As middle-of-nowhere producers go, Peay Vineyards is in a league of its own. The foggy drive along switchback roads to reach this place of pinot-oriented pilgrimage, clinging to the northwestern tip of the Sonoma coastline, is one you can neither rush nor forget.
Brothers Andy and Nick Peay picked the chilly and mountainous 35-acre site in defiance of conventional winemaking wisdom back in 1996 because they could see its potential for delivering rarefied pinot noir and chardonnay of shiver-inducing intensity that remain light on the palate. Andy explains: “It’s really difficult to farm out here! That’s what makes the wines unique; the yields are far lower than inland but we get more of that refreshing crunchiness from our fruit.”
Situated less than five miles from the Pacific, within the cool mass of air that hangs over the ocean, the grapes at Peay Vineyards never ripen too quickly and instead develop multiple layers of flavour over an extended period. “Certain vintages might be more floral or fruit-driven, but our pinots always age well because they have great acid and they tend to finish with a savoury pine-needle or jasmine-tea kind of quality,” says Andy. Don’t expect the same gentle heat here in July that you might enjoy in Burgundy or Oregon at the same time, no siree, Peay vines are refrigerated year-round in a way that other parts of the vast Sonoma Coast appellation aren’t.
With Nick’s wife Vanessa Wong coming onboard as winemaker in 2001, this cult-worthy brand offers three elegant estate pinots (Ama, Pomarium and Scallop Shelf) blended from about 15 different clones as well as an entry-level drop containing declassified juice.
If you’re around the certified-organic vineyard at harvest time, expect either the textured soul of Ray Charles and Darondo (Andy’s choice) or classic rock (Nick’s preference) to accompany you. Beyond the pinot noir bounty, there are a couple of syrah cuvees to check out, some delish citrusy chardonnay, a quirky viognier and a tiny-batch rousanne/marsanne too. Pro tip: Get on the mailing list, Peay wines often get snapped up quicker than a toupee in a windstorm.