Pinot noir

The pursuit of aromatic, elegant, red-fruited Pinot noir led us to the chilly edge of the West Sonoma Coast just 4 miles from the Pacific Ocean. Due to our cool, moderate weather, we experience quite a long growing season that allows us to pick fruit that is ripe without the encumbrance of too much sugar (and resulting alcohol) and retains the refreshing acidity and top-noted aromatics that make Pinot noir so engaging.

We grow 35 acres of Pinot noir split into 20-25 separate blocks based on clonal selection (13 and counting), aspect (SW, S, SE E), elevation (600-775 feet), and various other factors. We pick them individually and vinify 20-25 Pinot noirs each vintage. The three estate blends (Ama, Pomarium, and Scallop Shelf) are each a combination of 3-6 clones and blocks and do not represent a specific block in the vineyard but instead are expressions of Pinot noir from the vineyard. We make these blends without knowledge of how many cases of each wine we will produce, how much new oak is involved, stem use, or what clones are in which wine. This “blind” process keeps us focused on making the absolute best expression of that blend without any financial or other considerations. Any barrels that do not go into one of the named Estate wines go through the same blind selection process to make the Sonoma Coast cuvée. Any remaining barrels are declassified and comprise the Cep Pinot noir. In particularly exceptional and abundant years, we also make a three-barrel production of Pinot noir named Elanus. This is available to our mailing list customers, only.

Growing Pinot noir at Peay

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A collage of photographs and graphics that represent this Cuvée. This image is also used as the product image for wines of this Cuvée.

Pomarium Estate

Apple Orchard

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.

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A collage of photographs and graphics that represent this Cuvée. This image is also used as the product image for wines of this Cuvée.

Scallop Shelf Estate

Scallop Fossil, River Gorge

Scallop Shelf is obviously a typo. Shouldn’t it be Scallop Shell? Perhaps. When preparing the vineyard for planting, we found scallop and nautilus fossils in our soils. We researched the geology of the region and learned that we farm in an outcropping of marine soils. Our hilltop was a former sea-bed uplifted about 5-7 million years ago along the neighboring San Andreas Fault which created the bedrock of the Pacific Coast Ridges 250 million years ago. Like geology and want to know more? I suggest you read Vanessa’s article I Exert for Dirt. For our purposes, what is important to understand is we farm in nutrient poor marine soils, low in clay content, with moderate topsoil depth that drains slowly. This allows for our saturated soils – we get on average 60+ inches of rain per year – to retain just enough water to feed the vines as the water table drops for most, if not the entire, growing season. The poor soils mean we do not have to fight vigor from too much nitrogen or other nutrients; in fact, we add compost every year that we make from our pomace (skins, stems, yeast cells.)

As for shelf, when you stand on our porch and look south you will notice the former ocean bed forms a shelf where the Wheatfield Fork of the Gualala River has cut a path to the coast. I have hiked off the southern end of the vineyard and you have to hold on to trees to keep from sliding down the hill to the river 600 feet below. Steep. That river is our conduit to the Pacific Ocean. The fog sneaks up the river valley to embrace, if not downright smother, the vineyard in the evenings. Around noon the coastal wind blows bringing cool wind dropping temperatures into the 60s on average. So, the shelf is key to our micro-climate. But Scallop Shelf? King Solomon would have loved the name.

Scallop Shelf is characterized by a floral, red-fruited profile with grace, elegance, and natural beauty. The blend is a majority of the Pommard selection which, in our vineyard, offers a distinct orange rind flavor not the deep cherry flavor you find in wines made from the Pommard clone in warmer climates. Dijon clones 115 and 777 provide the mid-palate depth and roundness with Swan and Mount Eden selections accenting the fruit flavors with high tone floral scents. Over the arc of the fifteen vintages we have made the Scallop Shelf Pinot noir the winemaking has remained almost identical but the character of the wine has slightly changed. The bright, orange rind inflected nose and jasmine aromas remain. The elegant profile and brisk acidity that commands a second taste, and a third, persists. The main difference is in the nature of the fruit expression and the savory finish. The raspberry and jasmine qualities in the aroma have evolved and become more nuanced and multi-faceted adding in some brass and turned earth notes. The acidity keeps the wine focused on the mid-palate, as usual, but the dried pine needle and forest floor quality often found in Pomarium has crept under the Scallop Shelf tent and adds ballast to a lifted wine. It is not so easy to peg this as the lighter or brighter wine any longer. I used to be a “Scallop Shelf” guy as many of you likely were but over the years the other two estate cuvées have become so interesting that from vintage to vintage and occasion to occasion I drift among the three. Yet, there is something about the Scallop Shelf Pinot noir. When I have an “important” bottle request from someone I want to be sure to impress, I grab a bottle of Scallop Shelf. Not every time, but often. I have confidence in its complexity, in its individuality. Not different to be different ignoring pleasure, but different in a compelling way. Kind of how I like my people, too.

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.

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A collage of photographs and graphics that represent this Cuvée. This image is also used as the product image for wines of this Cuvée.

Ama Estate

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.

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A collage of photographs and graphics that represent this Cuvée. This image is also used as the product image for wines of this Cuvée.

Sonoma Coast

The Sonoma Coast Pinot noir over-delivers in every sense and is a perfect expression of the fruit, floral, earth harmony we seek to capture in our Pinot noir. The Sonoma Coast blend represents about a third of the Pinot noir we grow at our vineyard and is made from barrels of Estate Pinot noir that through our blind blending process do not end up in Elanus, Scallop Shelf, Ama, or Pomarium. The Sonoma Coast blend is also made blind of production amounts or winemaking information and usually has a majority of the clones we grow. It is a good snapshot of what our vineyard tastes like in any given year.

Most general AVA wines – in this case, Sonoma Coast –contain fruit from higher yielding and lesser quality vineyards from within their region. The Peay Sonoma Coast does not. It is 100% estate fruit and 100% free run juice, no press wine, made according to the highest standards. This is rare among our peer set and is very hard to do at this price point. As you will find with all our wines, our mission is to exceed expectations and to deliver quality without compromise. The Sonoma Coast Pinot in a nutshell.

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A collage of photographs and graphics that represent this Cuvée. This image is also used as the product image for wines of this Cuvée.

Savoy

Savoy Vineyard in the Anderson Valley of Mendocino County is one of California’s most highly regarded, classic Pinot noir vineyards. When we determined it would be wise to cover our risk a little bit and source fruit from outside our extreme coastal vineyard, there were only a few locations we would even consider. Savoy topped the list. Why?

The main reason we looked outside our 34 acres of Pinot noir was how unpredictable and harsh our weather could be and how that often led to stingy yields. We would swing from an economically viable two tons per acre to less than a ton per acre which did not affect quality but crushed the bottom line. If we were going to buy fruit, however, the wine needed to have the potential to transmit a strong sense of place. It also needed to experience different weather than us or, at the very least, have more optimal weather during critical times in the vine’s growing cycle. Savoy is in a continental growing region where days are warm and evenings are cold. As such, the weather is often better at flowering for the vines and yields are far higher and more predicable than in a maritime climate like Peay Estate. But, importantly, the wines are also not fruit-driven wines and, while concentrated, always have a savory character and what people call “Mendocino spice”. It is akin to turned earth and some brown spices which counter-balance the sweet, dark cherry fruit expression of Savoy.

The 44-acre vineyard was planted by Richard Savoy in 1991 and the current owners, FEL, have re-planted and continue to invest in the quality of the vineyard. We are quite pleased to make a Savoy under our Peay label and the wine nicely complements our line-up of estate wines having a touch more fruit forwardness and is more approachable in its youth. Further, the Peay Savoy is a little different than other expressions of Savoy as there is often a floral component in the wine and you will recognize Vanessa’s steady, focused hand on the rudder of the wine. A delicious expression of California Pinot noir.

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A collage of photographs and graphics that represent this Cuvée. This image is also used as the product image for wines of this Cuvée.

Elanus Pinot Noir

Driven and Rare

With grace and power, the white-tailed kite Elanus leucurus soars above our coastal vineyard riding the afternoon wind. At great heights she hovers, scanning the hillside for prey and diving with impressive precision. Elanus also means “driven” in Greek and is a selection of three barrels that best captures the singular expression of our terroir. It is made only in vintages worthy of elevation.

Over the years customers have asked us, “what is the best wine you could make from your vineyard, production goals aside?” This caused us to ruminate.

We make four Peay Pinot noirs and two Chardonnay from our vineyard. What if we made only one of each wine from the “best” barrels, what would they taste like? How good could they be? Bottling just a single clone would not deliver the diversity of aromas and senses that make our Estate blends so compelling. But, what if we blend just a little bit from a handful of clones, perhaps the clones that serve as the backbone of our Estate blends? What would that taste like? Well, it would taste like Elanus.

Elanus Chardonnay and Pinot noir are barrel selections; tête de cuvées to borrow a term from the Champenois. Vanessa tastes through the barrels and when one or two stick out as superior, she marks the barrel in chalk with a flying E for further consideration.

We do not make Elanus Chardonnay and Pinot noir every year, however. Some years we do not have enough wine to pull aside a few barrels. Sometimes the vintage needs every superior barrel we have to make the other Estate blends. We make Elanus when there is something worthy of being captured that must be shared. The only downside is we make less than 3 barrels, around 50-75 cases, or 600-900 bottles. That’s it. They are for our loyal mailing list customers and we hope you enjoy them.

Upcoming Release

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We produce small quantities of each wine, some under 100 cases. When we have new wines to sell, they are offered to subscribers of our mailing list for first-pick. After they have made their purchases, what we have left in stock is made available to the general public. Thanks to our supportive following, our wines tend to sell quickly. If you don't want to miss out, and would like to receive an email when we have a new release available, please join our seasonal newsletter here.
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Pinot Noir Archive

For wines no longer for sale through our online store, you can read tasting notes, reviews and scores here:

Wine Archive
If you've purchased a bottle or have wine in your cellar, you can find Aging Recommendations here.

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Our Wines

Pomarium, Scallop Shelf, Ama, Sonoma Coast, Savoy, Elanus
La Bruma, Les Titans
Estate, Sonoma Coast, Elanus

Want Some Wine?

Our wines are made from grapes grown on our 53-acre hilltop vineyard located above a river in the far northwestern corner of the West Sonoma Coast, 4 miles from the Pacific Ocean. We grow Pinot Noir, Syrah, Chardonnay, Viognier, Roussanne and Marsanne. You can browse our current offerings in our online Wine Shop.

Shop

Want Some Wine?

Our wines are made from grapes grown on our 53-acre hilltop vineyard located above a river in the far northwestern corner of the West Sonoma Coast, 4 miles from the Pacific Ocean. We grow Pinot Noir, Syrah, Chardonnay, Viognier, Roussanne and Marsanne. You can browse our current offerings in our online Wine Shop.

Shop