“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.
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.
A First Generation Family Winery
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.