To get a sense of the isolation of certain pockets of the far Sonoma coast, you’ll need a good map and a full tank of gas. Either road to Peay Vineyards, for example, has you winding though thick forest and between steep hillsides. The road often drops down to one lane, and depending on rainfall, there might not even be a road to speak of. Not the most accessible place to plant a vineyard. But then brother Nick and Andy Peay weren’t exactly looking for a conventional vineyard site when they were scouring the California coast in the mid-1990s.
Peay is a 50-acre slice in the redwood forest that sits squarely on the top of a hill near Annapolis. The property was an old apple and pear orchard (a few gnarled century—old trees remain), about the only crops besides wine grapes that could withstand the cold coastal climate. The Peays planted pinot noir and chardonnay here in 1998, as well as small blocks of syrah and a few rows of marsanne, roussanne and viognier. The vineyard is small enough that Nick works vine to vine; during harvest, and marshals an army of family and friends, along with a small crew, to make the long trek to the coast to pick grapes. The group then trucks the fruit inland to Cloverdale, where the Peays and winemaker Vanessa Wong (Nick’s wife) built a winery in 2004.
Sonoma’s far coast has become California’s premier region for pinot noir, largely because of pioneers like the Peays. The Scallop Shelf Pinot Noir is named for the fossilized seashells that the Peays found on the site. In ’06, Wong blended six clones with a deft hand: The wine feels dense and coiled before unfolding to show a core of wild blackberries with an earthy edge.
Wong’s secret weapon, however, is syrah. From the farming-Nick planted syrah in warm pockets that allow the fruit to ripen yet retain a distinct peppery spice-to Wong’s precise winemaking, Peay’s syrah is in a league of its own. The ’05 Les Titans, named for the ancient red woods on the property, is all savory structure, a wine to cellar for a few years. By contrast, the ’05 La Bruma, named for the fog, seems to revel in its freshness, a textural pleasure to enjoy with roast leg of lamb.