County loses a wine expert and so much more |

County loses a wine expert and so much more

Nevada County has been served an unfortunate and severe blow with the death of Neil Vreeland, who was better known as Neil. I bet half the people who knew him never even knew his last name. He was just Neil. I even called information one year to get his home phone and when the operator asked what name I wanted I just said Neil – not even thinking.

I met Neil in the early 1970s when he was the manager of the Fendi family’s U-Save Liquors, where he put together a stunning selection of top-rated wines years before “Fair Trade,” Liquor Barn and Cosco even had the idea. The store was eventually sold, and he along with Dan Davies opened Nevada County’s first wine store on Colfax Avenue.

He went on to work for me, running my wine store and tending bar at Friar Tuck’s. I guess he retired around 15 years ago but never really left. His name still appears on my wine list as someone who helps me choose wine.

He grew up in San Luis Obispo and was proud to have come from there. He was a Korean war veteran and often talked about the bitter cold and death there. Few probably know that he was one of the first Volkswagen salesmen in California. His family moved to property on Meadow Drive in the 1960s where he lived most of his life.

Some in Nevada County knew him as their bus driver, which is probably why he stopped in the snow last week to see if he could help with a school bus that was stuck.

Neil knew more about wine before I was born than I will ever know. I’ll never know how he knew half of the wine makers in California, their movements in the industry and their families. You could mention almost any wine root stock in the world, and he would know if it came from Persia or Spain and how it got here. He would laugh as if to say “doesn’t everyone know that?”

His retirement job was at Indian Springs Winery. He was with me in all the years of raising my children. All of my staff knew him and when he came in to Friar Tucks everyday, his cup of coffee was always ready.

People like Neil are what makes the experience of living in Nevada County so special. My wife and I along with countless others will have to get used to not having Neil around. His beautiful calligraphy is well-known as were his lousy jokes.

Nevada County has been truly blessed to have had this man around all these years. See ya, Neil.


Greg Cook is the owner of Friar Tucks in Nevada City.

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