Peay Vineyards--they were named the San Francisco Chronicle Winery of the Year in 2009, for example--but drinking through their wines at this year's World of Pinot Noir certainly made the case that they're making some of the most remarkable pinot in California right now. Of course most of that comes from their site. Here's how Failla puts it (and they are one of the few wineries that still have the privilege to buy Peay fruit, so that says something, too): "Nestled on top of a foggy ridge line amid the ever-winding roads near Annapolis, Peay's vineyard fits the definition of 'extreme farming.' A marginal site at best, the vineyard's sandstone soils contribute to naturally low fertility and the potential for grapes of truly superior expression." (And as a side note, Failla, you were missed at WOPN.)
Peay is four miles off the Pacific near Sea Ranch, where writer Denis Johnson lived and died, which is sort of a weird hint at something fierce and moving in a location, if you ask me. The vineyard site is at some elevation but not too much, so they get ocean fog but it doesn't necessarily linger; their grapes certainly do, though, getting a crazy long growing season mostly because they have to.
It's also pretty clear that winemaker Vanessa Wong prefers nuance to force, and therefore as soon as you stick your nose into a glass with her wines you tend to think about flowers more than fruit. That's not to say the wines lack fruit in their juice, but they offer so much more that they entice you to swirl, sniff, and sip again. And again.
That's even true from one of the few wines Peay makes not from its own grapes, as they have access to the acclaimed Savoy site in Anderson Valley. WOPN offered a fascinating seminar on that vineyard, and amidst the fine wines we got to taste, Wong's stood out, as she talked about the wine from Savoy having a perfume more ethereal and elegant than many sites. Then again, teasing out all the extra notes wines too often steamroll over seems to be her skill.
Simply put, if you want to learn what cold climate pinot is all about, try some Peay. And their three estate blends all achieve different aims, too, so drink as much as you can--the Ama is perhaps the heartiest, while the Scallop Shelf (guess what's in the soil?) is about structure and restraint, and let's hope you know enough to know what precisely doled out satisfaction can be like. Then the Pomarium, planted aside an old apple orchard, even takes on that apple-y terroir some, with a dynamic tartness.