Field Notes



Mark Neal’s Prime Rib Roast, December 11,2020

One of my family's favorite dishes I always get asked to make is my slow cook bone-in Prime Rib Roast. And it's a perfect holiday family moment meal. After many years of experimenting, prep work, and trying different cooking times, I have perfected this delicious dish. Pairs perfectly with Neal Family Vineyards Howell Mountain Cabernet Sauvignon! Enjoy!


6-7 Bone in Prime Cut (ask the butcher to hinge back the bones from the meat)

Coffee grounds (Death Wish Coffee or any dark roasted coffee of your choice)

Olive Oil

1 stick unsalted butter (room temperature – use as much as preferred)

Coarsely ground sea salt

Fresh herbs of your choice or my preferred blend:

  • 3 tablespoons minced fresh rosemary and a few sprigs to lay on the top
  • 2 tablespoons minced fresh oregano
  • 2 tablespoons minced fresh thyme
  • 2 tablespoons minced fresh sage

1 cup of local honey 

Some wine of course! 

12 cloves of crushed garlic

Red pepper rub (I use a mild and dried pepper rub, feel free to use your favorite)

Cooking string

Meat thermometer



Typically, I will get a 6-7 bone-in Prime Cut as the bone has more flavor, but with this recipe, you can use boneless. Of course, with our farming, most of the seasoning comes from our herb garden and vegetable garden, including the garlic, pepper rub, and our Neal Family olive oil from our properties. I am not shy about adding a lot to the mix – add fresh herbs to your taste preference. One crucial ingredient is freshly ground coffee. I use Death Wish Coffee and grind on the mid-course side, but you can use your favorite coffee. 


The day before:

You can have the butcher hinge back the bones from the meat or do it yourself. If the roast is over 10 lbs., I would cut the roast in half and prep each half, and cook both on one rack in the same oven for the same amount of time. 

Bone-in Instructions: To prep, the bone-in, open the hinge side which is a great place to hide some ingredients. Rub on a generous amount of olive oil with your hand, then rub on some soft butter, grind some salt to your liking, sprinkle on herbs and crushed garlic, and follow that with a small amount of the pepper rub. Once completed, I use cooking string to tie back the meat to the ribs, typically 4-5 ties to seven ribs. Lay the rosemary sprigs on top of the roast.

Bone-in or without: From here, I take a knife and stab a hole and place a whole clove of garlic on top and the sides—easily a dozen cloves or more are added by hand. I then add plenty of olive oil and rub on some soft butter to the meat on all sides in including the inside of a bone in. Drizzle the honey over the roast, add fresh ground salt and herbs, and then cover the whole roast with ground coffee. Cover and return to the refrigerator on a rack and pan with bone down. 

My refrigerator is at 34 degrees (most are), so I pull the meat out of the fridge about an hour before cooking it. Preheat the oven to 500 degrees. Before adding the roast, use a reliable oven thermometer to make sure the oven temperature is correct. Don't worry; if your oven doesn't heat up to 500 degrees, preheat as high as you can set it without activating the broiler function.

This method for cooking prime rib involves two stages: the high-heat stage and the residual heat stage. The high-heat first stage helps create that deliciously crispy crust on the outside of your roast, while the residual heat stage will gently cook the roast and render the fat. This method should produce the perfect medium-rare prime rib. *One of the best ways I found was to sear on a flat iron on a stove top before putting into the oven. Get it smoking hot and sear all sides quickly. I do use just my farmer hands on this, so be careful!

Once the oven is preheated, carefully place the prime rib roast, bone side down, into the oven, add some water and wine to the bottom of the pan; uncovered, and cook it for 5-6 minutes per pound. For a large roast that weighs 10 pounds or more, cut it into two 5-pound halves and cook both halves at the same time, but calculate the initial cooking time based on the weight of just one of the halves. [For example, to cook a 12-pound roast, you would cut it in half, place both halves in the oven, and cook them at 500°F for 36 minutes (6 minutes per pound x 6-pound roast = 36 minutes of cooking time) followed by 2 hours with the oven turned off.]

After your timer for the initial cooking goes off, turn your oven off and let it sit in the oven, undisturbed, for 2 hours. 


This time is the "low and slow" portion of the roasting. You're relying on the residual heat from the oven to continue to cook the meat, and the oven temperature will drop quickly if the door opens. After two hours, open the oven door and check the internal temperature of the meat. If the meat thermometer indicates that the internal temp is between 135-140°F (between medium rare and medium), it's done and ready to come out of the oven! If it isn't quite there yet, leave the roast in the oven, turn it back on at 375°F, and continue cooking it until it comes up to temperature.

Serve with our Neal Family Vineyards Howell Mountain Cabernet Sauvignon.







Yia Yia Neal’s Favorite Recipes, November 24, 2020

“Karidopita” Walnut Honey Cake*


Serves 24



6 eggs, whites and yolks separated 

1 cup sugar

1 cup sifted flour

2 heaping tsp. baking powder

½ tsp. salt

½ tsp. cinnamon

½ tsp. ground cloves

2 ½ cups walnuts, finely chopped



2 cups honey

2 cups sugar

5 ½ cups water


Cake Directions:

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. In one bowl, sift together: flour, baking powder, salt and spices and set aside. In a mixing bowl, beat the egg whites until stiff and then gradually add the sugar. Beat well to incorporate. Fold in the sifted ingredients and until most of the batter is smooth. Do not over mix! Pour into a greased 9x13 pan and bake for 35 minutes or until a toothpick inserted into the center of the cake comes out clean. While the cake is baking, prepare the honey syrup. As soon as the cake is done baking and still hot, poke holes in the cake using a chopstick or a knife, and slowly top with syrup. 


Syrup Directions:

Combine sugar and water in a saucepan and bring to a boil. Once the sugar has dissolved, reduce heat to medium and cook for approximately 5 minutes until the mixture becomes a thin syrup. Add the honey, remove from heat and cool.  


*Adapted from the Can the Greeks Cook!






Smoke Taint, August 31, 2020

Smoke taint is a catch-all term for damaged fruit due to smoke exposure. Smoke taint disproportionately impacts most red varieties, as the grapes experience fermentation on the skins. During the past ten days, Napa Valley has experienced a tremendous amount of smoke from fires inside and outside the county that continues to linger throughout the valley.  

Our Howell Mountain Estate and Rutherford Dust Vineyards are heavily impacted. The effects of smoke can range from the muting of varietal character to the smell of liquid smoke used in cheap barbeque sauce. Walking the vineyard, we see a lot of ash on the leaves, the fruit, and the floor, which gave us enough data to decide not to pick fruit this season. There is no guarantee that the wines produced this vintage will be tainted, yet this is not a risk we are willing to take.

The smoke-tainting of grapes can happen either by ambient smoke or by falling ash. The volatile phenols (smells) absorb into grapes via the waxy cuticle on each berry. These volatile phenols can remain active or bind to the berry's sugars and become glycosides. This means that the smell can no longer be detected. Once fermentation begins, however, these compounds can unbind via hydrolysis and smell volatile once again. The hydrolysis of these compounds is slow. It mostly happens during fermentation but can take place several years into bottle aging.

Some winemaking techniques can help mitigate the effects of smoke taint and include charcoal fining, reverse osmosis, spinning cone extraction, and flash détente. Some of these can be effective at a reduction, but they all have one thing in common: they do not meet our grape-to-bottle standards at Neal Family Vineyards. 

You may recall that Napa experienced fires in 2017. We got lucky that year, as we were completely harvested before the fires came, which, thankfully, were late in the growing season.  

Smoke taint is new to the farming and wine world in California. Not many professionals and specialists know all the answers at this time. We hope there will be a solution in the future to handle this new normal to our environment. The most challenging part is working all year tending the vines to have it taken away in one day. That said, we are farmers, we know the risks and love what we do, so we'll be looking forward to 2021’s harvest. Our hearts go out to everyone impacted, from the vineyard workers to our neighbors and our community.