous grape varieties, even when grafted on to sluggish rootstock and farmed for low yields. A deep gravel deposit serves to restrict that natural vigor. We admire the wines from Bordeaux, for example, especially those made from grapes grown in the gravel soils of the Médoc. A big part of the attraction comes from the naturally low yields of these vineyards.  We originally planted Merlot along our creek bank, then a decade later after buying a neighboring parcel, we planted Cabernet Sauvignon. For the past few vintages, we have blended the wines from these two parcels, aged the blend one year in French oak barrels, then bottled it as Left Bank Red. It’s about 50% of each variety, but that composition varies from year to year according to weather and crop yields.

I’ve been attracted to the wines of the Médoc over the course of my career, so I’m inclined to draw a comparison between them and our Left Bank Red blend. I don’t look for opulence in wine from gravely soil as much as I like to see balance, minerality and elegance. Most importantly, we regularly find in the Neyers Left Bank Red flavors that are restrained — a sensational taste experience that is neither overwhelming nor lavish. We prefer this traditional style of Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon blends. They express nuance over opulence, and age beautifully for years. Here is an ideal example of that wine. We bottled 1855 cases.

 

December 18, 2017

The 2015 ÂME Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon

Our Conn Valley Ranch is rectangular, with two longer sides running north and south. The southern boundary borders Conn Creek, and is about 400 feet in elevation. As the property extends north, it rises in elevation, reaching almost 1000 feet at the northern boundary. The slope of course faces due south, so it catches the entire arc of the sun, from daybreak to nightfall. Our home is situated in the middle of the parcel, surrounded by vines. The soil in the south is deep gravel with some sandstone, clay and loam. As we go north approaching the higher elevation blocks, the soil becomes increasingly steep and rocky, due to the large blocks of Basalt, which is compacted volcanic ash and lava.

When David Abreu joined us as viticulturalist in 1992, he was immediately drawn to the highest elevation parcel which we called ‘The Knob’ because of its immediately apparent prominence and southern exposure. Most importantly, it would be well-drained which is especially important to Cabernet Sauvignon. After digging a few test holes, Abreu reported that the area was ideal for Cabernet Sauvignon, and would probably be the source of grapes that would become the ‘soul’ of our vineyard. I mentioned his observation to my French-speaking office manager, and she was quick to point out that the French word for ‘Soul’ was ‘ÂME’, a word that contained the first name initial of each of our three children – Alexandra, Michael and Elizabeth. We named the parcel the ÂME Vineyard.

Five years later, vines had been planted, and an extensive drain tile layout had been engineered and built. Terraces were cut into the steep slope, and berms were developed to direct the flow of water runoff to avoid any erosion. We selected two low-yield, drought-resistant rootstocks – 420A and 3309 – but instead of using nursery planting stock for the subsequent field budding, we took Abreu’s advice and used budwood he had obtained from the old John Daniels Block at Inglenook Winery. According to locals, these vines were originally planted in the early 1940’s by Daniels – then the owner of Inglenook Winery – using plant material furnished to him as a gift from the Ginestet Family who at the time were the owners of Ch. Margaux in Bordeaux. Planting the entire ÂME Block to a source of uncertified budwood seemed like a high risk at the time, but I’d had several years of encouragement from a number of veteran French winemakers with whom I worked at Kermit Lynch. All of them were enthusiastic supporters of ‘Heirloom’ budwood sources, and they suggested we avoid heat-treated ‘clones’ – those furnished by local nurseries – and seek out a field selection source of Cabernet Sauvignon. Almost as if on cue, Abreu furnished us with one, and it happened to be a source of incredible pedigrée.

We used a tight spacing on this steep hillside parcel – three feet between vines and six feet between rows – and wired the stakes for vertical trellis pruning, after laying out bi-lateral cordons. The morning sun now strikes the plants on the eastern end, and then shines on the southern face of each vine during the entire growing season. The crop is low, the fruit ripens evenly and the 2015 harvest was the 20th anniversary of the vineyard. While it regrettably yielded the smallest crop in our history, the 2015 vintage for Cabernet Sauvignon was loaded with high spots. We harvested a mere 6.2 tons from the entire three acre parcel we call ÂME, but the crop was evenly ripe, with small, intensely flavored grapes, each with a near-perfect acid and sugar balance. The hand picking lasted barely four hours, so the grapes were delivered to the winery while they were still cool from the early morning chill. The fruit was de-stemmed, then pumped to a 2000-gallon stainless-steel, jacketed tank. After three days of cold holding, the cooling jacket was turned off and the natural yeast trapped on the surface of the grape skins went to work. We typically allow three weeks for the fermentation of these grapes, then cover the top of the tank with dry ice to prevent oxidation, and let the wine macerate with the skins for another 10 days. The tank was then drained and pressed, and the new wine was racked to 60-gallon French oak barrels, 25% of them new.

We use a combination of barrel types and toast levels for all cooperage, with the idea that doing so increases the complexity of the wine. We aged the 2015 ÂME for 18 months in these barrels, then bottled it — unfined and unfiltered — in June 2017. The color is dark purple, and the aroma is saturated with a combination of black fruit, cassis and a faint touch of tobacco leaf. An important characteristic of our Cabernet Sauvignon based wines is the soft texture that we believe is due to the long maceration, a step that allows more of the large, slightly bitter tannin to drop out.

Here is a Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon for the ages. You should ensure that you too have enough set aside to watch it develop over time.