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james laube's wine flights

The Neyers Perspective

Experience breeds quality for longtime California wine man Bruce Neyers, whose recent vintages from Napa and Sonoma are exceptional
Photo by: Greg Gorman

Posted: Jun 17, 2013 5:00pm ET

There are so many things that Neyers winery is doing right these days that it's hard to know where to begin.

Bruce and Barbara Neyers have been married for 46 years, sweethearts since they were teens; they have three children and reside at their winery in Conn Valley, a slender offshoot midway through Napa Valley.

What impresses me about their winery goes beyond the quality of the wines, which is often exceptional, and extends to the sensibility of pricing. That comes from being on the sales side of the equation, working with dozens of imports and being a consumer at heart. It's a function of Bruce Neyers having been in the wine business for 43 years, including 21 at the helm of his winery. Along the way he's had stops at Mayacamas, Heitz and Stony Hill, and oversaw sales and marketing for Joseph Phelps Vineyards.

Running the importer Kermit Lynch & Co. for two decades has given him a unique perspective. He spends about half the year visiting the wineries in Lynch's book, including two annual trips to Burgundy and two to the Rhône.

"I'd be being less than candid if I didn't say Kermit Lynch has had an influence on me," said Neyers, who is 66. Kermit Lynch imports 130 different small French, family-owned wine companies, most of whom make lots of wines. One Alsatian firm makes 20 to 30 wines a year, which is not uncommon, said Neyers. "We're approaching 900 SKUs," or individual bottlings.

It's the cross-pollination between Neyers and the families he presents that gives him the most pleasure. "Over the 21 years [at Lynch], we've had about 40 [vintners] entrust their sons and daughters to us as interns working at the winery, living with us in one form or another," he said. It's that exposure to the "all-consuming aspect of wine being part of your life for many generations" that broadens Neyers' perspective. As such, he's come to appreciate the French appellation system that typically limits what grapes can be grown in different regions, and what it means for a wine to be typical of its appellation. As such, wines must be reflective of appellation. Appellations "make you make wines within the framework of logic," he said. "A Sancerre that tastes like Gevrey Chambertin is not helping anyone out. There needs to be a common benefit."

The Neyers brand has a broad mix of mostly small-production, single-vineyard wines that reflect the grape and the site where it's grown. "I'm in California, I own a small vineyard and winery in California and I don't delude myself to think I'm making French wine. I have a luxury here … I really can make wines in a fashion that suits me. I have a style of wine that I like." For most of Neyers' history, Ehren Jordan was the winemaker, splitting time with Turley. Today Tadeo Borchardt is the winemaker. Together "it's almost like the Vulcan mind meld," said Neyers. "Tad understands what I want. He can almost finish my sentences. I enjoy all aspects of wine, but ultimately I'm a wine drinker."

If you scroll through the 170 reviews to date of Neyers' wines, you'll find some early miscues, but also a handful of extraordinary wines, including his Neyers Ranch-Conn Valley Cabernet 2007 (95 points, $48) along with many wines in the high 80s with prices in the $20 to $30 range. The 15,000-case portfolio is anchored by Carneros Chardonnay (about half), along with many specialty bottlings from sites throughout Northern California. The first few vintages were made from purchased wines; consider 1992 the start, Neyers told me. He's forgotten the earlier wines. Easy to do considering his most recent vintages, led by the 2010s, are so worthy or attention.

Roger Gentile
Columbus Ohio —  June 17, 2013 7:57pm ET
Hi Mr. Laube,
I have known Bruce Neyers for almost 30 years, and he probably deserves the award as THE Mr. Nice Guy in this business. Aside from his warmth and charm, the dude knows good wine, has the best people working with him, as well as him working for the best people and wineries...a nod to the Phelps time. Nice piece on him and he deserves it. As well, it doesn't hurt that everything he does is really good.

roger gentile
Kc Tucker
San Diego, CA —  June 18, 2013 8:19pm ET
Love the 2010 Old Lakeville Syrah and the 2010 Merlot. Very affordable for how good the wines are.
Jim Kern, Holiday Wine Cellar
Escondido, CA
Daniel J Oconnor
Long Beach, CA —  October 13, 2013 10:46pm ET
Just tasted the 2011 RRV Pinot Noir from Placida Vineyard at a wine class and it was the star of the evening. Demonstrates flavors typical of the variety and appellation. Excellent fruit, acid, alcohol balance.
Mark Horowitz
New York, NY —  January 9, 2014 11:06pm ET
I would encourage you to re-taste the 07 AME Cab from Neyers. It has cellared very nicely and deserves to get more than the 88 points given on its release.

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