Peju Province Winery: From Sublime Vision to a Family Business with Heart
Interviewer & Writer: Uncorked Monthly Contributing Writer, Kim Brittingham
Arian Peju | Featured Interview Length: 20:24 mins.
Lisa Peju | Featured Interview Length: 24:09 mins.
Sara Fowler | Featured Interview Length: 15:23 mins.
Once upon a time in Los Angeles, a handsome, debonair young man worked as a door-to-door salesman.
His name was Tony Peju, and he was peddling a series of books: The Great Books of the Western World. He had a certain something – something, it turns out, he would never lose.
If young Tony could have peeked into his future, he would have seen his silver-haired self being stopped in an airport and asked, “Excuse me, but…are you ‘The Most Interesting Man in the World’?” No, Peju doesn’t portray the almost supernaturally charming icon in the Dos Equis beer commercials, but he certainly looks the part in his photos on the Peju website. As I told his daughters, “he has that Ricardo Montalban quality”. His daughter Ariana agreed, but added that “he’s a farmer at heart.”
But back to L.A. The salesman Peju heard of a beautiful woman at a particular address who also happened to love reading. He was encouraged to pay her a visit with his Great Books. He did. Her name was Herta.
Tony and Herta (“HB” as she’s known today) fell in love. (“Only my dad could find his future wife going door-to-door,” laughs daughter Ariana.)
Tony and HB shared many interests, including a love of art and a vision for a winery in an idyllic setting. In an inspired moment, Tony made a sketch of a towered building that he imagined standing handsomely against a lush vineyard backdrop. It’s fortunate that he held onto that sketch, because one day it would come in handy.
In 1982, Tony and HB took their first concrete step towards making their dream a reality. They purchased 30 acres of land in Rutherford, California which included rambling vineyards (some 60 or more years old) and a circa 1900 house. It was here where they raised their two daughters, Lisa and Ariana.
Ariana & Lisa Peju
The sisters were close growing up. Living out in the middle of farmland and not close to many other children, they became one another’s best friend. “We didn’t have a TV,” Lisa reminisced. “We just had a three-wheeler to play on and a tractor and some horses and a vineyard, so we would make up games.” When young Lisa complained about the unappealing seeds in wine grapes, her loving father planted table grapes just for her.
As Lisa and Ariana played, a paradise took shape around them. Their parents’ love of art and beauty manifested into the lovely destination that Peju Province Winery is today, with picturesque gardens, a koi pond, a manmade creek with a foot bridge, meandering foot paths, sculptures, splashing fountains and impeccable lawns. I asked Lisa Peju, “If Peju Province Winery was a woman and she was having her portrait painted, what might she wear?” I loved her answer:
“On the property we have these incredible sycamore trees, which I call the Dr. Seuss trees. They’re kind of long and gangly…I imagine them kind of draping themselves seductively over the woman.” – Lisa Peju
Tony eventually revisited that sketch he’d made long ago and turned it into a reality. Construction of the Peju tower – currently the tallest building in the Napa Valley – was completed in 2003. It incorporates a 1908 stained glass window, about 14’ x 20’, made by Franz Mayer of Munich.
Tony’s sketch of the tower building currently hangs in his office, and it’s a part of the Peju logo.
Tony’s art isn’t the only family art to appear on a wine label. His wife, too, is an artist. She and winemaker Sara Fowler collaborated on a project which became their 2013 wine Sketches, distributed to wine club members. The label features one of HB’s paintings.
I asked Lisa what makes her mother beautiful, and she answered, “Her poise…She has a quiet elegance about her.” And then she shared something that really got through; that made me feel like I truly understood what makes HB so endearing.
When a person takes the time to listen carefully to us, and answer just as carefully, in that moment they make us feel like we’re the most important person in the world.
It’s a kind of quiet charisma that HB seems to embody. As Lisa says, “She is soft-spoken and she’ll just look at you, and when you ask her a question or speak with her, she always takes a slightly longer time to answer, like she’s contemplating everything you’re saying. And then she’ll answer slowly. She never yells at you or talks loud. No. And it is also the way she moves.”
Lisa is the eldest of Tony and HB’s two daughters. She works as the Peju brand ambassador. She’s frequently on the road, attending events and hosting wine dinners around the country. The wine dinners are an opportunity for wine lovers to enjoy Peju wines with a delicious meal and enjoy Lisa’s narrative about the wines and the family.
Younger daughter Ariana spends more time on the ground at Peju, where she’s the resident environmental advocate. She’s initiated several planet-friendly projects at Peju, including a solar power project called “Harvesting the Sun”.
Says Ariana of Mother Nature, “We’ve got to treat her well, just like she treats us well.” “We all have a choice,” she adds. “And the choices that we make obviously impact the future. And growing up on a farm and growing up on a vineyard is Mother Nature, we’re at her beck and call. So I believe that the choice that we make is going to dictate what she’s going to do to us later and help us in our business — or not.”
For those interested in traveling to California’s Napa Valley, Peju Province Winery is a must-see. Lisa recommends a winter visit for a more personalized experience. “Somebody can walk you around and teach you about the history of Napa.”
And then, of course, there’s the tasting room, where there’s a little something for everyone: Chardonnay, Rose, Sauvignon Blanc, Cabernet Sauvignon, Zinfandel, Merlot.
Sara Fowler, Winemaker
But if you’re looking for something a little different, Peju winemaker Sara Fowler points to Fifty-Fifty, Tess, and The Experiment.
Fifty-Fifty is 50% Merlot and 50% Cabernet Sauvignon, the result of Fowler’s “playing” with blends.
With Tess, the concept was to create something that daughters Lisa and Ariana could have as their own. Says Fowler, “It’s kind of a white and red, maybe a dark Rose, if you will. I call it a ‘porch pounder’, just a nice, easy-drinking, very food-friendly wine.”
The Experiment was, for Fowler, exactly that. “The Experiment is the combination of all of my barrels put together in a tank,” (64 barrels, to be exact, with a Cabernet base), “and it’s got all these different layers from the different barrel flavors and profiles. Actually, it’s delicious, and will be even more delicious in another year or so…if you can wait.”
Peju also offers some charming gift packages. For Valentine’s Day, consider their “Date Night” package, which includes a bottle of their 2012 Zinfandel, a bottle of Decadence Port Chocolate Sauce, and a copy of the sensual cookbook Fork Me, Spoon Me by Amy Reiley. If you and your sweetheart are dog people, take a look at the Tales of Tess gift pack, including two bottles of Tess, a “Tess” Frisbee, and a homemade dog biscuit for your four-legged Valentine.
To learn more about Peju Province Winery or to purchase wines online, visit www.Peju.com.
I leave you with a quote from one of The Most Interesting Winery Proprietor in the World, Tony Peju:
“Grapes will grow without our help. And grape juice will ferment on its own in unpredictable ways. But to take those natural processes and control them, steer them to their full potential, that is art, whether it be in winemaking, sculpting, or gardening.”
THE NEW BOTTLE EXPERIENCE REVIEW & RATING:
Dull-bright appearance, with aromas of floral, white flowers and violet. A red with floral, white flowers and violet flavors. We found that this wonderful Cabernet Franc Reserve showcases a bit of a spicier profile with explosive black fruit from firm berries as well as a juicy, tangy bing cherry component that is very focused. It has really herbaceous edges. Overall an great Cabernet Franc from Napa Valley, California.