Pomarium is Latin for apple orchard. Our vineyard was once planted to acres of apple trees; some for eating, some for drying, some for making cider. We have an old kiln onsite where the original homesteaders would dry the apples and ship them from the port at Stewart’s Point to San Francisco. Many of the remaining 100 year-old trees still produce delicious fruit. They encircle blocks 1, 14 and 15.
We thought Pomarium was a euphonious name that evoked our land’s farming heritage. Of course, we had no idea if it was pronounced Poe-mar-e-um or Poe-mare-e-um. We also had never heard of the puffy toy dog favored by Queen Victoria, the Pomeranian. Turns out this is the 15th most popular breed of dog and based on my research traveling the country pouring this wine, more people have heard of Pomeranians than took Latin in high school. As if our last name were not difficult enough to pronounce correctly (and awkward, if not), we have added a second befuddling name to really confuse matters. You’re welcome.
But what does Pomarium taste like? Pomarium is the more broad-shouldered, savory and dark-fruited cuvée with a floral whiff of San Francisco hippie. The fruit flavors lean to berry and plum skin notes. The presence on the palate is larger framed than our other Pinot noirs, though not necessarily due to riper blocks in the blend but to silky tannins that ballast black fruit and earth- driven flavors. The distinctly earthy characteristics are somewhat akin to stepping on dried pine needles in a conifer forest mid-summer; or, smelling the scent of sagebrush and incense on Jim Morrison while he’s waxing poetic under the stars. The mouth, oftentimes, has hints of licorice, lead, black tea, and serrano ham. After making fifteen vintages of Pomarium, we have a pretty good idea of what clones and blocks will comprise the core of the blend. With tinkering due to vintage expression and block development, Pomarium usually includes Dijon clones 667, all three of the Calera heritage selections, and often 777 and 115 (and, oddly enough, not our Pommard selection).
The Art of Blending
We were pioneers in this region of the West Sonoma Coast when we planted the first 30 acres of vines in 1998. We were tinkerers, uncertain what clones would best express our site and how much of each would be ideal in a wine. We now farm 13 clonal selections of Pinot noir strewn across 34 acres kept distinct by clonal selection. There is no Ama block. No Scallop Shelf block. Nope, no Pomarium block, either (thank god, everyone would call it the dog pound). I am often asked by an uninitiated person how these cuvées can be different as the grapes come from the same vineyard? After tasting them, this question is usually followed by “wow, the cuvées really do taste different! Huh?” Here is why we think this is and how each came into being.
We pick the 13 clones of Pinot noir in 25-30 separate picking blocks. Each block may have different sensory characteristics due to the clone, the soil, the aspect, the rootstock, and the ripeness at picking. Some lots may emphasize fruit, some may have little fruit expression but are earthy. Some may have deep bass notes, some might be light and floral, and on and on. These blocks are vinified and aged separately and blended before bottling to make the three Estate Pinot noirs and our Sonoma Coast cuvée.
When making blends, Vanessa is much like a painter. Painters apply layers of paint to a canvas to create depth, light, color, and shape. Working with more than 25 pinots Vanessa has at least 25 individual paints she can layer to bring forth the voice of the vineyard in three distinct wines. There should be an overall harmony and individual character to each cuvée but within that style there will be top notes, middle notes, and bass notes that support one another and result in a complex tasting experience.
Up until the 2005 vintage, we made one Peay Pinot noir named the Estate. Monthly, Vanessa would refine the potential blends and we would taste them blind to determine the 2005 Estate Pinot. Two potential cuvées rose to the top but the three of us found it difficult to agree on which was the single best expression of Pinot noir from our vineyard. One was bright, elegant, and aromatic; the other was darker-fruited, brooding, and earthy. All the trial blends had great acidity and forest floor flavors that lingered on the finish – a hallmark of our Pinot noirs in all our wines in any vintage. Inevitably, neither blend represented the majority of the Pinot in barrel. So, we decided to pick our two favorites and make two Estate Pinot noirs.
Alas, we needed names to differentiate the two Estate wines. They needed to be evocative of our site and meaningful. We could opt for Peay III, IV, V like George Foreman so eloquently named his sons (there is a VI and a Jr.) Perhaps, not. At the time, we could not name them after our children, either – which appears to be popular among wineries – as we were childless. Summer was nigh, however, and we needed to print labels so we pulled out a white board and started to brainstorm. Here is what came of our naming: Pomarium, Scallop Shelf, Ama, Sonoma Coast, Savoy, Elanus. Each cuvée has something unique to say about Pinot noir from our Estate vineyard.