Land or Place
In a multitude of languages, ama means “love, being of love, a Japanese female diver, grandmother, and land or place.” The last definition is pertinent as ama means “land or place” in the Kashaya language of the Pomo people. The Pomo thrived in our region of the Pacific Coast for millennia. They named the knoll on the vineyard “where scallops lie”. We are focused on making wines that speak of a place, mainly, our vineyard. Best showcasing that voice is our goal as wine growers and winemakers. By the 2009 vintage, we felt the more recently planted blocks were revealing a distinct expression of Peay Vineyards Pinot noir and deserved to be elevated to a vineyard designate named, Ama.
Stylistically, Ama fits in between the muscle of Pomarium and the intellect of Scallop Shelf. The cuvée more directly speaks the language of Pinot noir; cherries, minerals, spice, smoke. There is a guaranteed hedonic response to this wine. It has grace, elegance and harmony but it is not shy or ethereal. Though Scallop Shelf and Pomarium are blends from many blocks and clones, Ama is a little bit more block driven as it is 80-90% from two blocks we planted in our second large planting in 2003. The first, Block 7, we had originally planted to zinfandel but pulled out after 6 years as it could not handle our late season dew and fog (the rot, the rot!) Block 7 is planted entirely to a suitcase clone of Pinot noir that someone says hails from one of the most heralded Burgundy vineyards. Eh, not so sure we believe him, but in any event, the wine from this clonal selection makes a bold and suave wine. The dark cherry and apple skin notes are quite appealing and are undergirded by a mineral – like lead or brass – note imbuing real armor to the wine.
The second main block is planted to the infamous “828 clone“ and is the yin to block 7’s yang. This clone was all the rage for a few years in the early aughts. We sourced one of the first cuttings—which is likely not 828—and planted a large panhandle shaped section to “clone 828.” The “real” clone 828 clone has been accused of providing huge yields and ripening early. We have had the opposite experience. It is the last Pinot noir block to come off the vine and yields have been tragically low. Even worse, for the first 8 years the wine was not that interesting, either. This began to change for the better in 2011, and even more so in 2012, just when we decided to replant an acre of it to a different clone. The wine is often bright, floral, earthy, and non-fruit oriented. We still have a few acres that are making a solid argument for their survival. We shall see. The remaining 5-10% of the cuveé is rounded out by a smattering of Pommard, Dijon 115 and 777 that knit the two expressions of Pinot noir together.
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.