Peay Vineyards

About

Peay Vineyards seeks to make elegant, balanced and terroir-driven Pinot noir, Syrah, and Chardonnay from their estate vineyard located in the far northwestern corner of the West Sonoma Coast. Winemaker Vanessa Wong - who worked at Château Lafite-Rothschild in Bordeaux and as winemaker at Peter Michael Winery – crafts wines with focus and intensity that capture the cool climate location and express the minerality and fruit complexity that have become the hallmark of wines from their vineyard. In addition to their own wines, Peay also sells vineyard designated Pinot noir to Williams Selyem & Failla Wineries.

Location Description

Located in the far northwestern corner of the West Sonoma Coast.

Features

  • World-class, single-vineyard wines.

Additional Information

  • Meeting / Conference Facilities:
  • Caves:
  • Wedding Facilities:
  • Picnic Facilities:
  • Dog Friendly:
  • Winery Tours:
  • Wine Tasting:
  • Art or Architecture:
  • Organic / Biodynamic:
  • Awards:
  • Wine Club:
  • Lodging / Bed & Breakfast:

Average Bottle Price

$ 55

Winemaker

Vanessa Wong joined Peay Vineyards for their first vintage in 2001. Prior to Peay, she worked at Peter Michael Winery as winemaker and assistant winemaker from 1996-2000. She also has spent time working in France at Château Lafite-Rothschild in Pauillac and Domaine Jean Gros in Vosne-Romanée as well as in California at Hirsch Winery and Franciscan.

A native of San Francisco, Wong was initiated into the wine business by working in wine retail and catering at the ripe old age of 14. This early exposure to the world of wine and its distinctive yet universal appeal sparked her fascination with winemaking. This led her to pursue a degree in viticulture and enology at UC Davis much to the chagrin of her parents who thought she was taking pre-med classes. Vanessa expanded on her studies at U.C. Davis by working at various wineries in the Napa Valley and spending one year in France to study enology and do research at the l’Institut d’Œnologie in Bordeaux. Upon completion of her studies she traveled between Europe and Australia to explore the diversity of winemaking.

Together with Andy and Nick Peay, Vanessa shares the vision of farming grapes that express the unique climate and soil of a site and result in world-class, single-vineyard wines.

History

What the heck are people doing growing grapes and making wine from way out on a ridge top above the Pacific Ocean? I mean, it is remote. And kinda cold. And mountainous. And, frankly, can be a little inhospitable at times.” The quick answer goes something like – this is where our research and luck led us. The longer answer follows.

Husband and wife, Nick Peay & Vanessa Wong, grow and make the wine and brother Andy Peay sells the wine and runs the business.

With minor exceptions, all wines are made from grapes grown on our 51-acre hilltop vineyard located above a river in the far northwestern corner of the West Sonoma Coast, 4 miles from the Pacific Ocean at Sea Ranch.

We grow 34 acres of Pinot noir (4 Pinots: Scallop Shelf, Pomarium, Ama, Sonoma Coast), 8 acres of Syrah (2 Syrah: Les Titans, La Bruma), 7 acres of Chardonnay (2 Chardonnay: Estate, Sonoma Coast), 1.8 acres of Viognier (Estate), 0.4 acres of Roussanne and 0.2 acres of Marsanne (Estate blend).

We farm organically and maintain our certifications for fish-friendly farming and integrated pest management. The health of our vineyard dictates these approaches to farming and making wine. We also run on bio-diesel at the vineyard and solar power at both the vineyard and winery.

Vanessa Wong, Nick Peay and Andy Peay share a passion. That is a good thing since we are in business together as well as in relation. We each discovered wine at different times in our lives, but it led to the same desire. To make wine that engages all of our senses and expresses the characteristics of a piece of land. Yeah, okay, that is not a very unique desire. We felt to attain this height for our palates in our Country, however, we needed to seek cooler climates with longer growing seasons and different terrain to grow Pinot noir and Syrah than currently under vine. We needed truly coastal frontier land.

Armed with tanks full of coffee and gas, a Polaroid, and U.S. Geological maps in hand, we drove the back roads and coastal hills of the West Coast of the United States in 1995 looking for that special plot of land. “Hey, Nick, is that moss hanging off that split rail fence. Hmm.” “Is that bracken fern? Maybe too much water, Andy.” “Excuse me, old timer, do you have any records of temperatures in this area?” “Can you see that parcel from the lowest branch? Take a photo.” “Whaddya think, 10% slope on that hillside?” “What soils do you find on this ridge?” “Um, Nick, that is trespassing.” We drove all around the Santa Ynez Valley in Santa Barbara, up and around the Mendocino Ridges, down along the Sonoma Coast, even traveling as far as eastern Washington.

Well, one morning I — Andy — woke up in a thick fog on a black sand beach in Humboldt County (Humboldt County?!) I grabbed my bivvy sack and stuffed my gear into my truck and headed south on Highway 1 with plans to revisit some logging roads on the Mendocino and Sonoma Coast that caught our attention on our last trip. En route, I stopped in the town of Mendocino to pick up real estate listings to see if anything appealing had gone on the market. I was feeling a little lazy and it sure beat climbing trees for better sight lines for photos and scaling old logging roads rutted from years of heavy winter rains. There was one property listed down the coast an hour or so. “A scenic viewpoint with vineyard potential!” I groaned. Anyone who has looked for land recently in “wine country” recognizes that this means you could plant a vine there and it may live. Well, there is no guarantee that it would live. But it could, potentially, and for that you pay double the price. I decided I should check it out anyway and drove an hour south of the town of Mendocino to meet an agent in the coastal town of Gualala, a hamlet that serves as the northern border of the Sonoma Coast. From there we took Highway 1 along the Pacific Ocean into Sonoma County for a few miles and at a place named Sea Ranch headed east and climbed the coast ridge along the Wheatfield Fork of the Gualala River. As we mounted the ridge, the sign posts we used for identifying the correct climate and soil types were abundant. I got excited.

After meandering through tall stands of redwood trees we pulled into a clearing on a south facing ridge. We were perched on a knoll on the second ridge four miles from the Pacific Ocean. Bronzed fields sloped and dropped into the steep gorges forming a pronounced camelback shape to the land. A stand of fir capped the southern part of the knoll, hiding the bell shaped field gently sloping south east, south and southwest. To the south, far in the distance, I could see vineyards renowned for Pinot noir and Chardonnay. But no one had grown grapes this far northwest in Sonoma County. It was too cold. And god-forsakenly remote! Right here, this was frontier land. It was breath taking.

I barreled out of the truck and headed down the nose of the knoll to snap photos and take stock of whether this parcel really had “vineyard potential.” On my heels the agent carried on about the view and the house on the property, “You just have to see the house on the property!” In my most serious, no bones voice, I told her, “Thank you but I’m interested in grape growing, not residential real estate. Views and old houses be damned.”

I excitedly walked all over the parcel envisioning rows of vines. A gentle breeze was persistently luffing my t-shirt. The slopes were gentle, the exposure ideal, and the local flora encouraging. I snapped a handful of photos, thanked the agent for her time, and went on my way. “Cool breezes. Sloping hillsides. It looks promising! Let’s see what Nick thinks.”

Well, Nick liked what he saw in the photos. He visited the parcel. Took soil samples. Studied the geographic history. Poured over daily temperature records an old timer living on the property had recorded for the past 15 years in a spiral binder. Nick gave the green light and our adventure was underway.

It has been 17 years since that day. There have been countless stories that have carried us to this stage: stormy nights battling and cursing el Niño, daring the boy, just daring him to strike us dead while shoveling auxiliary drainage ditches; countless days spent coddling every vine praying it would be sunny/set well/grow/withstand the wind; endless afternoons clipping the 51 acre bonsai garden for optimal sun exposure on the fruit; and, most importantly, a singular tale of a boy and girl who loved wine, and each other, and wanted to make a life together pursuing these interests.

We feel lucky to pursue our passion together as a family and to share with you our dedication to the ideals of superior wine growing and wine making. This is what we do and we hope you enjoy the results. We look forward to sharing many future vintages with you.

The Team

Nick’s interest in wine started when, seeking to be different from his older sister, he accepted his parent’s offer to try wine one evening with dinner. A fascination set in and laid the groundwork for his eventual career in wine and wine growing.

After graduating from Bowdoin College, Nick set off for California with an ambition to discover if he would catch the wine bug working for a winery or perhaps end up pursuing a life as a chef; anything to avoid applying to law school, his parents suggested path. It did not take long for Nick to discover his calling. After working crush at Schramsberg in 1988, Nick took his first full-time position with Bill Smith, owner of La Jota Vineyards. The most critical lesson Nick learned from Bill was the importance of controlling your grape source. Acting on this inspiration, he decided to study in the graduate enology program at U.C. Davis, so he could someday grow his own grapes and make his own wine. Nick worked before, during, and after schooling at Schramsberg, La Jota, Newton, and as assistant wine maker at Storrs in the Santa Cruz Mountains from 1994 through early 1997.

As he witnessed the trials of running a self-starter venture at Storrs, Nick was delighted to discover his brother Andy might be interested in joining up to start their own vineyard and winery. In the beginning, Nick and Andy founded the company and planted the Annapolis parcel as a team. While the young vines matured, Nick worked harvest for Flowers in 1998 and 1999 and for Coldstream Hills in Australia in the Spring of 1999. When Vanessa joined the brothers in 2001, all the pieces fell in to place and Nick concentrated on winegrowing while helping Vanessa in the cellar. Due to his training and experience in making wine, Nick’s approach to grape growing stresses practices that lead to wines that express their fullest potential, no matter the cost or the effort. He hopes that will lead to wines that delight his brother, Vanessa and everyone who tries Peay Vineyards’ wines.
Over a bottle of Château Beaucastel and a rack of lamb, Nick convinced Andy to pursue a life in wine. They had spent the spring of 1995 listening to old jazz records and brewing beer. Nick would bring the wine for dinner and Andy, since he was trying to figure out if maybe he wanted to be a chef, would cook. One evening while washing down a bite of lamb with a perfectly paired wine Andy’s brain lit up like a Christmas tree. Forget life as a chef. Wine! A life in wine is the future.

Prior to that time, Andy had received his BA from Dartmouth College in 1992 and, upon graduation, spent a few years on Wall Street as a financial analyst. After leaving banking by way of trekking through Southeast Asia for a year, Andy studied economic development at UC Berkeley. That spring, Andy traveled to various wine regions and enrolled in the OIV Wine Marketing Summer Session at UC Davis. He continued to pursue his interest in wine by working the 1995 harvest at Cain Vineyards in Napa. By this time, Andy was hooked and moved to San Francisco to learn about the retail end of wine at The Jug Shop. During that time, Andy and Nick searched for land to grow cool climate Pinot noir and Syrah. They purchased their land on the Sonoma Coast in late 1996.

While looking for a potential vineyard site and preparing to plant, Andy received an MBA from the Haas School of Business, UC Berkeley. Upon graduation Nick and Andy co-managed the planting of the first 30 acres. The isolation of the Coast proved to be hard and cash was getting low so Andy moved back to San Francisco to work as a brand manager for a gourmet food company, Napa Valley Kitchens, and as a brand strategy consultant with The Brand Consultancy.

In 2004, Andy very happily returned full time to Peay Vineyards to run the business and sell the wine. He feels very lucky to share a vision for making high quality wine with an intelligent, hard working winegrower and an exceptional winemaker who also happen to be his brother and sister-in-law.

Practices & Techniques

Ever taken a sip of a wine and stopped dead in your tracks? Felt it engage your belly and then seep up into your brain? That is the experience we seek to create for consumers of Peay wines. Those wines almost universally come from estate wineries. The people who walk the land, make the wine. They live with their vineyard and know it intimately. You can almost taste the vineyard, the history and the personalities of the people behind those wines. That is what makes them unique. That is what arrests you as you distractedly take a sip, “Hey, what is this?”

To make a wine that captures a sense of a place and a people it is necessary to allow the vineyard to speak. Every decision we make is driven by a desire to let the vineyard show in our wines. Below are some specifics on how we grow fruit. This is just a quick overview. To learn more, come on out and walk the land with Nick.

FARMING PRACTICES:

We farm organically and have for the past 8 years. We are not certified, however. We are not dogmatic, black and white people, and farming on the coast means we are often thrown curve balls. If we needed to address something that threatens the vineyard – and there is no organic alternative – we would do it to save the vineyard. But we have not for 8 years.

We employ 8 year-round workers in the vineyard. They have worked for us for years and have become a highly skilled and integral part of the place. Everything is done by hand though we use tractors for spraying, hauling fruit, undervine tilling, and the like. Our workers touch each vine over 13 times per year. Having our own “crew” is rare as it is expensive but the care and attention they give our vineyard translates into the wine you drink.

Lastly, we use bio-diesel in our tractors. This allows us to minimize our reliance on certain fossil fuels at the expense of withstanding the smell of French fries while we work. We also power our vineyard and winery via solar panel arrays. Can you taste the effects of these last practices? Probably not, but perhaps the intention behind them.

TRELLISING:

For our location and wine growing philosophy, we use a vertical shoot-positioned trellis, supporting a head trained bilateral cane pruned system, excepting the Syrah which is on a bilateral cordon. This allows plenty of direct, dappled sunshine, kept cool by ocean breezes – part of the formula for quality – resulting in intensely flavored grapes and a complex array of subtle nuances, framed by balanced acid and tannin structuring components.

SPACING:

Spacing is intermediate to semi-close. Our narrow width tractors are less than five feet wide. The seven and eight feet spacing between rows is just fine as we are on steep hillside slopes and need whatever room we can get. Spacing between plants – currently our shortest is three feet – is governed by a desire to create fruit and energy balance along the length of the canes. After the vines are well established we no longer till the soil between the rows. We utilize erosion-minimizing cross-slope farming, aiming to keep the hilltop out of the ravine, and on top of the hill.

VINES & CROP LOAD:

Our clones and rootstock have been extensively evaluated and selected to produce superior fruit. The large number of clones we farm enables us to blend for enhanced complexity or to bottle separately to express a unique profile. The clones we grow produce smaller berries and clusters but we will “drop” crop to keep yields low to achieve fruit intensity. We also wing the pinot noir to ensure that all the berries we pick develop at the same rate. And despite our long growing season, due to our cool climate we need a “light” crop load to ensure we get our grapes ripe at harvest. And not to worry, Mother Nature has kept our yields very low with tonnage less than one per acre for 3 of the last 7 years and averaging around 1.5 tons/acre. But that is okay, lower yields maximize flavor and bring out the essence of our vineyard site.

Estate Vineyards / AVA

THE ESTATE VINEYARD SITS ON A FOG-ENSHROUDED HILLTOP ABOVE A RIVER GORGE 4 MILES FROM THE PACIFIC OCEAN. THE UPLIFTED SEABED LIES IN THE CHILLY AND WINDY INVERSION LAYER. WE THINK IT IS THE IDEAL LOCATION FOR MAKING WORLD-CLASS WINE.

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Hours

By appointment. Tours and tastings for mailing list customers (6 bottle min purchase).

Address

207A N Cloverdale Blvd Box 201
Cloverdale, California 95425
United States

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