Discovering a Sense of Place


At the risk of diverting attention from the release for a moment, I want to share a recent experience. In late July I attended the International Pinot Noir Conference (IPNC) in McMinnville, Oregon. It is an incredibly well-run festival that neatly interlaces superb food into a long weekend of wine drinking. I presented one of our wines at a seminar panel on Cool Climate Pinot noir. Not a stretch for Peay, by any means. As we tasted through these cool climate wines from various regions around the world—New Zealand, France, California, Oregon—I was struck by how lucky I am that the style of Pinot noir that I admire is what we get at our vineyard on the far Sonoma Coast. This is not a foregone conclusion. In the pursuit of making superior, high-toned, aromatic Pinot noir, I could have landed in a variety of cool climate regions where that style is simply not what the terroir provides. In France, unless I landed in Volnay or Chambolle—okay, let’s be honest, unless my relatives had left me holdings in those communes—the predominant expression would not have been floral, feminine and bright. If I had ventured down to Central Otago in New Zealand, it would have been quite likely that I would have made Pinot noir with dark, black fruit and not tart, red fruit flavors. Had we planted our flag in the Russian River Valley, it is quite likely I would have been able to make wines with depth and power but may have sacrificed freshness and earthy aromas.

When Nick and I were looking for land we tasted wines from many winegrowing regions with the hope of uncovering what accounted for the characteristics in Pinot noir and Chardonnay we admired. In the early 1990s on the Sonoma Coast—ahem, the true, West Sonoma Coast— there were only a few vineyards. Those vineyards often made wines with admirable structure (soft, but present tannins and lively acidity) and the fruit expression seemed drier and less, well, fruity than further inland and south. We liked that. We thought we should push the envelope a little bit more and head to an even cooler location to see if we could also get the floral top notes and the earthy base notes we admired from certain regions of Burgundy. We ended up in Annapolis on the edge of the far northernmost corner of the Sonoma Coast. Call it half luck and half youthful self-confidence but we chose an ideal spot that often delivers the characteristics we desire in world-class Pinot noir. Okay, to be truly ideal, the yields could be a little higher and the weather a little more predictable. Alas.

With ten vintages under our belt and vines that are just shaking off their ebullient adolescence and reaching deep to express their true nature, a consistent Peay style is beginning to emerge in our Chardonnays, Pinot noirs and Syrahs. Vanessa seeks to deliver that style unadulterated by overt winemaking tricks that would mask our vineyard’s character. Weather out here can be extreme and, as a result, you will see differences among the vintages, but that character is always present. It is a quality you cannot fabricate but must have the wisdom and restraint to allow to persist. We hope you have enjoyed discovering it for yourself.

Recent articles by Andy Peay