Peay Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir 2013
Peay is one of the longer-running outfits in the ‘true’ (i.e. actually coastal) Sonoma Coast. Though founded in 1996, two decades is a long time for this new appellation and Peay were one of the key original pioneers. Their winemaking has progressed over the years (some early vintages were a little clumsier with the oak than the beautiful current vintages), and winemaker Vanessa Wong, who joined in 2001, is now in my view one of the top winemakers of cool climate Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and Syrah in California.
The Special Climate of The “True” Sonoma Coast
Vanessa (whose experience includes Jean Gros, Lafite-Rothschild, Hirsch and Peter Michael) also manages the vineyards alongside Nick Peay. The winery has farmed orgranically for the last eight years though it is not certified as it prefers being practical with choices and sees no need to be dogmatic about farming. Interestingly and importantly Peay does not use seasonal labour, instead employing 8 full time year-round vineyard staff. This allows Peay to ensure great familiarity for those that work with the vines – as they state on their website “Our workers touch each vine over 13 times per year.”. These are also enviable labour practices in an industry that has benefited for too long from low wages for seasonal labour.
The Peay vineyards are uniquely positioned on a hill just above the fog line so that the grape vines enjoy the cool climate coastal influences but avoid the worst effects of the cool, wet fog that would make it difficult to properly ripen the grapes each year.
One of the important unique features of the Sonoma Coast is that the Pacific current ensures the part of the AVA that is close to the coast has quite even temperatures, which allow for long, consistent growing seasons. Warm air also sits higher here than in the interior valleys of California, meaning that along the coast the hill-top vineyards are actually warmer than the land closer to sea-level. This allows proper ripening, as discussed above.
Peay has a unique process for blending their various cuvees of Pinot Noir. It is best described in this excerpt from their website:
“We grow 35 acres of Pinot noir split into 20-25 separate blocks based on clonal selection (13 and counting), aspect, 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 5-6 clones and blocks and do not represent a specific area of the vineyard but instead are an expression 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, 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 estate wines are blended with wines made from neighboring vineyards to make the Sonoma Coast cuvee.”
Because of this process the Sonoma Coast cuvee is an exceptional starting point for tasting Peay’s range – mostly estate fruit and very true to the Peay style.
This 2013, released in fall 2015, is a wonderful wine that, though young, is vibrant and expressive and wearing its oak well with a decant. It lilts along with cool climate aromas like orange oils, flowers, and spice. Very few new world regions produce this sort of elegant, effortless Pinot Noir – that type that delivers the ethereal like no other grape. In my opinion, Sonoma Coast also offers far greater variation in profile than Oregon, Santa Barbara, Carneros or the Sonoma Valley and is matched in California only by the Pinots of the Santa Cruz Mountains.
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