Jonathan and Susan Pey are winegrowers and residents of Marin County who have a shared passion for wine. Jonathan has had a career in the ultra-premium wine industry at Domaine Louis Jadot, Penfolds, and Robert Mondavi Vineyards. Susan is a wine buyer for a large prestigious restaurant group in the Bay Area. Together they launched their own line of wines in 1999 and today produce Pinot Noir and Riesling under the Pey-Marin label, Merlot and Vin Gris under the Mount Tamalpais label, a Cabernet Sauvignon from Oakville in Napa Valley labeled Textbook and a Paso Robles Syrah called Spicerack. Their umbrella company is Scenic Root Winegrowers.
To be honest, growing Pinot Noir in Marin County is not for the faint at heart. The few vineyards hold
much potential when the weather cooperates, but small, even miniscule yields, are often the rule.
Jonathan calls the yields “stupid - pick a low number!” The soils are decomposed marine sediment
and drain beautifully. Located only 8 miles inland from the Pacific Ocean, the region is quite cool and
the resulting growing season is extended in length. Typically, the Pinot Noir clusters and berries are
tiny, with high skin to juice ratios.
I have enjoyed several vintages of Pey-Marin Trois Filles Pinot Noir (named after the Pey’s three
daughters). Jonathan leases and farms part of three vineyards in Marin County: Pey-Marin block
(Pommard, Swan and 115) at Corda Vineyard, a block at Stubbs Vineyard (115), and a block at
Kendric Vineyard (Pommard, 667, 777). The three sites are quite diverse with differing slopes, orientation,
clones, rootstocks, age, location and harvest dates. Pey-Marin and Stubbs are organically
farmed, Kendric is (very) sustainably farmed. Pey-Marin is 17 years old, Stubbs is 10 and Kendric 8.
I asked Jonathan about his winemaking regimen. Fruit is hand harvested and hand sorted at the winery.
The grapes are completely destemmed and crushed, but the crusher element is removed from
the destemmer to get a lot of whole berries for some carbonic fermentation. Usually the grapes are
harvested at 24.5° to 25.5° maximum Brix. The grapes are chilled and punched down by hand twice a
day for four days during fermentation and then let go to “do their own thing - kind of like Burgundy.”
Natural fermentation starts on its own to add some nice funk, but Jonathan always adds a cultured yeast
to make certain fermentation finishes full. At 5-8° Brix he presses off to allow a modest barrel ferment
to happen in new French oak barrels (Jonathan learned this from his friend Peter Gago at Penfolds who
does it for his better lots for a wine called Grange). No racking or fining, but lots of batonage in barrel
for about 14 months. Barrels are about 35% new, all top coopers. He adds a small touch (3-5%) of vintage
2006 juice to give it a nice fruit lift just before bottling. The wine is gently filtered with a very
modern cross flow filter. He ages it in bottles 6 months before release.
2005 Pey-Marin Trois Filles Marin County Pinot Noir
13.8 % alc, 320 cases, $39. According to Jonathan, his best yet, “combining great coolclimate
Pinot typicity with some nice earthy (dare I say terroir) tones, wrapped with a kiss of new French oak.”
A lot of winemakers say every current vintage is their best yet, but this really is true here. Exciting scents of
snappy cherry and oak spice lead off. A sweet-fruited palate of black cherries and black raspberries with a hint of cool minerality follows in step. A crisp and juicy Pinot Noir with impeccable balance. Nice finesse but not wimpy! A
thoroughly enjoyable, mouth-filling wine that is brilliantly crafted. Kudos!
2004 Pey-Marin Trois Filles Marin County Pinot Noir
14.1% alc., 372 cases, $36. Clones 115, 667, 777.
Perfume of very ripe dark berries, raisins, oak and cardamom spice carries through to the finish.
Velvety in texture with weighty tannins on the moderately lengthy finish. A decent Pinot but can’t compete with the other vintages for attention.
2003 Pey-Marin Trois Filles Marin County Pinot Noir
13.8% alc., 269 cases, $33. Clones 115 and 667. Very low yields.
Attractive dark cherry and berry aromas highlighted with earth and oak. Lovely dark cherry and cassis flavors with a sidecar of smoke and oak. Texturally smooth with brisk acidity and felty tannins on the finish. Drinking beautifully now.
2002 Pey-Marin Trois Filles Marin County Pinot Noir
13.5% alc., $29
The fruit has faded a tad but
all kinds of other interesting components have come out to play. Still pumping out terrific aromatics of
blackberries, oak, cigar box and a hint of mint. Earthy, shroom flavors. A lot of fun after five years.
Pey-Marin wines can be purchased on the website at www.marinwines.com. The other varietals,
particularly The Shell Mound Riesling are worthy of attention. Sign up for the mailing list to receive
advance notice of releases. 415-455-WINE. No tours or tasting.