While Jack Neal was just starting his vineyard management company in 1968 out of his own garage, his wife, Athene, had her garden of flowers and many seasonal vegetables and fruit to support her small truck garden business in Rutherford.
Athene and her Greek immigrant mother, Zmora, would spend hours at a time deshelling walnuts and pistachios that surrounded the property to sell but to also support their large consumption of freshly baked Baklava and Karidopita- so much that they would lose fingerprints on their hands. Zmora’s family lived in Crete where her family had orchards of olive trees, vines, and other products that they farmed biodynamically.
“I remember when I was a kid and my Yia-Yia, Zmora, would tell my dad to only plant with the full moon. She was a very big believer in the system. Coming full circle, we have officially certified our vineyards biodynamic.”
– Mark Neal
The Neal family grew a variety of fruits and vegetables in the garden for personal consumption as well. Food they did not grow themselves they sourced from other local farms when possible. This was prior to the now- popular farm to table movement. A farming ethos was instilled in Mark and his brothers. Athene always had three boys, Mike, Mark, and Rick, put to work to help maintain the garden before and after schooling. They learned how to garden biodynamically, how to help support the family earnings, and provide fresh food for each meal.
Aligning with this ethos, as Mark grew older and started working more in the vineyard with his father, he applied these same concepts of healthy farming to produce the best quality of grapes for clients to make great wine. There’s those who say practice makes perfect, however, the Neal’s definition of perfection means certified.
“That’s why we don’t just practice, we are actually certified organic and biodynamic.” — Mark Neal
oday at both estate properties, the green thumbed Neals continue their love for gardening. At the winery, the large garden has many different varieties of tomatoes, sweet & spicy peppers, chard, beets, artichokes, lavender, olive trees, and much more produce. Down in Rutherford where Mark’s daughter, Jessica, resides, she has many of the same vegetables but is focusing on growing more flowers like Gladiolus, Cosmo’s, and sunflowers to provide for the winery’s tasting room.
“to make an excellent dish, you have to have absolutely the best ingredients.
You can only make great wine from great grapes” – Mark Neal