Bruce Neyers was in town for a series of tastings a couple of weeks ago. Bruce has been in the business a while now and his work history is unique in that he has been deeply involved with wines from both Napa and France. In Napa, first with a long career with Joseph Phelps and then his own Neyers Vineyards. In France, with Kermit Lynch, the legendary Berkeley importer of some of the finest French and other European producers. I've been tasting once or three times a year with Bruce for some fifteen years now and more than ever he emphasizes the influence the great French winemakers he visits several times a year has on his California wines.


On his most recent visit we paired Bruce's wines with wines from the Kermit Lynch portfolio. There were several standouts. What they all had in common was the old age of the source vineyards and the heirloom purity of the vines themselves.


For his California wines, Bruce pays particular attention to the source of the vines. He demands that the budwood be taken from existing vines, selected for the quality of the fruit and the provenance of the vines themselves. He insists on vegetative reproduction rather than clonal to retain as much of the original genetic material as possible. Vines are then tended with biodynamic farming and wines are made naturally with indigenous yeasts and minimal intervention.



The Carignan was sensational. Most tasters did not know that Carignan is a grape. Over and over I had to explain that it came from the South of France, both in the Rhone Valley as well as Rousillon in the foothills of the Pyrenees as well as northern Spain. The wine spoke for itself with its silky, velvety almost Burgundian flavors and textures, but there was an exotic wildness that came from the 140 year old vines themselves. Yes, that is correct 140 years and on the original roots. The vines are in the 'ancient' Evangelho Vineyard in the hot sandy soils of Contra Costa County.


The Neyers Grenache comes the old Rossi Ranch in Sonoma's Dry Creek Valley. The story is the same: 70 cases were made from the ancient vines, resulting in a silky wine with penetrating red fruit characteristics. The Mourvedre is another tiny production from the Evangelho Vineyard.

All of these wines are treasures, heirlooms that have survived storms and drought, Prohibition and years of neglect, not to mention the pressures of expanding cities and real estate developers.


The other star came from France. Cotes du Rhone "La Sagesse" from Domaine Gramenon. When I started with Sigel's, Gramenon's wines were imported by Robert Kacher and I was blown away by their quality, but they soon left Kacher and I lost touch. Now they are being imported by Kermit Lynch and Sigel's now brings these treasures into the Dallas market.


La Sagesse is mainly Grenache from 50 year old vines which yield only 20 hectoliters per hectare, which is exceeding low. (The lowest required yield for any AOP vineyard is Chateauneuf du Pape at 35 hl/ha.) Again, this intense wine drinks like a rich, velvety Burgundy, but instead of the aromatic splendor of Pinot Noir, there is this deep, winey dark fruit inflected with the flavors of the Rhone Valley - lavender, thyme, and rosemary.


Spectacular stuff.


Photos courtesy: Evangelho Vineyards, Carlisle Winery, Domaine Gramenon.