As a recent transplant to the Napa Valley who typically prefers wines from several other regions, I’ve challenged myself to get over my skepticism and to grow in appreciation for Napa wine, wineries, vineyards, and topography. One of my first Napa “appreciations” came recently when as I ordered dinner at Brix, the server steered me toward the ’07 Peju Napa Valley Merlot because he thought I would enjoy its structure and earthiness with my cheddar cheeseburger. In a few split seconds, I thought, “Huh… Isn’t that the winery on Highway 29 with the fantastical Dr. Seuss-looking trees and blue-green roof? A structured, earthy Merlot from Napa? I have yet to taste such a thing. Sure, I’m game.” It was a great pairing! So, I headed to Peju a few days later to try more.
The uniquely pruned sycamore trees that line the Peju driveway in Rutherford are a hobby of winery owner and founder, Tony Peju. His wife “HB” oversees and tends the gorgeous and peaceful gardens which include several mesmerizing fountains. After a 15-minute wait, my friends and I were ushered into a back tasting room where host Richard deftly entertained and educated a very diverse group of a dozen or so wine tasters—first time wine tasters, a group that appeared to be a bridal party, wine club members, and yours truly the local wine blogger. One standout was the ’08 Napa Valley Syrah with soft tannins and balanced red fruit on the front and a very pleasant barnyard-earthy-black pepper finish.
But for me, the ’07 Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon and ’07 Napa Valley Merlot were my favorites. Both are from grapes grown in Peju’s Persephone Vineyard in Pope Valley northeast of St. Helena. The Cabernet Sauvignon showed plenty of restraint and structure with all the leatheriness of a Cabernet ready to age and pleasant brown spice. The Merlot which is drinking beautifully now and could still stand to age more has rich layers of cranberry, blackberry, dustiness, hints of mint, and pepper and some tannins from 13% Petit Verdot for a more Bordeaux-style Merlot.
For its hospitality and terrific Cabernet and Merlot, Peju is worth visiting and re-visiting.