Archive for December, 2019

Here is an interview with did with Bruce Neyers of Neyers Vineyards for Wine Speak 2020.

There is a reason why Bruce Neyers has become a fixture at Wine Speak—he not only has incredible global wine experience and untold wisdom, but he also has a heart for sharing.

I first met Bruce Neyers back in the 1970’s when he was running the then promising, upstart Joseph Phelps winery in the Napa Valley.  Unlike many of their peers, Phelps continually challenged the norm.   While their Johannisberg Riesling bottlings created quite the revelation back then, it was their 1974 Syrah that was my first experience with a commercial California born Syrah.  In the same vintage they also conceptualized and launched “Insignia”, a premier, soon to be “game changing” blend of Cabernet Sauvignon and other Bordelaise type grape varieties.  That would be quite a career for most.  In 1992, however, Bruce then took over the National Sales for Kermit Lynch Wine Merchants and helped them build one of the real noteworthy, quality driven, iconic wine importers of our time, featuring true artisan, game changers from France and later Italy.  He visited with each of the wine families 2 to 4 times a year, talking story, walking vineyards & tasting their wines with them.  Who better to talk story with to learn from than my wine yoda, Bruce Neyers.

Bruce has been a key contributor to Wine Speak since day one. Wine Speak co-founder and master sommelier Chuck Furuya recently caught up with Bruce to talk about his journey and what he has learned along the way.

 You and Barbara have lived in the Napa Valley for more than 40 years. What were some of the highlights for you over the years?

Buying our first house, and buying the piece of land in Conn Valley where we still live today.  Planting our first grape vines. Making our first wine released under the Neyers label, the 1992 Neyers Ranch Merlot.

You were with Mayacamas in the early 1970s and helped create their 1972 Chardonnay, which upon release was generally lukewarmly received. However, both Nunzio Alioto and I thought this was an eye-opening wine, showing the vast potential California had for this grape variety.  What were your thoughts on this wine and your stint at Mayacamas?

Mayacamas opened the world of wine to me. I learned how to cooper a barrel tight, change the gaskets in a wine pump, pump over red wine, operate a Willmes bladder press, top wine tanks and clean barrels. I learned how to do it from the bottom up, and I developed a great respect for the work ethic required to make good wine. At the time, Mayacamas wines were along with Ridge and and Heitz the best being made in California. The 1972 Chardonnay was made under the worst conditions I ever experienced making wine. It rained for almost a month and the grapes were black when they were harvested. Still, we were careful and didn’t get greedy, and we ended up making a decent wine that actually got a lot of positive press. I was astonished but learned a great lesson. It prepared me for 1992 in Burgundy.

The Napa Valley wine community was quite small back in the 70s. Who were some of the most memorable wine people you encountered back then and why?

Bob Travers (of Mayacamus) was a great teacher, Joe Phelps was a great mentor, and Joe Heitz was a great neighbor who often behaved like a second father to me, teaching me about fine wine and fine food. Carl Doumani (founder of Stags’ Leap Winery, which he later sold) was and remains my inspiration for how to live and enjoy life. I had dinner with him last Wednesday night and hope I can dine with and listen to him for ten more years. Joe Swan was my closest friend. I adored him.

While at Joseph Phelps you helped launch their 1974 Syrah.  What was that experience like?

This was a brand-new experience for me, as I had never launched anything. I worked with artists, lawyers, winemakers, historians, printers, designers, and sales people, trying to coordinate all of them for this one single effort. Then we finally bottled and labeled the wine in January/February 1996 and the glue system on the bottling line broke down and everything had to be re-done by hand. I learned more in three months with this wine than I had in four years of college or two years in the army.

 With the 1974 vintage you were also involved in the development and launching of Insignia.  What was that like?

Insignia came later, and both Joe and I were a lot smarter. Moreover, once he came up with the name the rest seemed easy. Originally it was ‘Insigne’ because Joe wanted something French, but Evelyne Deis — who was our secretary and is French — said that was a bad idea as no French word like that existed. Joe reluctantly agreed to Insignia. He used as a template for the label on the 1974 Insignia the label from an old bottle of Port that Joe Heitz had given him as a gift to celebrate the ‘Topping Out’ of the winery building. They poured it on the roof in the fall of 1974. I favored the idea because the 1974 Cabernet Phelps made was so bad I knew it would be hard to sell. The wine that eventually became 1974 Insignia was Cabernet from Dick Steltzner’s vineyard in Stag’s Leap, and it was dark, thick and lovely. I couldn’t bear to have it blended into the rather ordinary 1974 Cabernet that had been made from Yountville grapes.

In 1992, you decided to leave Joseph Phelps and became the National Sales Manager for Kermit Wine Merchants.  How big of change was that?

Actually I chose to leave JPV in January 1992 because we were going to harvest our first crop from our own vineyards. Joe insisted that I sell my grapes to the winery, and for a variety of reasons I didn’t want to. I decided to go it alone, and it was a huge decision. We had adopted three kids by then, and two were in diapers, one in training pants. I was scared beyond belief. Barbara always encouraged me though, and then she told Alice Waters about it, as she was going to be able to work more shifts at Chez Panisse. Alice told Kermit about it that night at dinner, and Kermit called me at home and proposed that we meet to discuss his plans. I was still anxious about being able to do the Kermit Lynch job, but I loved the wines — those I knew about in any event. The change was huge, but Kermit was patient and understanding.

What was it like traveling to Europe two to four times a year for 25 years, talking story, walking vineyards and tasting wines with all of these iconic vignerons like Gerard Chave, Marius Gentaz, Noel Verset, Raveneau, Jean-Francois Coche and Aubert de Villaine, just to name a few, especially after your many years in Napa Valley?

I learned about and appreciated French wines long before I moved to Napa Valley, so I was ready for the chance to meet these iconic figures. Keep in mind though that few of them were really wine industry icons in 1992. We had to aggressively sell all of those wines, even Coche and Raveneau. Kermit had a floor stack of 1989 Raveneau Chablis in the store in 1992 in order to move it, and you could always walk in and buy a bottle of Coche-Dury. Verset, Clape, Gentaz and Chave were also readily available, but things began to change dramatically in 1994 and 1995. Parker had something to do with it, but I think Kermit was tireless about promoting these producers, and eventually people began to realize who they were, and what their wines were like. Aubert deVillaine was one of the last to allocate his wines, and by all rights he should have been first, based on fame alone. But even DRC was pretty easy to buy back then, even though it was pricey. Now it’s just impossible. I saw a bottle of 1996 DRC Romanée-Conti this morning for sale for $11,000.

Who were some who truly inspired you amd made you think differently moving forward?

In no particular order, my winemaking life was most inspired by:

Joe Swan (now deceased)

Marcel Lapierre (now deceased)

Lulu Peyraud (Domaine Tempier)

Maxime Magnon (Maxime Magnon)

Daniel Brunier (Domaine du Vieux Telegraphe)

Aubert de Villaine (Domaine de Villaine)

Auguste Clape (Domaine Clape)

Jean Marc Roulot (Domaine Roulot)

Pierre Boillot (Domaine Lucien Boillot et Fils)

Roland Lavantureux (Domaine Roland Lavantureux)

Claude Geoffray (Chateau Thivin)

So many others I have left out here.

With the 1992 vintage, you and Barbara launched your first Neyers wine, a 1992 Merlot you made yourself.  What was that moment like?

It was a thrill to see that we could create a product, and then sell it at a profit. We bottled 282 cases of the 1992 Merlot, and after we sold it I made more money than I had made working for Joe Phelps the previous year. I felt so joyful at this success. Moreover, I really liked the wine. Barbara and I have never looked back.

And, over the years, can you sight some examples of how your trips and exposures in France (and Italy) affected your grape growing and winemaking for Neyers?

Barbara calculated for me recently that in the course of my life with Kermit, I went to France 81 times. I think it might be even more, as she didn’t count the trips when she and I went there alone, but the impact on my ideas about wine and grape farming were extraordinary. Equally, we had almost 40 children of French and Italian winegrowers live with us and work at the winery with me over the years. That too had an impact. I grew comfortable with native yeast fermentation, natural malolactic in Chardonnay, little to no filtration and fining, natural clarification, and no additives in wine. We make wine with SO2, but we use very little of it. We irrigate our vines, but fertilize only naturally with a cover crop. We do manual lateral removal, and more mowing in rows. I still don’t know as much about it as I’d like to know, but I’ve learned a lot from my French and Italian colleagues. I still see many of them regularly as they seem to love to visit California, and they know there is always a good meal and some nice wine if they stop by our house. More than that, though, I enjoy seeing the people we knew as children who are now running their family estates, like Olivier Clape, Jack Boutin’s daughter Sylvie, and Edouard Brunier, among others.

What advice would you give your younger self?

Work harder, spend as much time learning as doing, and buy more plantable land.

What Californian wines have you tasted over the years that were truly memorable and why?

There are far too many to name here, but in 1972 I was able to taste a wide range of old Cabernet bottlings from Inglenook and Beaulieu. They wowed me. These were wines from the 50s and 60s, with a couple from the 40s, and the wine store where I worked had bought a large private cellar. The wines were extraordinary, and all of my colleagues — who knew far more than me — insisted I try them. I’ve never forgotten that. I love the old Cabernet bottlings from Mayacamas, Heitz and Souverain in the Lee Stewart days. The old Chardonnays from Stony Hill and Hanzell were remarkable too. But those old Beaulieu and Inglenook — nothing ever prepared me for that. I was drinking them with my colleagues along with Lynch Bages, Calon Segur and Haut Brion, and couldn’t select a favorite. But don’t get me started on Joe Swan. He was California’s greatest winemaker ever.

What were a few memorable wines from throughout the world and why?

The most memorable wines I’ve tried from around the world are:

1929 Ch. Latour — it taught me what aroma was all about in wine

1945 Mouton — the best Cabernet I’ve ever had

1966 Lois Latour Corton Charlemagne – I had it the first time I ever tried Scampi, and food and wine marriages have never been the same

1969 Clos du Tart – I finally understood red Burgundy

1992 Morgon, Marcel Lapierre – We had it with pig cooked 12 ways, and at last I got what Gamay was all about

1961 Bandol ‘Classique’ Magnum, Domaine Tempier – this began my appreciation for Mourvèdre

1996 Châteauneuf du Pape, Dom. Vieux Télégraphe – My benchmark of great southern Rhône red wine

1989 Cornas, Noël Verset – thinking about enjoying this wine with Noël brings tears to my eyes, it was so moving

1989 Côte-Rôtie, Marius Gentaz – we shared a veal chop for two, and a bottle of this wine at Beau Rivage in Condrieu

1959 Kaseler Kehrnagel Riesling Trockenbeerenauslese, Weingut Fritz Patheiger Erben – Maybe the greatest TBA I’ve ever had

1990 Muscadet, Michel Brégeon – Served with a platter of fresh Bélons, in a little seafood place in Nantes, with Michel Brégeon

1995 Grange des Péres Rouge, Laurent Vaillé – sheer genius; I don’t know how he does this, nor does anyone else

2011 Abbatucci Vin de Corse Rosé ‘Cuvée Faustine’ – with Barbara at Park Ajaccio in Paris in June 2012, after she had recovered from brain encephalitis.

I know I’m leaving out some Italian masterpieces, but I don’t have them memorized.

Lastly, who are some of the most memorable sommeliers you have experienced over the years and why?

You are now and always were the best sommelier I’ve ever met, Chuck, but the track has clearly become increasingly crowded. I was impressed recently with Erik Johnson at the French Laundry, Zach Gossard at the Surf Club in Miami, Thomas Patuszak of the Nomad Hotel in NYC, Jill Gubesch of Frontera Grill, and Paul Botamer of Dean Fearing’s in Dallas, among many others. The emergence of the sommelier into the wine industry has given it legs that it would not have had otherwise, and it has made life far more enjoyable — and enormously more productive — for people like me. I think it might well be the most important thing that has happened to the wine business in my lifetime.

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Here is an interview we did with Amanda Wittstrom Higgins (VP of Operations-Ancient Peaks; Co-founder of Wine Speak & “40 under 40”–Wine Enthusiast) for Wine Speak 2020.

It’s hard not to dream big when you spend time with Amanda Wittstrom-Higgins.

Amanda is a fourth-generation San Luis Obispo County resident and has been with Ancient Peaks Winery since its inception. As VP of Operations at Ancient Peaks, Wittstrom-Higgins has helped forge annual double-digit sales growth while managing a variety of new initiatives, such as the creation of the winery’s Oyster Ridge event venue. She also created an innovative multidivisional internship program that has graduated numerous aspiring young professionals.

Amanda co-founded Wine Speak Paso Robles with master sommelier Chuck Furuya in 2017, and it has since become regarded as one of the top events of its kind. In 2018, she established Dream Big Darling, a nonprofit dedicated to fostering the success of women in the wine and spirits industry. An outgrowth of Wittstrom-Higgins’ passion for mentorship, Dream Big Darling is steered by a board of industry veterans dedicated to creating leadership opportunities for the next generation. In the summer of 2019, Amanda was featured on the cover of Wine Enthusiast’s “40 under 40” issue, showcasing “the trailblazers who are redefining the industry as we know it.”

Chuck recently caught up with Amanda to talk about Wine Speak 2020—and to learn more about her passionate outlook on work and life.

Has Wine Speak lived up to your dreams?

This event has been an incredible experience. In 2017, when we dreamt it up, I didn’t really have any idea what it might develop into. Our original goal was and still is to elevate the wine community through sharing, collaboration and camaraderie. What I didn’t realize was how much power there is in this concept. I’ve personally seen this event have a ripple effect that transforms trajectories and offers opportunity to so many people and regions.

Why are you so fully, all out vested in this event?  Don’t you already have too much to do?

When you love what you do and the people you partner with it doesn’t feel like work, it actually feeds your soul! Someone once told me, “Why should we stop learning when we get out of school?” Every day you need to learn and grow, for me this event challenges me to learn grow and look at things differently. I’ve had the opportunity to learn from amazingly talented people who have incredible drive and commitment to their craft. I was able to visit Adam Tolmach at his home ranch and walk his extraordinary kitchen garden and disease-resistant test vineyard; to experience his commitment to innovation, research and fostering those around him, and his legacy of quality was really inspiring. And, Shelly Lindgren of A16 & SPQR’s commitment to authentic Italian food and wine is remarkable. Through her work she’s been able to enhance the community she serves. Additionally, her passion has helped transform lives in Italy as the popularity of wines she’s curated for her list have spurred demand enormously, so much so that the country of Italy has chosen to honor her for her work.

The power of this event and the examples of success I’ve been exposed to have taught me that ALL individuals have the power to create change and a lasting impact on the world. This is probably the greatest gift I could receive.

In 2019, Wine Speak featured a panel—“Wine from a different perspective” —featuring five top female wine professionals, which you moderated. Many, many participants have said it was so powerful and drew lots of emotion out. What made this happen?

This was an incredible experience for a multitude of reasons. For one, it sold out faster than any other seminar, and it was the only session that didn’t serve wine! The concept was to share the journey of these individuals and their paths to success. At first, we were really nervous and unsure how a panel that didn’t serve wine or focus on technical procedures might be perceived.

We selected superstars from several facets of the industry to add dimension to the conversation: Meridith May, Somm Journal/Tasting Panel; Jordan Fiorentini, Epoch Wine Estates; Helen Keplinger, Keplinger Wines; and Shelly Lindgren, A16 & SPQR. What made this session so powerful were the attendees. This session was different, the room was bubbling with excitement of young wine professionals, many of whom were women. Before the event began a young woman in the audience raised her hand and professed to loving her career and had no idea how she would ever be able to have a family, a husband and a career all at the same time. She wanted to know how it could be possible. This sparked the discussion for the next 90 minutes as well as the conversation that was heavy on the hearts of so many.

The truth is that the top spots of our industry as well as many others aren’t occupied by many women. It isn’t because there aren’t any amazingly talented women who are capable of doing the work; it’s because they made a different choice for themselves or their families. Seeing this panel of accomplished women together sparked a sense of hope, courage, and confidence in the audience. If they can do it why can’t I? Hearing the group share how it’s not always easy but how they continue to push forward and make every day their best was truly inspiring. Our industry won’t evolve if we have the same type of people doing the same types of things, we need new ideas, new perspectives that appeal to all people and consumers.

The most impactful part of life is when you see others find their “light.” I believe that everyone has a special gift and a beautiful light to shine on the world. Many people have a hard time identifying their own special gifts and therefore don’t shine brightly. BUT, when you can help someone find their special gift and show them how to use it in a way that can provide for themselves and others, WOW!!! This will also have a HUGE impact on our industry and world. Just imagine if the world was filled with people who were using all their own talents and helping others, to make this industry and world a better place. I walked away from this session thinking that the future is really bright!

What would you then share with all of the young, aspiring professionals out there moving forward?

Travel, read, learn, ask questions and align yourself with people and projects that will help you grow. Don’t chase money. Be ready to work hard. Opportunities come in very strange packages.

“A lion doesn’t need to tell anyone he’s a lion, everyone already knows.”

For 2020, you will now be taking this thought and including a new speaker for her perspective—Madeline Triffon, MS. Why Madeline?

Madeline is a superstar and the ultimate professional. She has dedicated her life to her craft and creating memorable experiences for guests. She was one of the first Americans to pass the rigorous Master Sommelier exam and the first female. But what’s so impressive about Madeline is her love of sharing her knowledge and passion with others. She isn’t boastful or self serving and once said, “At any exchange you should only use 10% of your knowledge.” I love this as so many are quick to show how much they know and this is when, without knowing why, consumers are turned off. She truly believes that wine should be enjoyed at every meal and that there is a place for it at ALL tables. She is a big advocate of the industry and the promotion of the next generations. She said, “Sharing is our most powerful tool, we can’t take the information with us, so why not use it to make others better?” We could all learn from Madeline’s wisdom, work ethic and passion.

This panel seems to align with your mission of Dream Big Darling.  Why is this so important to you?

For many young people, the road map or definition of “success” is confusing. In school, we are taught 1+1=2, and when you graduate from school you should be a top earner. The real world doesn’t really work this way and young people today would greatly benefit from wisdom and guidance. Soft skills, work ethic, drive and passion are almost always at the core of “success.” In addition, there are very few females holding top positions in our industry. I know there are plenty that are certainly capable and it’s an interesting concept. What’s really interesting is that the majority or at least 50 percent of our consumers are female. I think the industry would benefit from considering a different perspective. Madeline is a shining example of someone who has made a mark on our industry, and by sharing her valuable experience I think we can inspire others to reach for greatness.

How do you keep it all managed/balanced—work, personal, family and now dealing with all of the attention/publicity because of Wine Speak, Dream Big Darling and the “40 under 40” recognition from Wine Enthusiast?

Ha! When I figure it out I’ll let you know. The truth is that this is something that I’m always working towards. My husband, Sam, is my rock and I’m so blessed that he is an incredible father and husband, and raising our family is really a partnership. If it wasn’t for him I wouldn’t be able to do anything extra, I am thankful everyday. I am so thankful to have an AMAZING team that I trust and respect, this allows me some flexibility to focus my energies in different ways. Our ownership at Ancient Peaks Winery is deeply invested in our community, learning, and growing—I’ve always been encouraged to give back. Our company philosophy is “the rising tide lifts all boats.” Our community and my friends are absolutely amazing, and without everyone’s efforts, many of the initiatives we’ve put together simply wouldn’t be possible. And lastly, I’m thankful for you Chuck, in true sommelier fashion, you are always looking for talent and value—little did I know you look for these qualities in almost every aspect of life and others.

What would you say to all of the wine professionals out there who want to understand what makes your home turf of Paso Robles so special?

There are so many incredible regions in the world and I have been really inspired when traveling and seeing the energy within these places! I’ve spent a lot of time traveling the country and working with our national distribution and accounts. The world is full of amazing wines from both the old and new world.

Paso Robles is a somewhat undiscovered region bubbling with passion, value, innovation and character. It’s a place where the community is deeply involved and there is a true passion for the craft. The soil profiles and climate make the region a near perfect growing environment. The AVA was established in 1983 and the breadth of innovation, learning and community are really prevalent. The price of land in the area is approachable enough that we have attracted some of the most talented producers to spread their wings. I would encourage you to take a chance on Paso Robles wines.

For 2020, Wine Speak is inviting more perspectives from the Old World.  Why?

There is great value in history and learning from others. We really need to push ourselves and learn from others with incredible drive and dedication. The old world is so inspiring and many have been farming the same land for centuries. Their lives live and breathe the creation of wine. I can’t wait to hear their perspective!

What advice would you give to your younger self?

Keep your chin up, if it was easy everyone would do it. Make everyone around you better.

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Until quite recently, the Malvasia grape variety was reputed as the most widely planted white grape in the world. That’s so interesting, as how many eye catching ones have you recalled ever running across? We, at VINO, are and have been intrigued at finding really good ones, as they can work such unique magic and dynamics when paired with the right kind of foods. Yes, it can be quite the experience, which is why we keep searching and will keep on. Here are four that will show you what this much maligned grape variety is capable of. I think these are wines you will remember for a long time, if you attend this tasting. They are that unique.

2014 Palmina Malvasia “Larner Vineyard”–This was one of the first compelling Malvasia driven white wine bottlings we have had out of California, although a much earlier vintage. The grapes come from the highly revered Larner Vineyard located in the Ballard Lane niche of the Santa Barbara wine country and if my memory serves me correctly, I recall there were only two or so rows of this vine planted there. We love this wine’s wonderfully exotic, mesmerizing perfume done with such purity, minerality, seamlessness and uplifting personality. It beckons Mediterranean inspired seafood and vegetable dishes.


2017 Birichino Malvasia Bianca “Pétulant Naturel”–As far as I know, this is only the 2nd commercial vintage of this wonderful discovery produced from Monterey grown Malvasia grapes and fermented dry. They add more unfermented juice to the wine causing a refermentation. This is a very unusual take off on an ancient sparkling wine method, which some say pre-dates Champagne. This wine is meant to be enjoyed, especially well chilled–a thirstquencher, completely refreshing fizzy, food friendly quaffer, not some serious trophy wine.



2016 Caravaglio Malvasia Secco “Salina”–We just wanted to show tasters a completely different slant on what this grape variety can be. This one is grown on the island of Salina, located just north of Sicily. The soils are mostly volcanic in origin, so the wine has a strong sense of stoniness. The vineyards gaze upon the sea, it is so close, which I would say is partially why the finished wine has salinity…..all with the lime blossom and crazy aromatic perfume of the Malvasia grape variety in its core. There are only eight or nine producers of wine on this small island. This family has been doing their thing for over 500 years.


2015 Vignai da Duline Malvasia Istriana “Chroma Integral–One of the most profound renditions of this grape variety and grown high up in the hills of Friuli, by an uber-naturally minded couple. Yes, they live au naturale as a lifestyle. This is the most intriguing of their highly sought after, though very limited wine portfolio. AND in 2015 they hit the sweet spot, I am a believer!   Here is your chance to try it.


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I wish I had a dollar for every time some said, “I just love Pinot Noir”. I would be a gazillionaire and happy as a lark. This grape variety is on fire in popularity and I have come to learn that not all Pinots are grown or created the same and thankfully so. Here are four from California that have something very unique to say. Don’t miss out! Opportunities like this don’t come around too often.

2016 Cambiata Pinot Noir “Santa Lucia Highlands”–I can’t even tell you which Pinot vine this is, as there are no records to be had on the subject. Winemaking prodigy Eric Laumann, had worked with these vines for over twelve years and REALLY liked them and he believes they are at least thirty something years old. There really is no other one like this being produced out of California today. It is transparent, sheer, earthy, stemmy and elusive without any sense of showiness or flamboyancy, like so many of the most acclaimed/fashionable renditions. Nothing tooty fruity here.

2014 Rossi Wallace Pinot Noir “Napa Valley”–Never heard of this Rossi Wallace before? This is a project of mega Cabernet icon/superstar Ric Forman & his wife Cheryl Emmolo. Yup, Pinot Noir grown high up on Atlas Peak. I didn’t even know there was still Pinot planted up there. I checked around and no one seems to know or care what clones/selections they are. They just say they were planted many years ago, like late 80’s, early 90’s. I suspect they are Dijon clones when smelling and tasting the wine. His 2014 received 91 & 92 points from Vinous & Parker.

2017 Neyers Pinot Noir “Placida Vineyard”–What is today referred to as the Swan heritage vine came to the U.S. in the 1940’s, they say by Martin Ray or perhaps in the second wave sometime later—1960’s by Joseph Swan. Regardless who actually brought the plant in, it is a vine, nonetheless that likes to be here and I love how masculine and savory it can be. Placida is predominately Gold Ridge soils and located a short distance from the Swan plantings in the Russian River and overseen by superstar vineyard-ist Chuy Ordaz. It is delicious & lovely in a masculine, savory way.  No one does Pinot like Tadeo Borchardt of Neyers.  No one.

2006 Whitcraft Pinot Noir “Morning Vineyard FI”–Chris Whitcraft was certainly one of the most “out of the box”, idiosyncratic, larger than life personalities of California’s wine scene in the late 80’s to the late mid 2000’s.   He also happened to fashion some of the most monumental, memorable Pinot Noirs of all time, especially from 1992 to 2006. Having been a winemaking disciple of Burt Williams, founding winemaker of Williams & Selyem (one of the very first Pinots out of the state that had an amazing cult like following), Chris followed with similar approaches in the vineyard and the winery. His Pinots were vehemently masculine, savory and surprisingly hearty, especially in their youth. They were continuously critiqued for having flaws and not characteristic of the grape variety. Let’s just say, they were not for everyone’s taste, that’s for sure. I, on the other hand, have had so many memorable bottles—young & old which were so amazing and for so many different reasons. He was the real deal with Pinot Noir. This morning I received an email from his son. It made me reminiscent of the days with Chris and his wines. It also inspired us to showcase some of the very last few bottles we still have from this specially gifted vigneron. Interestingly Morning Dew is a vineyard located up in Anderson Valley, which was owned and planted by Burt Williams (recently sold). In 2006, Whitcraft produced three different bottlings of this vineyard that vintage. Here is one of them., certainly not highly acclaimed or rated. Just plain good, especially now thirteen years old. We serve this wine in homage to our friend, Chris.

Categories : General, Red, Wine, Wine Thoughts
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Not all pink wines are created the same or of equal quality so, there are some good and some not so good. Summer is time for delicious, food friendly pink wines and here are four from around the Mediterranean basin which we feel are well worth checking out! Produced from different grape varieties, grown in different terroirs and microclimates and each are so unique AND really good

2018 Encostas do Lima Vinho Verde Rosé–A bright eyed and bushy tailed Pinkster from Portugal.  “Vinho Verde country is located in northeastern Portugal and is the largest demarcated wine region in Portugal. Soils are poor with an underlying granite base. The 2018 is 75 % Souazao (a local Port grape), 15 % Borracal (also known as Caiño Tinto), and 10 % Espadeiro (Galician Grape type used for rose wine production, specifically)”.

2018 Clos La Coutale Malbec RoséCahors is a wine appellation in southwest France, which hasn’t changed much in appearance over the years.  “Amidst dramatic rock formations and cliffs, the Lot River slowly snakes its way along the valley floor, coiling covetously around the charming town of Cahors. Cahors is also the birthplace of Cot, the grape more commonly known as Malbec. The Bernède family is an intricate part of this tradition, watching over one of the region’s oldest domaines that was founded before the French Revolution”.  This is the first time we have purchased this wine. It’s time has finally come. 100% Malbec, wild yeast fermented and aged in stainless steel for one month on its fine lees. We love its masculinity, earthy, savory pungency and how delicious it still is.

 2018 Maestracci Corse Calvi Rosé “E Prove”–Our wine yoda, Bruce Neyers vehemently recommended to make this stop, not only for the wines, but to walk vineyards and talk story with Camille-Anaïs Raoust, the daughter and winemaker of the estate. He feels she will be an intregal force within the wine scene of Corsica moving forward. Eventhough it was winemaking showtime, having just finished up with harvest when we visited, she graciously and thankfully met up with us. It was a terrific visit and we walked away with a much clearer picture of things to come. Certainly one of our favored stops during our trip to Corsica late last year.

High in the foothills of Monte Grossu mountain, inland from Calvi, lies the granite plateau of Reginu. The particularity of the plateau is the exposition to hot and dry daytime temperatures with high altitude cool nights, all surrounded on 3 sides by mountains with the fourth, open side a short distance from the sea and regular maritime winds. We were fascinated with the particularity of the terroir and the diverse influence of the temperature variations & granite soils.”

Camille’s wine exhibits wonderful purity of the soils, the microclimate and the surrounding wild countryside. While we have periodically tasted their pink wine over the years, it really has been the past of years, it has really found its stride. The 2018 is 40% each of 45 year old vine Niellucciu and Sciaccarellu (co-planted in clay-sand on granite soils and co-fermented) with 20% Grenache blended in to round out the edges. 90% direct pressed and fermented in stainless steel. We love how masculine savory and tasty it really is. We can readily see the difference that Camille-Anaïs Raoust has made since taking over running the domaine and making the wines.

2016 Abbatucci “Valle di Nero” Rosé–Jean-Charles Abbatucci is the most revered vignerons of Corsica by professionals (local and abroad) AND the winemaking community of the island.   He is fanatically into biodynamic winemaking in a HUGE way. He and his father used to forage the remote hills, fallow vineyards and “peasant” farmers in search of indigenous, nearly forgotten vines. The nearly extinct Carcajolu Neru vine was one of their most significant findings. When his old vines needed to be replaced, Jean-Charles instead, kept the vines’ root systems and grafted on indigenous grape cutting such as Carcajolu Neru. He nows has about two hectares of these vines in the mix. The 2016 is wild yeast fermented, direct pressed, fermented in stainless steel and then aged for six months in large, old demi-muids and only about 50% malolactic done. The production of this masculine, very savory rosé is miniscule since it comes from ½ hectare parcel. Here is your chance to try it! It was one of the finest pink wines of our trip!

Categories : General, Rose, Wine, Wine Thoughts
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“Rosé Wine & Food” 09-15-19

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“Rosé Wine & Food”

This is the next episode in our quest to shed a different light on what pairing wines and foods can be. The culinary world, after all, has greatly changed during my professional career and this is my opportunity to show another dimension to it all. Yes, quite another interesting and unique wine dinner. If you have attended our previous dinners, you know how eye opening they can be. Nothing fancy……..just plain good!

Pink wines are definitely IN. Finally.

Having said that the challenge is finding the “good” ones, as not all Rose wines are created equal. We will feature three very tasty, interesting and unique renditions for this evening. We have worked hard to get these wines, because they are so different and each provides a glimpse of their respective region, their indigenous grape variety and each done in a VERY different style.

VINO Chef Keith Endo created dishes for each of these pink wines and we hope the wines and the pairings will not only taste good, but will shed light on what can be.



WINE: Encostas do Lima Vinho Verde Rosé–A bright eyed and bushy tailed Pinkster from Portugal.  “Vinho Verde country is located in northeastern Portugal and is the largest demarcated wine region in Portugal. Soils are poor with an underlying granite base. The 2018 is 75 % Souazao (a local Port grape), 15 % Borracal (also known as Caiño Tinto), and 10 % Espadeiro (Galician Grape type used for rose wine production, specially)”.  This wine acts as the cranberry does at the Thanksgiving table–freshens & revitalizes the palate between bites.

FOOD: Braised Chicken & Homemade Ricotta Raviolilight tomato, celery and onion, smoked paprika “stew” & eggplant, Kalamata olive and caper tapenade




 WINE: Hofer Zweigelt Rosé–Upon first glance, this is a lighter-hued pink wine and is much more ethereal and minerally on the palate and is clearly different from the other two (please remember NOT all pink wines are created equal.) This is exactly why Chef Keith created this dish for this wine.  “The Hofer family farms vineyards in Auersthal, a dead-still little wine village in the Weinviertel, Austria, just barely beyond Vienna’s northern suburbs. The gently rolling hills in in this village are made up of deep loess soils and are planted predominantly to grüner veltliner, in addition to some Zweigelt. Zweigelt is one the country’s most popular RED wine grape varieties. Who would have thought an Austria Rosé could be so good AND make such a lovely pairing?”

FOOD:  Charred Spanish Octopus “Nicoise” Saladbaby arugula, castevetrano olives, grated egg, fingerling potato & sherry vinaigrette





WINE: Clos La Coutale Malbec Rosé–Cahors is a wine appellation in southwest France, which hasn’t changed much in appearance over the years.  “Amidst dramatic rock formations and cliffs, the Lot River slowly snakes its way along the valley floor, coiling covetously around the charming town of Cahors. Cahors is also the birthplace of Cot, the grape more commonly known as Malbec. The Bernède family is an intricate part of this tradition, watching over one of the region’s oldest domaines that was founded before the French Revolution”.  This is the first time we have purchased this wine. It’s time has finally come. 100% Malbec, wild yeast fermented and aged in stainless steel for one month on its fine lees. We love its masculinity, earthy, savory pungency and how delicious it still is.

FOOD:  Slow Roasted Moroccan Spiced Pork Chop–couscous, harissa vegetables & chimichurri




 FOOD:  Caramel Panna Cottawarm caramel sauce, marinated Kula strawberries & Lappert’s Vanila Bean ice cream

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Greek Wine & VINO Food

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Visiting Greece was at the top of my wife’s bucket list. So, several years ago off we went to enjoy the sights, the beauty, the culture, the people, the history AND the foods & wines of Greece. It was truly a memorable trip, to say the least.

I already had quite a fascination with Greek wines The grapes are so very different & incredibly unique. It is a wine niche well worth exploring. The challenge is finding really good renditions, especially here in the islands. Our long time wine friend introduced us to the wines brought into the U.S. by Diamond Wine Imports & we were absolutely thrilled after tasting through their samples. We have since had a really cool time working with some of their wines with tastings & especially with various foods.

Our main contact for Diamond Wine Imports, Matt Reilly, made his first visit to Hawaii & to VINO to do a dinner on November 5th, starting at 6pm.

Chef Keith Endo has created dishes to pair with the wines and I know it will not only taste good, but will shed light on what can be. This should be quite an experience & hopefully will encourage you to check out Greek wines for home use.


WINE: Douloufakis VidianoA dry, mesmerizingly mineral driven, remarkably light, crisp, completely refreshing Greek “country” styled white wine.  Here is another interesting and unique white wine from a small family owned winery. Cheryle and I made it a point to visit them in Dafnios on the island of Crete, just to see and walk their vineyards. They were absolutely breathtaking—white, calcaerous soiled, undulating hills, up to 1000 feet in elevation—wild and remote. The white soil is why the resulting white Vidiano (a native grape variety) is so incredibly mineral driven and uplifting. Plus we readily saw this wine offered at nearly every restaurant we dined at. We were able to get some for this dinner. Yay!  In short, the wine’s lemony edge & high pitched minerality, interacted with the food as a fresh squeeze of lemon would–accenting the scallop & tomato-red peppers, intertwining with the saffron-herbs & keeping the palate fresh & alive between bites.

Seared Bristol Bay Scallopssaffron-herb risotto & tomato-red pepper sauce



WINE: Domaine Skouras Moschofilero–Moschofilero is one of Greece’s top indigenous white wine grape varieties. We love its aromatics—white flower/honeysuckle with wildly tropical nuances and a very lemon-lime finish. Because it is a colored grape, it has to been grown and vinified with nurturing and care, to minimize bitterness and alcohol levels.  “This rendition is grown in Martinia of southern Greece at 2400 feet in elevation & very sandy soils. The vines are now at least 35 years in age. To produce a tasty, seamless, well balanced white wine like this, Giorgio Skouras uses free run juice for over half of the wine. No wonder it is good!”  While many would suggest that such a pork based dish, might suggest a pink or red wine, it really was this aromatic, slightly more viscous white wine that created magic.  During our visit & stay in Greece, I jumped at the chance to try Pork Souvlakis whenever I could.  I really would say this is typically a simple preparation, which a simple food station at a typical farmer’s market while on Crete resoundingly confirmed for me, as I watched him prepare it.  The pork was marinated for a short time in some in olive oil, then thrown on a grill.  Then slightly seasoned with salt & pepper.  Then sprinkled with some dried herbs–mostly oregano. At the last moment, a squeeze of fresh lemon juice.  Then served.  It was the best rendition of our entire 2 + week jaunt through the country & various islands.  At a Farmer’s market!  That was the inspiration for this dishThe Moschofilero has enough weight for the pork AND it really was its aromatics which connected with the dish’s herbs & vegetable-harissa which created the synergistic electricity.  And, the wine’s acidity kept pace with the lemon herb vinaigrette.  Yes, this was quite a delightful, interesting pairing.

Grilled Marinated Pork Bellyvegetable-harissa couscous, Kalamata olives, arugula & lemon herb vinaigrette



WINE: Domaine Karydas Naoussa–Here is a superb Greek red, crafted exclusively from the native Xinomavro grape variety in Naoussa within the Macedonia region further north. Xinomavro is highly regarded as one of Greek’s top two red grape varieties. This father and son team owns and farms 2.5 hectares of vineyard. Their winery is so small and totally hands on. This wine is actually the one that drew our attention to this importer and their wines. We love its authentic character, earthiness, wonderful savoriness & its more traditional minded approach & character. It has been years since we able to get the last allocation and we are most thankful that we were able to get some bottles to share on this night.  The most unforgettable, stirring facet of this traditional minded Greek red wine was its profound savoriness.  It really is devoutly & thankfully savory.  The paired dish is also really about savoriness too.  In this case, they deftly went hand in hand.

Chicken-Sausage “Stew”white beans, carrots, celery, tomatoes & bay leaf



Flourless Chocolate Cakewith raspberry sorbet


This was some kind of dinner!

a completely different slant on wine & food pairing.

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