Peay Vineyards' Terrific New Releases

Peay VineyardsPeay Vineyards is among the new producers on the Sonoma Coast who are making extraordinary wines under challenging conditions. The operation is jointly managed by brothers Nick and Andy Peay and Nick’s wife, Vanessa Wong. Their vineyard, established in 1996, sits on an isolated mountain ridge along the “true” Northern Sonoma Coast (near the town of Annapolis) within the reaches of the coastal fog some five miles from the Pacific. I had the good fortune to visit with them in January at their 48-acre vineyard and taste their current and future releases. I also learned a great deal about the achievements and the challenges facing these young producers as they strive to make wines of high quality and originality, expressive of the Northern Sonoma Coast terroir.

It’s not easy growing grapes along the “true” Northern Sonoma Coast. Growers like Peay Vineyards face the constant threat of frost in winter and spring, little or no rainfall during the summer months, and heat spells in September. Yet, these same weather conditions (and the poor soils) offer favorable conditions for growing Syrah and Pinot Noir and even Chardonnay. The coastal fog and breezes contribute to major shifts in temperature (warm in the day and cool at night). A long growing season of moderate temperature; without mildew; and nutrient poor soils, contribute to low yielding vines (with Nick Peay’s good vineyard management techniques) and fruit that often achieves phenolic ripeness with good acidity with the nuances of the terroir. No overripe or flabby wines are produced here.

Peay Vineyards, like many other top producers of Pinot Noir in California, is experimenting with clones. The goal is to determine which clones produce superior fruit under each vineyard’s growing conditions. In the vineyard, the Peay team is currently working with some 11 different selections of clones, including Dijon and heritage selections. They source Pinot Noir from 21-25 different vineyard lots, thereby offering a rich variety of fruit for blending. Winemaker Vanessa Wong, one of California’s most accomplished winemakers, is responsible for the blending, which she does extremely well, judging from the wines.

During my visit, I was given the opportunity by Andy Peay to taste the 2006 and 2007 vintages of their portfolio, consisting of Viognier, Russane-Marsanne, Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Syrah. We are familiar with the superb Peay 2005 Syrahs having tasted them for our i-WineReview report #12 on California Syrah. However, it was my first opportunity to taste the others. I was especially interested in the Pinot Noirs because in 2009 the i-WineReview will be producing reports on Pinot Noir both Oregon and in selected AVAs of California. Below are my notes on the 2007 vintage, which will be released between April and September.

Peay Vineyards 2007 Estate Chardonnay Sonoma Coast ($50) 91

Peay's 2007 Chardonnay offers aromas and flavors of quince, ripe apple and pear. At this stage of development it is more noteworthy for its minerality and elegance than for its fruitiness. While it is fermented in 45% new oak, the oak is beautifully integrated with the wine. Compared to the 2006 vintage, this bottling is slightly less fleshy at the moment and would benefit from more time in the bottle.

Peay Vineyards 2007 Estate Rousanne/Marsanne Sonoma Coast ($42) 88

This light lemon blend of 2/3 Rousanne and 1/3 Marsanne offers aromas of sweet melon and pear followed by a soft attack of medium weight, honeyed fruit on the palate and bright acidity on the finish. Producing this wine is big challenge for viticulturalist, Nick Peay, as Roussane is not easy to grow. However, it is well worth it.

Peay Vineyards 2007 Estate Viognier Sonoma Coast ($40) 90

The 2007 Estate Viognier is Condrieu-like with its light lemon color and aromas of white peaches with mineral notes. Fermented in 100% 5-year old barrels, it is rich tasting and leesy on the palate with crisp acidity on the finish. This is one of the better California Viogniers.

Peay Vineyards 2007 Estate Pinot Noir Sonoma Coast ($42) 90

This bottling, a new release for Peay Vineyards, exhibits a lovely medium ruby color and attractive aromas of pure dark spicy cherry and pomegranate fruit. It is soft on the attack and boasts ripe and rich tasting red berry fruit on the palate. It also has good acidity, round tannins and a long lasting finish.

Peay Vineyards 2007 Pomarium Sonoma Coast ($52) 92

The 2007 Pomarium exhibits delicate strawberry and cherry fruit aromas with some baking spice and toasty notes. On the palate it offers flavors of red currant fruit and white pepper with a subtle forest floor character. It is a lovely fresh and refined wine with high acidity and ripe tannic grip

Peay Vineyards 2007 Scallop Shelf Estate Pinot Noir Sonoma Coast ($52) 93

The 2007 Scallop Shelf displays ripe aromatic cherry and pomegranate fruit aromas and flavors with greater intensity than the delicate Pomarium. It is beautifully balanced and rich in flavor, with nuances of earth and forest floor, yet with notable purity, concentration and finesse. This is one Burgundian “transplant” that is thriving in the New World!

Peay Vineyards 2006 La Bruma Estate Syrah Sonoma Coast ($45) 92

Dark ruby to the core, the 2006 La Bruma Syrah displays lovely black plum fruit, black pepper, baking spices and toast on the nose. It is soft on the attack, yet meaty, with spicy black fruit flavors and offers a silky full mouth feel with terrific balance, overall elegance, and a long lasting finish.

Peay Vineyards 2006 Les Titans Estate Syrah Sonoma Coast ($45) 93

The 2006 Le Titans Syrah is darker than the La Bruma and has a brooding character. It is a wine of great power, richness, and density yet has plenty of elegance too. It is soft and mouth filling with sweet ripe black fruit and notes of black pepper with terrific focus. It currently has some tannic grip but is showing beautifully now and is only going to get better.

Mike Potashnik, February 2009