A row of leaning sycamore trees greeted us as we entered the meticulously maintained grounds that fronted the tower building landmark at Peju Province Winery in Rutherford. It is one of many beautiful estates producing fine wine along this stretch of Highway 29.
What makes Peju Province distinct is a story of stability and sustainability, the result of a 36-year passion for Tony and Herta Peju that has inspired a second generation, a winemaker in her 14th vintage and a commitment to environmentally conscious farming and operational practices.
In 1983, Tony and Herta left a florist business in Los Angeles and purchased the 30-acre Rutherford site before it was known to all for production of great Bordeaux varietals. Tony’s desire to farm and source grapes to other wineries soon evolved into winemaking with some study at UC Davis. Since that time, Peju has continually produced wine that is an expression of the Napa Valley.
In 2016, the Peju family purchased a 100-acre vineyard in the cooler Carneros. Daughters Lisa and Ariana, launched Calmére Estate Winery, focusing on pinot noir and chardonnay.
Winemaker Sara Fowler is celebrating her 14th harvest at Peju, her 21st harvest making wine in Rutherford and 26 years as a winemaker. She led us through a tasting of her new releases, conveying a quarter century of insights and knowledge.
The first wine poured was the 2018 Sauvignon Blanc Napa Valley ($25) made from grapes harvested at various stages of ripening to add complexity. Sauvignon blanc needs the fruit to ripen and Fowler described 2018 as an easy year.
Very expressive floral and stone fruit aromas are followed by a fresh mouthfeel. Sara jokingly called it her “Bocce wine,” but it would definitely pair well with food.
From their 100-acre vineyard in the cooler Carneros region, the 2017 Calmére Estate Winery Chardonnay Napa Valley ($30), with 100 percent malo-lactic fermentation and 35 percent new French oak, personifies a lush California approach to the varietal. Toasty overtones with creme brûlée and lemon curd on the nose and palate are followed with mineral hints and a rounded finish.
Five different clones within the Calmére Estate Vineyard are blended for the 2016 Calmére Estate Winery Pinot Noir Carneros ($45), a medium-bodied release with hints of cinnamon and baking spices among the traditional pinot flavors.
Through drought-related low yields, the 2015 Merlot Napa Valley ($48), sourced from estate vineyards in Rutherford on the valley floor and elevated in Pope Valley east of Howell Mountain, was blessed with intense fruit. Aged 16 months in French and American oak, the perfumed bouquet leads to dark fruit and spice flavors with a classic soft, elegant finish.
A majority of the estate cabernet sauvignon vineyards contribute to the 2015 Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley ($60) that revealed many of those “Rutherford dust” qualities with a whisper of mocha flavors and soft tannins.
Only 1,000 acres of cabernet franc are planted in the Napa Valley as opposed to 22,000 in cabernet sauvignon. Aside from the similarities in their names, cabernet franc must be grown and managed differently than cabernet sauvignon. It is, for the most part, revered, but struggles to compete with big brother.
With flint and perfume on the nose, the 2016 Cabernet Franc Napa Valley ($70) is fruit driven with savory herbaceous overtones that would pair well with rack of lamb. Fowler also produces a cabernet franc rosé wine.
With her experience and track record, Sara has earned creative license as her winemaking style has evolved. For instance, she stopped “racking” the wine in favor of batonnage, integrating yeast lees into the juice.
Our last wine results from Sara’s annual barrel experiment. The 2016 vintage represents 30 different barrel toasting styles and 21 coppers working with French, American and Hungarian oak, 100 percent new. All this analysis of the oak impacts to the cabernet sauvignon grape leads to the 2016 The Experiment Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley ($100), from the estate Persephone Vineyard in Pope Valley, yet showing some of that elegant “Rutherford Dust” quality.
Peju Province Winery is a busy place. Aside from current wine releases, there is the engaging sculpture gardens, tasting spaces to accommodate many options, an annual grape stomp, culinary events with in-house chef, Alex Espinoza and much more. I recommend a visit to determine if Peju Province Winery is the right option for you.
Lyle W. Norton is a wine enthusiast and blogger in Santa Rosa who has written a wine column for 15 years. Visit his blog at www.lifebylyle.com or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org. He is a guest columnist.