Way, way out on the Sonoma Coast, on an isolated swath of land down 40 miles of winding, mountain roads, perched on a hilltop just four miles from the roiling and chilly Pacific Ocean are the Peay family vineyards. It’s often cold here. Sweater cold. Even in the summertime. And the risks of growing and ripening grapes here are great. Fortunately, though, when brothers Nick and Andy Peay were looking for vineyard land, they recognized that the rewards were potentially greater.
The Peay brothers, along with Nick’s wife, winemaker Vanessa Wong, farm about 50 acres of Pinot Noir, Syrah, Chardonnay, Viognier, Roussanne and Marsanne in this unforgiving environment, and they produce about 2,500 cases of wine from that fruit under the Peay Vineyards label. The wines, which are made from all estate-grown fruit, exemplify the potential for high-acid, low alcohol, terroir-driven wines in California, wines of subtlety and grace like few winemakers are able to produce.
But these aren’t the wines I want to talk about (though I will, soon). Today I want to talk about the winery’s second label, Cep. Better yet, I’ll let Andy do the talking:
Cep is like Zach Galifianakis who, with his deadpan, mischevious naïveté, made the Hangover. The Cep wines, by their very existence, make the Peay wines better, even if it’s because they’re not included, but like Galifianakis, they’re pretty awesome on their own. Affordable introductions to the Peay style, the Cep Pinot Noir and Syrah that we currently carry are unto themselves, representations of the “true” Sonoma Coast and the Peay vineyards that make fantastic, complex everyday wines to drink while you wait for the Peay wines to age. And because frost destroyed a good portion of Peay’s crop in 2008, the usual lineup of Cep wines also includes small bottlings of rosé and Sauvignon Blanc made from fruit purchased from other respected Sonoma County vineyards.
The 2008 Cep Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir ($23.99) is, first and foremost, balanced and structured. This is not a flabby wine. It is not a fruit bomb. It has lift and freshness that make it a great match for food, with spearmint, red fruit and spicy pepper aromas that lead into a kirsch, rose petal and spice inflected palate. Made almost entirely from estate-grown fruit grown in one of the coolest climate vineyards in California. Only 300 cases produced.
The 2007 Cep Sonoma Coast Syrah ($21.99) will turn everything you think about California Syrah on its head. It is meaty and sultry, with an underlying current of white black pepper, anise, purple flowers and black fruit. It’s not too sweet, and has a juicy backbone and fine-grained tannins that make me think of Crozes-Hermitage instead of California Syrah.
If you like Provençal rosé you will want to have some bottles of the 2009 Cep “Nobles Ranch” Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir Rosé ($18.99) on hand for the rest of the summer (and possibly a few more for Thanksgiving dinner). This is not the result of making a denser, darker Pinot Noir for Peay, but rather something more intentional, and in turn lighter, crisper and brighter than a lot of domestic rosés. It has a lime, saline-like mineral quality that complement its wild strawberry-like fruit. Try it with a picnic basket of fried chicken, dilly potato salad and a warm afternoon by the Bay, at the beach or the Hollywood Bowl.
There’s a reason the 2009 Cep “Hopkins Ranch” Russian River Valley Sauvignon Blanc ($19.99) is on the wine list at Berkeley’s famed Chez Panisse, side by side with Loire Valley Sancerre, Friulian Ribolla Gialla and German Riesling, and that’s its affinity for food. Crisp and mineral in style, this Sauvignon Blanc is lemony, with a touch of herbaceousness and wet stone minerality. Try it alongside the perfect summer nectarine or golden-colored pluot.