Peay Vineyards Expressive Pinots
I don’t really remember the first time I met Andy Peay. But from the first tasting of Peay Vineyards, I have been in awe of the passion, the care that goes into every bottle that his brother Nick grows in the vineyard, his sister-in-law Vanessa Wong crafts in the cellar and Andy shares with sommeliers and guests alike. I was lucky enough to attend a dinner with Andy here in Chicago (that he cooked no less) and chat with him on Peay’s unique three expressions of Pinot Noir - Ama, Scallop Shelf and Pomarium. Better known as Connery, Hepburn and Eastwood!
Second City Soil: The team at Peay Vineyards has positioned themselves as a leader in the West Sonoma Coast AVA movement – why do you think this is so important for the future of the region?
Andy Peay – AVAs are meant to communicate to a consumer that the wines from within that region will share some attributes due to their shared terroir. The wines from the Sonoma Coast AVA come in a huge variety of styles due to the vastness of the AVA. It covers half the county and with an enormous spectrum of soil types, elevations, and temperatures. AVAs partially or wholly within the Sonoma Coast include the RRV, Sonoma Mt, Chalk Hill, Petaluma Gap and Carneros, and, oh yeah, the actual coast of Sonoma County which we hope will become the West Sonoma Coast AVA. This causes quite a bit of consumer confusion as a prospective consumer doesn’t know what to expect from a Sonoma Coast Pinot noir. Could be they get a RRV pinot noir within the Sonoma Coast AVA and that is a different animal.
We feel the wines from the far western slice of the Sonoma Coast AVA share attributes due to their close proximity to the Pacific Ocean and the history of their soils. Many consumers like the wines from this region (based on their popularity, both critical and consumer) and we want to be sure consumers know what they are likely to get when they order a wine from our region.
SCS – As our climate is becoming more extreme, how have you noticed the effects on your estate vineyard? How has Peay tried to counter these effects?
Andy – The weather has become more extreme and that is not a farmer’s friend. Farmers like predictability. In the past 10 years we have experienced incredibly wet, cold, late years; warm, dry and early years; and Goldilocks years (2018, for example). In most cases we have been able to make wines we feel are exemplary and reflect the vintage’s fingerprint (which we think is cool) despite the challenges but it requires sacrifice. Our yields are always quite moderate and in some years are tragically low as we either have poor set due to weather or rot from rains or due to declassification of wine. We believe in the estate model as living on the vineyard and farming the vineyard with our own full time crew year round provides insight to how the vineyard is responding to weather and gives us the means to act quickly in a timely fashion when we need to. We are pretty well-positioned to deal with climate change relative to most as we are moderated by the Pacific Ocean which is getting warmer and will drop more water on us, but we don’t have the huge temperature spikes like they do inland and at higher elevations. So, perhaps someday my grandkids may plant Nebbiolo at Peay. That would be cool. But for now, we are focused on getting Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and Syrah ripe in a location that is truly on the extreme edge for farming grapes.
SCS – Peay has 3 very distinct Pinot Noirs in Ama, Scallop Shelf and Pomarium. These are more about style than site it seems – how would you briefly describe the identity of each?
Andy – Ha. I have tried many approaches to convey how they are unique expressions of Pinot noir from one vineyard, comparing them to famous film celebrities, authors, etc. Essentially, they are each a blend of 4 to 6 clones from the 30 blocks of pinot noir we grow on the vineyard. Those clones/blocks dictate the style. We don’t pick them any more or less ripe or use different barrel techniques or ferment them differently.
For Scallop Shelf, we are seeking a more aromatically lifted Pinot Noir that has floral, orange rind, and tart red fruit aromas. There is a forest floor/dried pine needle flavor on the finish not unlike black or jasmine tea. It is an elegant expression of pinot noir relying on finesse; there is body and volume without weight. The acidity is quite bright as it is in all three Pinots due to our cold climate. Scallop Shelf is a natural beauty, perhaps a young Catherine Deneuve or Audrey Hepburn. Yeah, showing my age…
Ama is our most recent blend starting in 2009 and has come the farthest stylistically as the young vines have passed out of their fruit forward youthfulness. Now, Ama features cherry and apple skin flavors with accents of spice and lead minerality. This is a more masculine expression and not as lifted as Scallop Shelf though still elegant relying on finesse with a little power. The forest floor aroma lingers on the palate, not as pronounced as Scallop Shelf or Pomarium but is the expression of our terroir in Pinot. There is a suaveness to Ama so I have compared it to Sean Connery in his early Bond days; smooth, game, competent, and perhaps a little dangerous if called upon.
Pomarium has a very engaging nose from a touch more whole cluster fermentation that serves to provide lift to what is a decidedly masculine wine. It is not made from riper fruit and doesn’t possess more alcohol than the other blends (they are all in the mid to low 13%s) but the clones in the blend have darker fruit aromas of plums (tart but dark) and more tannins and breadth on the earthy finish. Pomarium has become a very interesting wine to me in the past 4 vintages and though it may need a few more years for aromas to coalesce, it is quite gratifying upon release. Clint Eastwood in Dirty Harry without the sneer.
SCS – What led to the decision to bottle these 3 wines separately and do you see that the straight Sonoma Coast Pinot aligns more with one of these single expressions?
Andy - In 2004 we only made one Pinot from our 6th leaf vines. For the 2005 blend we were making the blend for the Estate Pinot noir and two styles emerged in the blind blend trials Vanessa had put forth for us to assess together. We would describe what we liked about the various potential blends and after many weeks Vanessa said “come on, guys you aren’t choosing a blend that has most of our fruit but are splitting and favoring two separate blends.” The first was elegant and bright and the second was darker-fruited and more base-noted. After a few months of tinkering with them, Vanessa landed on the Scallop Shelf and Pomarium. Ama is a little more straight-forward. We planted more Pinot noir in 2001 and when those blocks came into their own in 2009 we didn’t want to alter our existing SS and Pomarium blends by adding the new blocks so we created a third. We used a few blocks of relatively older vine pinot to complete the picture.
We make the three blends blind of production amount or winemaking techniques. After we have selected the final blends, Vanessa will tell us how much we are making and how many barrels of Pinot noir we have leftover. She then makes potential blends for the Sonoma Coast pinot and we select the best blend after a few rounds and any wines that did not make the cut for the Peay Sonoma Coast go into our second label. As a result, Sonoma Coast often has wine from most of our clones and blocks and is a good snapshot of how our Pinot noir should taste. Ideally it borrows from the three named wines and there is a balance of fruit, floral and earth aromas which is what the West Sonoma Coast can do well. It has floral notes of Scallop Shelf, fruit of Ama, and earthiness of Pomarium. If I had to choose I would say it has most in common with Scallop Shelf in a warmer year.
SCS – For each of these 3 expressions, what are some eye-opening culinary pairings that highlight the true identity of each bottling? What is the perfect situation for each?
Andy- Scallop Shelf is light on its feet and can delve into white meats and fish with ease. The orange rind quality and earthy finish can find a soul mate in a pasta dish with orange zest and mushrooms like we paired at Frasca last time I teamed up with them for a dinner. Grilled quail with pomegranates is also a favorite as the lack of fat is fine and the tart red burst of pomegranate seeds match the wine well.
Ama is an obvious foil for salmon pan seared in butter as the caramelized sugars and the fatness of the fish work with the cherry and apple notes of the wine. As with all three wines, there is great acidity so it can cut through any sauce whether heavy butter/cream or a reduction sauce (if duck or squab). Ama plays down the middle the most of our three pinots so what works well for most American Pinot noirs with acidity works for Ama.
Pomarium can move across the spectrum but has the oomph to pair with fatty proteins, dark sauces, and roasted flavors (vegetables like Romanesco or meat et al.) I like to use middle eastern spices when I cook and curry (vadouvan or madras) pair well with the nose of the wine as whole cluster pinot smells like the incense I used to burn in college which is made from the Magnolia Champaca tree in India and Nepal. Something with a little fat will help the wine loosen up if you are drinking it younger than 5 years from vintage.
And how are these wines received in the market?
Nicole Alonso, sommelier from Margeaux Brasserie in the Gold Coast noted
“The Pomarium was my favorite, it showed complexity in not only the nose, but throughout my experience. I loved the dried dark fruits with the smooth structure following the awesome floral notes that I first got off the wine.
To be honest, the Ama, Pomarium, and Scallop Shelf were wonderful to taste next to each other. It's hard to really choose because I enjoyed each for different reasons.
The best fit for Margeaux Brasserie would have to be Pomarium. It stood out and I feel our guests would enjoy the experience I appreciated during Andy's dinner.”
Peay Vineyards wines are in small production
and available in Chicagoland distribution through H2Vino