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Barrel Tasting the 1998 Vintage

(March 22, 1999) It was about 3 years ago that one of my favorite wine merchants practically forced me to taste a Chardonnay from..."Who?"

     "Never mind, taste it."

     "Yeah, okay, whatever you say...OH."

     That was the 1994 Neyers Carneros District Chardonnay and I've been loving their stuff ever since. Their long, leesy, lipsmacking Chardonnays have gone from strength to strength and their reds have been zooming up in quality too -- witness the 1995 Neyers Cabernet Sauvignon.

     So. Who are these guys, anyway?


     There are three partners in the operation, each with an interesting day job:

1. Bruce Neyers is National Sales Manager for Kermit Lynch.

2. His wife Barbara Neyers has worked at Berkeley's famed restaurant Chez Panisse for 20 years.

3. Ehren Jordan, the winemaker, labors by day for a small outfit you may have heard of called Turley Wine Cellars.

     Technically the winery has existed since 1980, but in 1992 it was reborn, producing its first wines from its own Conn Valley estate. Ehren Jordan started making wine here in 1994 -- the vintage that put their Chardonnay on my radar screen.

     As you might expect from his work at Turley, Ehren likes to leave nature alone. Every Chard, for example, is strictly a wild child. Each goes direct from press to barrel, with no commercial yeast, no fining, no filtering and no cold-settling. Each is racked just once, into the bottle.

     Current production is smallish but not tiny, with 1997 coming in at about 15,000 cases.

     Today I met Ehren at the custom-crush facility where the wines are made and together we tasted through Neyers’ 1998 vintage. Overall, the news is very good indeed. Though the weather this year pushed production down, quality looks extremely high.

     Here’s what I like in particular right now:

     **1998 Chardonnay "El Novillero Vineyard" (barrel sample) is a big, broad, easy-to-like wine. But don’t mistake the friendliness -- it’s deep. Fruit was picked on October 10, 1998, and the wine reflects the hang-time. Mango and papaya dominate, followed by fresh bread. Long finish. A wine that brings a grin to my face even on this cold, rainy afternoon.

     But this was just the appetizer for ***1998 Chardonnay "Theriot Vineyard" (barrel sample). The Chards from this Sonoma Coast site have been my favorite Neyers releases in the past. This year the results are positively palate-twisting. I even tasted some red fruit in the riot of flavors that rushed me. Wish I could say there’s lots to drink, but we’ll have to fight over all of 5 barrels.

     Next I tasted the *+1998 Merlot "Neyers Ranch." It’s a bowl of chocolate with blackberries floating on top, crowned by a blueberry. There’s a little bit of Cab Franc in the barrel I tasted -- 4% -- and possibly it’s this that gives the wine a lovely fragrance.

     **1997 Merlot "Neyers Ranch" had just received a hit of sulfur, but the flavors shone through so clearly, this one’s got to be a winner. Big, thick, rich and chocolatey -- with lots and lots of juicy berries. Grab it when it comes out, Merlot hounds!

     *+1998 Zinfandel "Pato Vineyard" is pure yum! Bright raspberry flavors, trail off into strawberry jam and there’s some apricot on the aftertaste. The vineyard is down in Oakley -- totally self-rooted in sandy soil that presumably foils phylloxera.

     I tasted a number of different barrel samples for the **1998 Syrah. They’re experimenting here with different techniques, trying to figure out what to do with the stems. I tasted 100% destemmed, 100% whole cluster and a third that was half-and-half. Right now, the whole cluster seems tastiest to me. But they all had a meaty character that I associate with the Northern Rhone. Could be the best year ever for Neyers Syrah!

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