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.

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Update on Sauvignon Blanc

There is still plenty of action on the crush pad since harvest first began. Sauvignon Blanc is arriving in hefty chunks from our Persephone vineyard each week and these consistent waves are ideal for timing and pacing. As a result of this good fortune (and diligent work ethic), we are on track to finish SB with enough time to take a deep breath, have a glass of wine, and prepare for Chardonnay!

Grape Skeletons

The Juice is Worth the Squeeze

Pressed and moved into tanks within a matter of minutes

And there's still a lot more to go!


Thursday, August 30, 2012

Still Waiting For Red

At this point in the season, the grapes out in the vineyard are relatively ripe. But to figure out the absolute optimum time to pick, you have to do some work in the lab. Today, armed with samples of Merlot from each row of the Hermes block, Nick is measuring brix and pH, or the sugar and acid levels. Ultimately, these details allow the winemaking team to turn a ballpark timeline for harvest into a detailed picking schedule. And while there is no telling how Mother Nature will behave, we do know that attention to the little things is essential to make truly great wine. This particular test requires some really technical work, like “squishing” the berries until you have enough “juice” to measure. No picnic, but it sure looks like we packed one...

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Harvest 2012 Is Here!

The first Sauvignon Blanc from Persephone Ranch arrived last week! And according to winemaker Sara Fowler, "the grape quality is the best we have seen in several years". She also indicated that as in previous harvests, we are picking SB in multiple stages for varying ripeness levels.
The earlier picking brings in fruit with mouth-watering acidity that gives the wine those bright citrus and grapefruit notes. By the third round, we are getting fruit with higher brix levels. These berries are responsible for our Sauvignon Blanc's super aromatic and luscious tropical fruit character. The multi-step process involves a lot of timing and planning, but it is the only way to achieve a balanced wine with such layered and diverse fruit flavors.

Now that harvest has officially begun, the winery is buzzing with activity, but not quite in full swing. In between is still a quiet anticipation for the road that lies ahead. Cheers to Sara and her team on a smooth start to a very promising year!

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

It's time for the homestretch

The sacrifices we make in order to create great wine can be heart-wrenching. Take the process of thinning, or dropping fruit. A huge number of clusters were recently cut from our Merlot vines, and I must admit it is sad to see them shriveled up and baking in the dirt. But this is such an important practice because it ups the concentration of flavor in each remaining grape. Timed just a few weeks after veraison, which marks the point when the grapes begin to accumulate more sugar, thinning allows all of the plant’s energy to be channeled into a smaller amount of fruit. So from now until harvest, all of the earthiness from the soil and the ripeness from the sun is distilled, condensed, to make wines that are more powerful and refined.
These vines are pretty young, so even after thinning, the clusters are more than bountiful
On the other side of the winery, the HB Cabernet Sauvignon looks sparse in comparison. This block has seen many more years of thinning so it has a naturally lower yield--and is the source of our magically delicious Rutherford Estate Reserve.

At this point we have also stopped watering, which means the nectar in those grapes will be even more intense. All in all, it’s a rigorous time for the vines and a super exciting time for us as we wait patiently until the optimum time to pick. If the growing season is a marathon, this is about the 22nd mile. Close enough to taste, but the absolute most important part, as that last week or so of ripening will make their journey complete.    


Thursday, August 9, 2012

Introducing...Cabernet Sauvignon Persephone

Here in Rutherford, Cab is King—the noble grape is known for making wines that are uniquely complex, earthy and concentrated and it is an integral part of the district’s rich history. So it comes as no surprise that Peju’s flagship wine was the 1982 Cabernet Sauvignon.

This month we are celebrating another Cabernet first with the Wine Club release of our 2008 Cabernet Sauvignon Persephone . This is a “Vineyard Designate” wine—meaning 95% of the grapes must come from a single vineyard. However, that single vineyard is located not in Rutherford, but in Pope Valley at our Persephone Ranch. This property was acquired by Tony Peju in 1996, and since then its grapes have been blended into our “Napa Valley” tier of wines. But with the 2008 Cab Sauv Persephone, the training wheels are off and Persephone Cab gets a chance to shine on its own.

Some freshly packaged Persephone Cab

Pope Valley has its own distinct character and is known for its focused mountain fruit flavors and consistent quality. To release an entirely new wine is an infrequent occasion for any winery, considering the labor and resources required to produce a specific bottling. But we think this Cab is truly special because it is a testament to Pope Valley as an up and coming grape-growing region. It also represents a milestone for Peju, as we now officially represent vineyard-designate Cabernet Sauvignon from two separate areas of Napa. For these grapes to go from a blending source to their own exclusive bottling is akin to stepping up from the farm team (no pun intended) to the majors. So welcome to the big show, Persephone! We know you’ll be a hit. 

For the time being, this wine is available only to our wine club members—but it is an exciting development nonetheless and more news from Persephone is soon to come!

Wednesday, July 11, 2012


Veraison! Here is one of the first clusters on the HB block that has just started to ripen--the first indication that harvest is truly on its way. Funny to think these little babies are half a step closer to becoming wine, and amazing to watch this VERY gradual process as it unfolds a bit more each day. Most of the grapes are still green right now, protected from the harsh rays by a nice full canopy.
And here is one last shot of some other growth happening on the property :)

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

A Quick Note on Tasting Notes

For most wine drinkers, tasting notes can offer an accurate summary as to what is inside the bottle. Descriptors of the more fundamental aspects— body, tannin structure, and acidity—account for the majority of what makes up a wine’s general style. However, a great deal of emphasis is placed on listing subtle hints of flavor and other, more nuanced characteristics—qualities which have far less bearing on whether we will actually enjoy the wine. One is far more likely to hear “this Sauvignon Blanc is too acidic,” than “this has too much grapefruit. I prefer more nectarine.”

So why do wine enthusiasts and professionals tend to rattle off names of obscure fruits, spices and minerals when assembling tasting notes? Because specificity of flavor does matter. In part, because we are fascinated by the many ways a grape’s varietal character can be expressed. And in the tasting room, this helps distinguish our wine from the dozens of others our guests have tasted throughout the day.

But it also matters because smelling and tasting wine can be the most satisfying way to exercise our sense memory. For example, you may find the fruity aromas that jump from the glass difficult to pick out individually, but your brain is screaming “Fruit Loops!” This is a valid tasting note! Or perhaps you smell something that reminds you of yet another wine you have tasted in the past. You have just confirmed your knowledge of a common thread that exists throughout Malbec, for example. In either case, you have worked your memory muscle and sharpened your understanding of wine in the process.

Ultimately, the road to fully understanding wine is unending. But the more we forge connections concerning smell and taste, the larger our network of reference points, and the more it all makes sense. Just like with art or music, the beauty is in the details. No need to spend hours dissecting it, but pay attention, and you may discover something amazing!

Check out 12x75's "7 Word Wine Review" for a neverending list of short and sweet (or dry) tasting notes and add your own when tasting your next bottle of Peju.
#7wordwinereview | Fine Wine Blog | 12 x

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Time to Relax: Some Thoughts on Rosé

Put on your rose-colored glasses, because as the weather grows warmer, my refrigerator gets pinker. An easy-drinking, fun-loving wine, rosé begs to be simply enjoyed. That said, rosé is no doubt misunderstood, undervalued even, and I think it deserves better. Take the word “rosé” for instance—a bit more complex than we realize. In French, it is quite common to turn any noun or adjective into a past-tense verb, should the situation call for it. The word “rose” without the accent simply means “pink”. But add that tiny, but powerful little dash above the ‘e’ and the word denotes something slightly different. The wine is not just pink in color…it has been pinked! The term sounds slightly less elegant in English—and sort of makes it seem like we bonked the wine over the head with a splash of color. But in a sense, we did. Making rosé involves a unique process in which the juice is held in contact with the skins and seeds for only a short period of time.

If wines are people, rosé is the free-wheeling, rebellious teenage cousin of the lot (hehe). To start out, it behaves the traditional, expected way—but just as it begins to develop into a grown-up Syrah or Pinot Noir or Grenache, it is racked off, and its journey to serious red-dom stops short, remaining forever in adolescence. Skip the lengthy maceration, malolactic fermentation, and the barrel or bottle aging. This sucker wants to be in a glass, partying by the pool, now! And you have to admire its haste. Winemaking is always a process, but rosé represents the instant gratification we all crave this time of year. Produced relatively quickly, and drunk young, it is the ultimate ephemeral pleasure.
So if you’re wary of its unfashionable reputation, don’t be. Perform a little experiment by setting up a tasting with your friends and let the results unfold. No need for paper bags or pages of notes—just see which one is a hit. As they say, “The best bottle is the first one emptied!”

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Earth Day Meditations

Wine is the consummation of human nature-love. People care so passionately about the quality of the fruit produced to make the wine that the care we take of the vines is unsurpassed in its attentiveness and devotion. In wine, the whole concept of terroir communicates how winegrowing encourages humans to be attuned to the Earth, the systems at work and the interconnectedness of it all. How often do you think about how the climactic conditions your banana withstood affected its flavor(s)? We care more now as a collective society than we did in the recent past about where things come from and how they came to be, but we’re probably not quite there yet in terms of thinking holistically about all of our choices. Anyway, terroir is more than just the soil, the microclimate and the location. It is the mark made by all the aspects of the Earth around that vine. Think: the ‘nurture’ influence on humans in the nature/nurture duality. No two wines will ever be the same and what's more fun than discovering the subtle differences with your palate?

In Rutherford our soil is full of sandy loam. Blocks farther from the Napa River at the back edge of our property produce the most concentrated fruit, as they have to burrow deeper to find a water source.  The little section of vine which grows under the shadow of the Eucalyptus tree behind the winery takes a bit more time to ripen than the rest. The south facing vines ripen more quickly than the north facing vines. There are an infinite variety of observations to make. And again, one discovers these facts through one’s senses. Tasting the grapes and paying attention. Wine is an ode to the human capacity to smell, to taste, to feel, to see, to discover and to enjoy.

I grew up in a society that spends more of childhood in a classroom learning about nature from a book than discovering it at the source itself.  Maybe that’s why being in nature is so precious to me. I experienced its majesty for the first time in early adulthood. It’s been captivating, wondrous and new every time ever since.

I write to you now with my belly in the dirt, splayed out in the middle of the vines, listening to the birds chirp, watching the grasses and the just-sprouted leaves on the vines move in tandem as the wind whispers through them. A spider scurries across my notebook; ants scuttle over tiny clumps of dirt and teeny rocks and miniature sticks along an unknowable but evidently determined path to fulfill their purpose. Contemplating our own ‘purpose’ can feel like an inscrutable burden of our elite human consciousness, but for me, being in nature makes me feel closer to it- whatever it is. The ‘purpose’ of being alive. And it feels almost simple. When the birds sing and perch on the vines and flutter around each other in instinctual patterns, and the wind blows warm, dry air through my hair and across my face, and when as far as the eye can see, plants move like jazz music in the infinite patterns created by the wind. I feel still and at peace. The American conception of what is happiness is a confusing one at times, but nature is always there to remind us of what is real. Perhaps the fact is simply that we exist.

In gratitude, I pledge to be better about using my travel coffee mug (did you know these are called ‘tumblers’?) rather than turning a blind eye to the number of to-go cups I rack up in one week. And I plan to fight against the New Year’s Resolution Syndrome and actually still be in the habit of using said tumbler a few months down the road. Check in with me.

Peju farms certified organically in Rutherford and sustainably elsewhere with CCOF certification on the horizon, has 10,000 square feet of solar panels contributing 36% of our annual energy, composts, recycles, offers incentives to employees to buy hybrid cars, and is generally committed to continually converting our daily practices to always improve on our sustainability. We started using biodegradable flatware when silverware is not a viable option this year. Every little bit really does count. What will you do differently? Starting TODAY!

I'm back at the computer now, but it was nice to take a moment with the Earth to honor her on her  special day. It’s a pretty rich sense of belonging to feel once you tap in to the fact that you are very much a part of this Earth and a part of the whole system and that we are all in this together.

Watched a beautiful movie recently which communicated this visually. ‘Life in a Day.’ Directed by Kevin Macdonald. Produced by Ridley Scott. Distributed by National Geographic Films. Made from 4,500 hours of footage submitted in 80,000 submissions from 192 nations. Watch it.

Thank you, Earth and Nature.
Thank you, Life!

Now go outside and enjoy being alive!

Bud-break in Rutherford

Tuesday, January 31, 2012

The Vineyard Gets Its Hairs Cut

It's pruning season all over the valley. The vineyards, which have been slumbering in dormancy since late November/early December, are now completely dormant and ready to be pruned. Today, the vineyard crew systematically works their way from one end of the vines to the other at a steady pace, talking coolly, quietly, and rhythmically among themselves to pass the time. These were some of my most favorite moments when I worked on the tiny vineyard in France- finding myself in a whole new type of conversation, one with a different tempo, rhythm and beat. It's conversation for the sake of conversation, rather than for conveying a point or winning an argument. Conversation whose primary purpose is to entertain/amuse/pass the time. Spending the entire day working with your hands and your eyes (your senses) and requiring less production/output with your intellectual mind allows a different way of relating to your coworkers. You're not passing in the hallway making quick jokes as you cross going different directions to different ends. You're spending the whole day in the uninterrupted company of your coworkers, outside, conversing casually and genuinely with no pressure to say anything particular at any given time.

We prune to limit the number of grape clusters the vine will produce, ultimately to limit that vintage's yield or to balance the vine. At Peju, we prune to have only two grape clusters at hand-distance intervals on the vines, varying slightly by age and size of the vine. This ensures that the vines concentrate their energy to produce two high quality fruit clusters rather than many lower quality (less concentrated, 'flabby') fruit clusters.

Winemakers have to be vigilant about when they choose to prune, as pruning often nudges the grapevine to awaken from dormancy and inspires bud-break not long after. The key here is not to get bud-break before the morning frosts of Spring have ceased.

Rains can continue until the cows come home, but morning frosts are not our friend. Luckily our Rutherford location usually spares us much worry. The threat of damaging frosts is low in our prime Rutherford real estate.

Before (left) and After (right)
One Tangled Rod at a Time

Friday, January 6, 2012

Exercise Your Taste Buds

Winemaker Sara Fowler tasted through sixty different barrel lots of the 2009 and 2010 red wines in our cellar yesterday. She called it "checking in with the wine." What was she checking for?

"I'm checking to see how the wine is maturing, how it's progressing, and to see if any of the individual barrels need attention."

Sixty glasses of wine lined the Production office. Incredulous, I asked her how she could possibly maintain the ability to taste the subtleties in numbers fifty through sixty (or even after #20). She chuckled and said,

"Sixty is nothing! I used to have to taste hundreds of wines in a day at one of the other wineries where I've worked. I'll just take a break after the first thirty, do something else for a couple of hours, and then come back to the last thirty."

At Peju, we age our Napa Valley tier reds for 16-18 months, and our Reserve wines for 26 months, so at this time, Sara is tasting through the 2009 Reserves and 2010 Napa Valley tier reds.

"The 2009 Reserves are dee-licious!" She says with glee. Our Reserves are Cabernet Franc- and Cabernet Sauvignon-predominant Bordeaux blends made exclusively from fruit grown certified organically on our Rutherford Estate. "Though each barrel will impart slightly different flavor characteristics-- and we purchase barrels from several different cooperages for this reason-- all the 2009 reserve wines themselves are full of rich, ripe, dark fruit flavors. 2009 was the last great year before the trickier two to follow, but I've been pleasantly surprised at the way the 2010's are tasting today, as well."

"I have the best job in the world," Sara said, as I turned to leave. "It just doesn't get much better than making wine in the Napa Valley. I can't wait to play with these delicious [barrel] lots and start blending later this month!"