Friday, February 7, 2014

Rain, rain, please don't go away!

Look at those droplets of goodness!

We've never been so happy to see gray skies. And these clouds definitely have very valuable silver linings.
Our current drought situation, which has recently been declared the worst in California since the winter of 1976-77 is finally being mitigated by a full day of steady rain. And it's predicted to continue through Sunday!

At Peju, we aren't in a horrible position water-wise just yet, as our vineyards are organically and sustainably farmed, and thus dry farmed whenever possible. But the prospect of zero rain this year was a scary one nonetheless, so we are celebrating today.

We suggest you open a bottle of Peju and pray for toast to more rain this weekend! It will mean a higher production of amazing wine from the 2014 vintage and in years to come!

It's a beautiful day in the neighborhood

Friday, January 31, 2014

A Word on the Inaugural Peju Brut Sparkling

Why sparkling? Peju daughters Ariana and Lisa, along with our winemaker Sara Fowler, share a fondness for that special bubbly beverage. Its versatility with food, its ability to make itself at home at Sunday brunches and dressy dinner parties, and that inimitable pop and sparkle that never fails to bring a smile to everyone's face... Sparkling wine is an essential. And after so many years of yearning to pop a bottle of bubbles with a Peju label on it, the family decided to change that reality.

Partnering with a small grower in Mendocino County, Sara and her team harvested and crafted a classic blend of 70% Chardonnay and 30% Pinot Noir. The resulting wine is crisp, floral, and lively, with notes of yellow apple and a satisfying richness on the finish.

Behind the scenes, it's quite the process to produce sparkling wine in the traditional methode champenoise--the bottling process alone has taken centuries and many feats of engineering to perfect--and there were plenty of hurdles we encountered on our way. We wanted to source the absolute best Chardonnay and Pinot Noir we could find from a small grower who shared our values and ideals of farming sustainably. So although it took some searching, there's just something about those bubbles in our glass that simply makes us happy, a tiny joy that no other wine can attempt to replace, and we wanted to offer that to you through our very own wines.

We hope you'll make your way over for a tasting or check out our online shop to order a few bottles for your next bash...we think you'll enjoy it just as much as we do. And to all of our male Peju loyalists: see below. There's a reason we call it "Brut"...bubbles can be manly too!

New Partnership with Christopher Hill Gallery

Many years have passed since the days of wine tasting in the barn with Tony and HB. The winery has grown from a modest but burgeoning wine growing operation to a thriving and widely respected family business--and throughout that evolution, we have sought to make the experience of visiting the winery as delightful and memorable and complete as possible.

We have shown the work of various artists in our very own Peju Art Gallery for several years now, because we see appreciation of art and wine as being very closely linked. So as of last week, we are very pleased to begin a new partnership with another local business--Christopher Hill Gallery in St. Helena. We are so excited about this opportunity to work closely with our neighbor up the road, and of course to feature the work of some of the country's most exciting and talented artists selected by a prominent expert in his field.

This collaboration will allow us to benefit from Christopher Hill's sharp eye and unique, personal approach to curation. His nationally renowned gallery has drawn the attention of the art world since its opening in 2002 and Christopher is devoted to developing relationships with established artists as well as fostering up and coming talent. The result is a gallery that represents a cross section of 20th century movements and concepts featuring artists who are on the cutting edge in terms of conception, creativity, and technique.

We can't help but take an extra walk or 10 through the gallery every day's quite impressive. So please be sure to check it out next time you are in the valley! You may wind up taking home a painting to go with your wine...

Thursday, January 9, 2014

A New and Exciting Release

Following an earlier than average harvest in 2013, we are very excited about the recent release of our 2013 Sauvignon Blanc. This wine has a quick turnaround in cellar. It is fermented in stainless steel tanks, setting it on course to be as fresh, and vibrant, and lively as possible, and as of December it was good to go and ready to be bottled.

This wine is very expressive and true to Peju's signature style--fruit driven, bright, lush, and utterly drinkable. With a warm year that was ideal for ultra-ripe fruit bursting with flavor, the volume on our SB is turned up all the way. Packed with notes of pineapple, lychee, apricot, peach, grapefruit, and lemon curd, this wine will be an excellent match for all of the winter seafood we are seeing right now (Dungeness crab anyone?) and will carry you all the way through to the warmer months for porch sipping. We hope you will enjoy it as much as we do. 

Friday, September 6, 2013

Happy New Year!

Two weeks ago was the official start of Harvest 2013 and the production team has since picked and processed the whole of our Sauvignon Blanc from Peju's Persephone vineyard in Pope Valley. This is an extraordinarily early harvest, and one that is shaping up to be smooth and painless, but at this stage we are keenly aware that the party has truly just begun--meaning there is a whole lot of craziness that is still to come. 
On that very first morning, as our entire staff gathered to swoon over the beautiful plump clusters and make a celebratory breakfast toast, winemaker Sara Fowler beamed with excitement, explaining the enormity that this day represents. For a winemaker, or for any member of the production team, this is January 1. It represents a blank slate, the moment when the cycle of winemaking starts all over again; when the focus shifts from fostering, and maintaining, and monitoring a wine in its intermediate stages, back over to the raw materials--the grapes picked straight from the vine. And there is something exhilarating about returning back to square one. So as we continue along, we will keep you posted with the progress and hope you can feel the excitement from wherever you may be! 

Nick, our enologist, grabbing a snack

Sara, all smiles on Day 1 of her mission!

Ariana Peju ready to bless the grapes

Thursday, June 27, 2013

Bottling Season

The downtime between the end of one harvest and the beginning of the next is not exactly that--rather, it's the portion of the year when the cellar is busy caring for wine that was harvested in years past. It is their job to ensure that the wine remains top notch all the way until its release. In other words, the wine does not leave their watchful eye until it is practically in your glass. Barrels are checked and double and triple-checked, temperature is monitored religiously, wines are filtered and fined until they are clear and beautiful, and last but not least, the wines are bottled and labeled and set aside to be cellared.

Bottling is such a crucial piece of the journey from vine to glass, and one that is seldom placed in the spotlight, but when the process is seamless and well organized, the wine loses nothing in transition.

As it looks like harvest is coming a bit early this year, (it's like Christmas!) the cellar crew is chugging along day after day to bottle red wines from 2011.

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Showing the Vineyard Some Love

It's been a month since our last post, and the status of the vineyard has progressed a great deal. What had previously been miniscule flowering buds are now finally resembling berries, albeit with firm green skins to protect their precious interior from the elements. As far as vineyard management, we have just completed round one of suckering. Excess shoots and foliage have been removed, allowing that early summer sun to shine on our fruit and focus each plant's energy on the adolescent clusters.

The one most important detail, however, is that all of this growth and maintenance is happening earlier than usual, which is good news for this year's harvest. Early setting fruit frees up more time for ripening, and gives vintners the peace of mind to pick when the time is just right.
When grapes develop and ripen behind schedule, harvest tends to coincide with the first fall rains, the result of which can range from a less than ideal to disastrous harvest.

Needless to say, this early bird growing season has everyone at Peju very hopeful and excited for Harvest 2013 and we will keep you updated as the growing season continues.

With no before photo, it's hard to compare, but it's clear to see just how neat and tidy and ready for fruit-bearing the vines are looking post-suckering in these pictures!

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Hype-Worthy Happenings in the Vineyard

The arrival of Spring in the Napa Valley brings with it a quintessential transformation of gray and gloomy to green and full of life. It's the time of year when the atmosphere in the valley is as close to perfection as we ever see--the vines are topped with a lush canopy of leaves and each day rises a few degrees warmer.


2012 being my first harvest in the valley, the thing that strikes me the most in the midst of this lovely season is a feeling that even in these mild spring months, the vineyard is progressing in small ways towards the ultimate end--harvest. I try to stay aware of what's going on in the vineyard, to remain connected to its life cycle even in the less eventful or visually appealing months. But budbreak this year caught me by surprise. It dramatically altered my frame of mind with regard to the passing of time, and pulled me into the vineyard calendar: a year within a year that begins with budbreak and ends with harvest. I am now acutely attuned to the fact that everything happening outside the doors of the winery--the fog, the traffic on the highway, the birds chirping, the wind blowing, plays a role in this year's harvest. That may mean a tiny, even infinitesimal role, but there is still something to the idea that everything is connected.

The changing of the seasons also brought my attention to the purpose of identifying a wine's vintage. When we list this defining detail on the bottle, it serves to distinguish the wine from past and future years, but it also suggests that the wine exists as a product of the entire year of 2013--not just the few months leading up to harvest, which are historically far more celebrated. But the truth is, every day counts. Today for instance, the grapes are in the equivalent childhood of their lives! Following budbreak, we are now seeing flowering, which is when the future grape clusters are fertilized and pollinated. They are ultra-tiny and vulnerable and are being gradually nudged into full-fledged versions of themselves with the warm, but not yet scorching rays of the sun. So I dedicate this post to welcoming the development that is currently happening in the vineyard, to deem it equally as important as the exciting final days of ripening that receive so much hype. Flowering is the new harvest!

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Peju Prunes

Pruning Party
 Last week was Employee Pruning Day at Peju! No, that is not a euphemism for layoffs, it's a chance for all of our employees to try their hand at pruning the vines and learn a bit about the science behind the process. And we were all blown away with how much we did learn.

Alejandro teaching

And showing us how it's REALLY done
Manuel and Alejandro were our gracious and patient guides. They explained which parts of the vine should go, which should stay, and why. Much of the process consists of getting rid of older shoots, which left untended could begin to take over the vine and drain nutrients and energy from the rest of the plant. Ideally, you leave a smaller shoot that is just hefty and strong enough to support an adequate number of clusters. Next year, that same shoot will be removed to make room for smaller growth beside it.

We also had to be mindful about training the shoots up towards the sky, which meant pruning anything growing sideways or downward. And on top of that, we learned to be liberal and decisive with the shears in order to avoid overcrowding and superfluous growth. After all, it's quality over quantity so we did not need to facilitate as many clusters as possible from one vine. Instead, we learned that the focus of pruning is to maintain a healthy vine with streamlined, consistent, and balanced growth.

With all of that information bouncing around in my head, I grabbed my shears and got to work on the vine, which I completed in just a minute or two. And I was extremely proud of it. I then watched Manuel do the same thing in about 5 seconds and realized my stark incompetence. There is so much to consider so I was amazed at how they these guys are able to break it down into a formula and execute so quickly. Practice makes perfect I guess, but most of us were nowhere near perfection!

A great experience and thank you so much to our winemaking and vineyard team!

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Mustard! And everything that comes with it.

It's mustard season! Time to frolick through the yellow flowers, take hundreds of pictures, and soak in the beautiful sights before it all disappears into the ground. There is really nothing like it, so enjoy.

But pictures of mustard alone does not a blog post make. Beyond the bright and happy feeling these millions of yellow flowers bring to the valley, the mustard plays a serious and important role that touches the core of what viticulture and winemaking is all about.

To explain, the vineyard is a major part of the valley's ecosystem and the microcosm of Rutherford. As we look closer, we see that the vineyard is a living, breathing network of organisms on its own. A network that somehow produces beautiful wine, provides dozens of jobs, and offers entertainment and leisure for thousands of visitors each year. No small feat. But let's add to that. Because we practice organic agriculture, the vineyard is not just a gigantic, interconnected system that facilitates so many amazing things (wine, quintessential pastoral beauty). It is also a gigantic, interconnected system that will sustain itself for years to come, and operates on nothing but sun, earth, rain, insects, and in the words of Kung Fu Panda, "universe juice".
And one significant cog in that wheel of sustainability is the use of cover crops. Namely, mustard, beans, oats, and wildflowers that have a symbiotic relationship with the vines. As these plants grow they fulfill many, many tasks that include fortifying the soil with beneficial nitrogen, soaking up water from heavy rains that might otherwise go undrained (bad), and attracting beneficial insects that ultimately predate smaller pests. So as you marvel at the fluorescent blossoms, don't forget how important they are to the big picture, and each picture you take will mean that much more!

Thursday, January 10, 2013

A Renewed Love for Napa in 2013

“Why are American wines so expensive?”, asks a polite, but skeptical middle-aged couple from Germany. “At home, we never buy wine at such a price”. They both gesture to the twenty-two dollar bottle of Sauvignon Blanc on the counter between us. Immediately I feel my face start to flush. How do I explain, without a shred of pretention, why you, my adorable, inquisitive tourists, should be shelling out wads of cash for wine, when you live in a legendary, ancient wine-growing region?

Before a moment has passed, I realize there are plenty of reasons why our wines are priced at this level. As an East Coast transplant to the area, it is apparent to me that Napa is special, and the wines made here are quite rare. Driving through vineyard after vineyard, the farming spirit is in the air and the interconnectedness of it all is palpable. From sunshine, to leaves, to grapes, to press, to barrel, to bottle, the valley is a place where the line between wine and culture is quite blurry. The same is true for the sleepy river villages of the Mosel valley in Germany, for example.
But one difference is clear—that of age. While we are respectably established as one of the world’s great wine regions, when compared to France, Italy, Spain, and Germany, we are still viewed the young guns on the scene. The beauty of my argument, however, is that I consider it a good thing.  

I go on to explain that in Napa, you do not have to be born into the business, inheriting your share of a centuries old chateau in order to be successful. In Napa, the spirit of the American Dream still whispers through the vines. It is a place that has been developed and transformed over the last 40 years by adventurers and audacious entrepreneurs, (Tony and Herta Peju included) and continues to reinvent itself and give way to possibility year after year (Enter Ariana and Lisa).
And while the title of vintner/proprietor is a noble one, it is not always a smooth road or an easy life. Prices reflect the monetary investment as well as the emotional one!

When this heartfelt monologue garnered only a few nods, a smile, and a shrug, I pushed sentiment aside and turned to the stats: Napa is small. It spans a mere 30 miles from north to south, and at some points is only 1 mile across. And although a vast portion of this land is vineyards, the Napa Valley accounts for only 4% of California’s wine. In a word, it is unique, and its wines are precious gems. That, in my mind, accounts for every penny and more.

As for my new German friends, they were won over by the facts and figures. They bought the bottle of Sauvignon Blanc, went out to the terrace and soaked up the *January* California sunshine with a glass of wine in hand.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Giving Thanks for Fall at Peju

Early this week, the fog and rain rolled in like a veil to cover the Napa Valley, signaling the end of harvest and the changing of the seasons. Surrounded by a thick mass of clouds, the valley feels insulated from the outside world, as if hibernating in observance of the end of the grapes' journey from vine to winery. Droves of trucks barreling down the highway with back beds stacked with grapes have ceased. The air is damp, still, and quiet. Even the vines themselves seem relieved of their duties and thankful for the moisture. Several weeks after relinquishing their grasp on each grape cluster, bringing their singular task to completion, they now soak up the water and begin the slow fade into winter.

This in-between period immediately following harvest is really an interesting time for the vines.
They still possess a vitality that their time spent fostering and nurturing the grapes affords them but have not yet declined into dormancy. Instead, they perform one final, wondrous transformation--their leaves turn from brilliant green speckled with gold, to a deep, burnt orange that makes the vineyard look like rows of flame. And for that we are thankful!

Enjoy the photos of the vineyard and Happy Thanksgiving from Peju!

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Back In The Cellar

From below
From above
All of the picking for Harvest 2012 is officially finished, but the work does not end there. As the focus moves inside of the cellar, it is clear that while the taste of the vineyard does not hinge on following procedure after complicated procedure, it does require some thoughtful decision making about which are the most effective practices for making great wine. These practices often surround treating the grape with care, and avoiding too much manipulation of its flavors. But the thread that seems to run most clearly through Peju’s winemaking philosophy is that the easy way is not always the right way, and there are no shortcuts.  
I stumbled upon a perfect example of this as I wandered through the cellar last weekend. There were only a couple of people working back there, and they were responsible for pump-overs, or the process of racking the wine off the skins and then reintroducing it to the grape solids.

A simple pump-over is a vigorous process, one that ultimately tries to achieve maximum flavor extraction and oxidation in a minimal amount of time. At Peju, however, and at many wineries committed to attaining the very best wine from their fruit, this process is done in a more drawn out, gentle fashion referred to as "delestage". Instead of spraying the wine directly back into the same tank, the wine is transferred to a separate vessel and given time to recalibrate and settle down. This complete separation of liquid from solid components not only aerates the wine, but also allows the skins and seeds in the first tank to experience the pull of gravity. With the wine transferred to another tank, the grape solids sink to the bottom, which allows them to compress under their own weight and even extracts more fermenting juice.
When the wine is then reintroduced, it experiences further aeration, and the process is gentler and more thorough than if the wine were racked immediately back over the top.
By repeating these steps throughout the fermentation, the winemaker extracts as much flavor as possible from the tannins, as well as oxidizes the wine just enough to make them more elegant, and less astringent. This makes for a wine that will drink well upon its release, but have a cellar life of up to ten years or more.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Reserve /rɪˈzɜrv/ [ri-zurv] noun, adjective

From here

To there
We are not quite done with Harvest, as fruit from our Rutherford estate is still being picked. These are the grapes that will eventually become our Estate Reserve wines.
The term “Reserve” in the wine world means many things for many different wineries. And in the US, there are no rules or regulations for what qualifies a wine as a “Reserve”. That being said, Peju’s Reserve wines are truly special, a representation of what happens when proprietors and winemakers take the time to learn about their vineyard and discover where the very best fruit comes from, and what that exceptional fruit is capable of when treated with love, respect, and attention.  

Our Estate Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve, Cabernet Franc Reserve, and H.B. Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve all come from specific blocks, and are then fermented, aged, and blended in such a way that further reveals their beauty and complexity. So "Reserve" at Peju has a "Vineyard Designate" status, but it is also essential to understand that the given vineyard is quite small. And due to that smaller size, the wine exudes what we refer to as "terroir". Not necessarily an earthy taste, but a sense of place, a feeling that comes from drinking a wine grown in a concentrated area with its own microclimate and history. Then, as it continues to be produced year after year after year, what is indicated on the label begins to signify something more and more tangible and recognizable.

And the best part is, despite all of the writing and scoring and analyzing we do, the only way to experience this is by drinking the wine. Cheers! And be sure to look out for the 2012 Rutherford Reserves in about three years when they are finally ready to drink...the valley is in unanimous agreement that 2012 is going to be an outstanding year.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

The Magic of Yeast

The heavenly smell of fermenting red wine now fills the winery, and we have the power of yeast to thank for that. Yeast plays an essential role in winemaking as it converts sugar into alcohol. Without it we would have nothing more than old grape juice.

However, jumpstarting the process is a bit more complicated than dumping some yeast into a tank, so I looked over some shoulders today as we gave the yeast some TLC before inoculating.
When preparing a yeast culture, first it is necessary for the yeasts to be combined with a high temperature liquid. The heat allows the yeast to disperse throughout the liquid and keeps the yeast cells stable.
From there, the yeasts must be slowly and carefully cooled down, so that they can be transferred to the grape must, which is typically kept at around 58 F. Inoculating when the must and yeasts are within about ten degrees of each other ensures the yeast makes a smooth transition and doesn't experience any "cold shock", which could negatively affect the fermenation process.
For the yeast required for just one tank, this temperature adjustment process takes an entire day. Then the yeast is finally introduced to the must, they get to work on eating those sugars, and we get to go home. Just one of hundreds of examples of how in winemaking, the little tasks and details create a final product that is far, far greater than the sum of its parts. :)

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

How Far We've Come


There is a certain relief that comes with knowing much of Peju's Cabernet Sauvignon from Persephone has been picked, pressed, and moved into tanks to ferment. Having reached this stage also signals that we are in the heart of harvest, especially as I look over these photos of the berries in their final moments as whole, untouched grapes (before they reach the crusher-destemmer below). With fewer and fewer clusters hanging out there on the vines, it has truly begun to feel like fall. But those bare vines also serve to remind us how much has already been accomplished in the vineyard and in the cellar so far.

According to Sara, our winemaker, fermentations of the Sauvignon Blanc are close to finishing and the wine is smelling and tasting very nice. As for Chardonnay, it is happily fermenting in barrel and smelling fantastic. So cheers to the Harvest season and to Sara and her team!

Employee Pick!

Last week was our Employee Harvest Day, where all of the Peju staff got a chance to get their hands dirty in the vineyard, and find out what it takes to pick like the pros! Here are photos of some of these very temporary (but hardworking) harvest interns.

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Celebrating Syrah

The vineyard has given us the first red of 2012 today--Syrah! Grown at our Persephone vineyard, the grape is typically picked on the earlier side and this year is no different. We are always excited about crushing Syrah since it gives us two wines--a traditional red Syrah as well as a Rose.
Rose is one process in winemaking that invokes the concept of science vs art. On the one hand, winemaking involves a lot of numbers and experimentation. However, great wine cannot be achieved by following a formula. A winemaker must rely on intuition and the realization that wine is, at the end of the day, a product of nature--and we are simply here to facilitate the journey from vine to bottle.
So how long do the skins and the juice stay in contact when making rose? It's a matter of keeping a close eye on the juice, observing how it looks, smells, and tastes. And when it's just know.

Our Syrah is a wine with great back palate tannins, wild blackberry, and a hint of smoke. The rose, as you would expect, exhibits a lighter iteration of these characteristics. Juicy red berries and melon and a full, round mouthfeel.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

About Our Chardonnay

This week we are bringing in Chardonnay. The process is a bit different from Sauvignon Blanc, as it is fermented in oak barrels, rather than stainless steel tanks. That said, I find our Chardonnay to be a great example of wine that is enhanced, but not dominated by oak. Winemaker Sara Fowler typically sticks to a ratio of roughly 70% neutral to 30% new oak barrels. This means--and I quote this from an unbiased, unaffiliated guest I overheard in the tasting room-- "it doesn't taste like oak, but it has the essence of it". And that elusive equilibrium is exactly what winemakers hope to achieve with neutral oak. It imparts a complexity and richness without dramatically altering the great fruit flavors Chardonnay has to offer. The result is a wine that is lively, smooth, and full flavored, with crisp apple, pear, citrus, and a little bit of spice. Here are some pictures of the French oak barrels that are already filled and beginning to ferment.