Thursday, November 22, 2012

As seen in the Marinscope Newspapers: Pey-Marin a Primo Pinot Producer

Jonathan Pey in one of his blocks of Pinot at Corda Vineyard

I met with Jonathan Pey in the budding Marin wine growing region of Chileno Valley at Corda Vineyards where Pey-Marin sources their riesling and some of their pinot noir. The vineyard is 22 years old; 15 to 40 years old is ideal for most varietals. Pey-Marin has been managing their grapes from Corda for the past 12 years using organic methods such as compost, cover crops, and dynamic pest management including the use of beneficial insects such as lady bugs to fight pests.

Hand Picked Pinot in the Rolling Hills of West Marin, CA

The coolest part of the vineyard, for an environmentally conscious wine connoisseur like me, is it's organically, dry farmed.  The vineyard has drip irrigation lines, but not the permit to use them. The advantage of successful dry farming is putting the vines under lots of stress to reach their tap roots down towards the water table helps produce more complex wines. The downside of dry farming for a grape grower is the yields are lower which means they have less tonnage to sell than their counterparts who are using drip irrigation. Corda Vineyard averages about 2 tons/acre while many other pinot vineyards fall in the 3 to 5 tons/acre range.

Jonathan is a friendly and talkative winemaker who uses his 35 years of French vineyard management and winemaking expertise to craft wonderful wines with a touch of old world style. His wife Susan has dedicated her life to the wine industry as well as a wine writer for Bon Appetite and is currently a sommelier for Il Fornaio. In 1999 they started Pey-Marin together.

Riesling Grapes in the Morning Sun
Pey-Marin's 2011 "Shell Mound" riesling ($29) is grown entirely at Corda Vineyard using the rare neustadt clone. This dry, aromatic wine features scents of nectarine, citrus, orange blossom, and other floral notes. On the palate, I got more floral notes, nectarine, lemon, and a hint of minerals. This wine goes great with spicy foods as the high level of acidity, that rieslings are known for, will cut right through the spice and bring relief to a burning tongue while delivering refreshing flavors.

Pey-Marin's 2009 "Trois Filles" pinot noir ($39) is grown at several vineyards in West Marin with the majority hailing from Corda Vineyard. The wine was aged for 14 months on French oak barrels with 25% new oak. The long extraction period with a moderate percentage of new barrels balances the aromas of the fruit and the bouquet from the oak. The wine is a dark garnet color. On the nose there are layers of earth and spice with notes of sour cherry, raspberry, cinnamon, clove, and forest floor. On my tongue I tasted rich earthiness, bright cherry, raspberry, and cloves as well as some dark fruits and slight fresh leather notes. This is an old world style pinot that is more bouquet driven than fruit forward with a soft front to mid palate mouthfeel and bright acidity. This wine is ready to drink now, but will also age beautifully for several years.

Tight Bunches of Pinot Noir
Both of these wines encapsulate why Marin County is a wonderful place to grow cool climate wines. They also showcase what can be done with organic vineyard practices, dry farmed vineyards, and stellar winemaking.

Although they live in San Anselmo, their winery is located in Napa, but is too small to offer tastings or tours. Pey-Marin can be found at Insalata's, Il Fornaio, Marin Beverage, Whole Foods, Mill Valley Market, Ludwigs, and many other fine wine shops throughout Marin. They also have three other labels (Textbook, Forager, and Spicerack) that source their fruit from Napa and Sonoma counties.

For more information on Pey-Marin, cal455-9463 or visit 

Sunrise over the Chileno Valley, Marin County, CA