Join us this Friday, April 8th at 5 p.m. in Redwood City as we welcome David Pflaum of Neyers Vineyards and taste some amazing natural wines!
What: Neyers Vineyards Tasting
When: Friday, April 8th, 5-6:30 p.m.
Where: K&L Redwood City
Cost of Tasting: $5
Bruce and Barbara Neyers founded Neyers Vineyards in 1992. They produce about 15,000 cases of wine each year; 25% is Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon grown on their 50-acre, organically farmed Conn Valley ranch. They source fruit from a select group of growers as well (such as the Sangiacomo family in Carneros, Will Nord of Napa, and Rossi Ranch of Sonoma County) to produce their other sought-after white and red wines.
In anticipation of this tasting, we reached out to none other than Bruce Neyers himself for some background. In the interview below, Bruce remarks on his career as a winemaker and provides insight into what it means to him to be "natural" in the wine business today.
Behind the Wine: Q&A with Bruce Neyers
K&L: How did you get into the wine business?
Bruce: I went into the army after college, and was eventually assigned to the Presidio of San Francisco in May 1970. I made friends there with a colleague who had worked for a wine importing company in San Francisco before going into the army. He introduced me to the owner, and I started hanging out there on weekends helping them move wine and unload containers. They paid me in wine. A year later when I was discharged, I mentioned to the owner that my wife and I were debating the advantages of staying in the San Francisco area versus returning to the East Coast to take up my old job -- as a plastics engineer in a chemical plant -- and he suggested that if I were to stick around, they would teach me the wine business. I stayed, and worked for them for a year before getting a job in the Napa Valley working for a small winery. We moved to Napa and I went back to school at UC Davis on a weekend work-study program. After two years there, I got a job in Germany working at a winery so we moved there for a year.
How has your experience working for (respected wine importer) Kermit Lynch shaped your winemaking philosophy?
Bruce: We work with over 120 different family-owned wine businesses at KLWM, and I have become friendly with many of the families. Over the past two decades, 20-30 of them have sent their sons and daughters to live with my wife and me and work at the winery. They completely live their lives immersed in the various aspects of the business, and I've admired that. They work with their wines from the ground up, beginning in the vines, then in the cellar, and then at the table. Kermit looks for that in a producer, this total immersion. I suspect he ties that to overall wine quality, and if there is anything that Kermit is about, it is wine quality. That's the philosophical part of it but through Kermit I have also learned a great deal about what a high quality wine tastes like. After you try a Chablis from Raveneau or a Burgundy from Méo-Camuzet, you have a frame of reference, an objective to seek.
How do you you define the terms "natural" and "organic" when applied to wine?
Natural to me means the absence of interference. We ferment every wine with the yeasts that are on the grapes. We never filter or fine red wines, and filter white wines only when it is essential to their stability (to avoid malolactic fermentation in the bottle, for example). Organic defines our vineyard operations, as we are certified organic grape growers, and that involves the absence of herbicides and pesticides, and to the extent that fertilizer may be used, that they are developed organically, rather than in a laboratory. We don't make organic wine because to do so prohibits the use of sulfur dioxide. I don't think there are more than two dozen winemakers in the world who truly make drinkable organic wines, and those that do it successfully are constantly having the wines exposed to conditions for which they are not suited. At Neyers we grow organic grapes, and then make natural wines from them.
What are some of the challenges Neyers confronts in making natural wine?
Natural winemaking is loaded with risks, it costs more to do it, and it takes more time. The results, however, are well worth the investment of time, energy and resources.
What is your position on wine pairing and what do you like to pair your wines with?
I tend to be pretty open-minded about wine matching and follow only the broadest and most general. I think red wine goes well with almost everything -- except perhaps oysters -- and I drink some every day. A glass or two of white wine is normally plenty, and if I am eating something that might go better with white wine, I'll still move into red wine to finish it off. Fortunately, my wife is a fabulous cook and even her white wine meals have some opening for red.
What did you drink last night? (Or the last time you had a glass of wine that wasn't your own?)
After two glasses of 2009 Reverdy Sancerre last night, Barbara and I shared a bottle of 2009 Marcel Lapierre Morgon. Barbara made this absolutely fabulous potato side dish based upon the potatoes at Lameloise Restaurant in Chagny. Where? We ate at home. I just returned from two weeks in France and Italy on Sunday, and dinner at home for the next couple of nights is essential.
Can you share with us some tips on how we can be "greener" drinkers day-to-day, whether we're out on the town or enjoying wine at home?
Great question. There is no substitute for a good wine merchant or a good sommelier, and they will frequently be able to guide you to the wines they sell that are either naturally made or produced from organically grown grapes. The rules in Europe relating to the term organic are different than they are here, so we rarely see organically produced wines made in the US. In France, if you grow the grapes organically, then the wine is by definition organic. I try to support both organic and naturally made wines, but many of my favorite natural wines are neither organic nor made from organic grapes. Still, I feel, if they are naturally made that is important. Lapierre, for example, makes the equivalent of a truly organic Morgon, but we sell it only at the retail shop in Berkeley because it is too fragile to ship around the US and it rarely makes a voyage successfully. I'm inclined to try first for natural and sustainable, and don't put much emphasis on the organically produced aspects of winemaking. It's important to keep in mind that 1961 Lynch Bages -- one of my favorite all time wines -- is neither organic nor natural. But it's brilliant.