New Signing: Peay Vineyards - one of California's most extraordinary sites
Peay Vineyards (pron: Pay) is situated just four miles from the cooling Pacific Ocean on an undulating ridge of 20 hectares at an altitude of between 600 and 800 feet. Their position near Annapolis in the far north-western corner of the vast Sonoma Coast AVA is one that many originally thought might be too cold to fully ripen grapes. Conditions out here, licked by cool pacific breezes and so often touched by fog are almost entirely different from the warmer inland bulk of the appellation. Here ripeness is not a given; hang times are stretched and grapes have to strive to achieve the delicate balance between ripeness, fragrance and tension.
Brothers Nick and Andy found the site in 1996. In 1998 they set about planting it with a large variety of specially chosen low yielding small berry clones that Nick figured would allow for experimentation, while bringing extra complexity to the young vine wines. Low yields are further reduced through fruit dropping and bunch 'winging'. Eight full time staff work the vineyard, meaning each vine is very carefully monitored throughout the growing season. Come harvest, Vanessa and her team are aware of every inch of the vineyard, not to mention loaded with stats and information, to enable them to carry out as precise a pick as possible. Once in the winery, vinification is kept as gentle as possible with no more than 30% new oak employed in any of the cuvees.
There is a lot of noise surrounding the 'True' Sonoma Coast right now and we are delighted to be bringing these wines to the UK for the first time. This is very much a family estate run by grape grower Nick Peay, his brother Andy, and made by Nick's wife and winemaker Vanessa Wong. Their philosophy can be boiled down to wanting to allow the specific characteristics of this particular site to shine through in their wines. As Vanessa has been quoted as saying "I think sometimes people use winemaking tricks and tools because that's what they have. But what we have is a vineyard." And what a vineyard it is, right in the inversion layer and as cool as just about any on that coastline. Relative neighbours Hirsch, Flowers and Littorai may have sites closer to the Ocean yet all are above that magical invisible line where cool air meets hot.
The wines, particularly the top cuvees require a couple of years to reach their full potential, but when they do these smart, cool wines from California's Northwest are going to deserve a spot in the most demanding of cellars.