Myron and Alice Nightingale were one of the happiest couples I've ever met.
Myron and Alice Nightingale were one of the happiest couples I’ve ever met. They did everything together, and Myron was at his best and funniest when his “Redhead” was near. Myron was the first winemaker I worked with at Beringer. He was a quiet legend in the 70s and 80s, everyone in the business knew Myron and most knew Alice, for she had pioneered the first boytrised sweet wines in California in the 50s, with Myron’s help.
When Myron and I boarded our first plane to the East Coast for a series of seminars and tastings, he had been making wine in California for close to four decades. He had worked wineries in Lodi, Asti, Livermore, and had finally settled in the Napa Valley, assigned the job of rebuilding Beringer’s antiquated winemaking facilities to State of the Art for the time. His new boss was Nestle of Switzerland, his immediate one, Dick Maher, President of Beringer during my first years. When Myron was away from the winery on business trips he expected me to be in charge, setting up tastings, dinners, lunches, travel schedules, etc.
Myron was about 5’ 2”, medium build, bald, and wore working man’s glasses. When at work, he dressed in slacks and short-sleeved dress shirts. Now that I think about it, he dressed that way at home too. All of that contributed to a first impression of him as an organized, serious man, but this was deceiving. He could be very mischievous, and had a wonderful and sometimes inappropriate sense of humor. It was sometimes my job to edit this, but those of us who spent a lot of time with Myron would often be brought to tears by a comment or two that would escape. Zingers.
Alice was a more imposing figure than Myron. She was possibly taller, certainly heavier, and let her opinions known immediately and often loudly. You always knew if she was on your side or not, and not was not a good country to visit. Alice suffered no fools and fiercely protected Myron if she felt he was not getting the credit and attention he deserved. Myron on the other hand, was less forthcoming about his true opinions, soft spoken, self-deprecating, and, did I mention the “zingers”? After dinner one night when Alice had momentarily left the table Myron explained the reason for his baldness: “Too many U-turns under the sheets.” They made a formidable team of opposites, hopelessly attracted to each other for reasons only the heart knows.
When I was first hired, the lunches for visiting dignitaries were cold cuts, bread, salads, and accoutrements from a local deli, Giugni’s. Later I would oversee Beringer’s culinary directions. We hired chefs like Gary Danko (who stayed with me for 6 years), and eventually built the Hudson House kitchen and hospitality building, a true culinary center, home to cooking schools and many celebrity chefs. But in those early days, it was cold cuts and sides. Myron aptly described this fare as “donkey dick and potato salad.” I warned you. Zingers that flew in strange directions, anytime.
From 1971 (the year of his hire) to 1987, Myron did what a lot of veteran winemakers thought impossible. He tore down the old winery, cleaned everything up, built a new one, then expanded. His first lab was the basic chemistry test equipment balanced on saw horses in the Rhine House. His last one was in a very modern winery across the street with its own large formal lab where almost every important test could be made. He also had many full-time winemaking and lab assistants, all who greatly admired him.
In the late 70s and early 80s, part of my job was to get Myron on the road, and to work with winemakers on defining new wines that could ultimately compete with Napa Valley’s best.
We began a new Private Reserve program for Chardonnay and Cabernet, and started to barrel ferment Chardonnay (most of California Chardonnay at the time was fermented in steel and barrel aged). Myron was not a fan of oak barrels and wine, preferred “clean” tasting wines without the influences of oak, but he was game. His personal favorite beverage, by a good measure, was his “English Chablis” or Beefeater with a twist. Alice’s was Tanqueray, also with a twist. If we boarded a flight together at any time of day, Myron and Alice would have two of each from the first pass of the beverage cart.