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Sunday, July 24, 2016

Peter Michael Winery




is a collection of properties in Sonoma and Napa counties. The original and main property is a 650 acre tract of land located on part of Mt. St. Helena in Calistoga, CA.

The land was purchased by Sir Peter Michael in 1983. He may be best know for his foray into the film and television industry with his company, Quantel. They were vanguards of analog to digital video conversion in the early 1980's. They became very well known in the industry with their Paintbox technology, which was an industry video standard for close to two decades.

The property is located in the Knight's Valley AVA. For those that do not know, an AVA, according to the latter link, denotes the "pedigree of origin" geographically of a wine and is a term used in the United States viticulture industry.

The powers that be covet this area environmentally, and do not allow public tasting rooms. This is done in an effort to limit the amount of people and vehicles in the area. At PMW, tours are restricted to those on their primary buying list or those in the wine industry. It can take up to 2 years to be one of their customers.

Our tour guide that day was Peter Kay, Director of Sales and Marketing for the winery. A most gracious host, he told us in any one year, perhaps 1000 people would tour the property in Calistoga. In contrast, he conjectured that 1000 people may tour Robert Mondavi Winery on a Saturday in August.

I recorded Mr Kay for the approximately 2 and 1/2 hours we were there. As head of Sales and Marketing, he told us he had to be fluent in many aspects of PMW's operations. He gave me so much material to write about during our tour. As a relative ingenue in the world of wine and wine making, I will just touch on the highlights which I can talk somewhat intelligently about and that I found interesting.

PMW is a very interesting property. It came to be very much by careful planning but as much by serendipity as well.

Although the property is 650 acres, only 20% or so of it is arable land viticulturally. Mt. St. Helena has contributed two different soil types to this property. Rhyolite, or soils which support verdant growth and Serpentine which is very acidic, and favors pine growth. This is obvious from a vantage point above the vineyard.


The initial vision was to grow the Grapes of Bordeaux producing wines in the Bordeaux style. These are wines produced from these grapes with artisinal methods with crop that reflect its Terroir, or the grape's agricultural and environmental influences.

This vision was expressed on the lower part of the property. This part of the vineyard is relatively sheltered and warmer, which is what Bordeaux varietals prefer.


We were fortunate to see some plantings before they were put into the vinyards.

About 1500 feet away, paradoxically, Chardonnay grapes, that preferred a cooler temperature, were being grown. This, simplistically, can be explained by the coastal geology.



The water of the Pacific Ocean is very cold. The inland valleys, where the air is warmer, are separated from this cool, marine air by mountain ranges. Where there are holes in the mountain ranges, warm air draws the cool marine air in. A familiar example of this is the San Francisco Bay. The "famous" fog in the area happens as the moisture in the cool marine air condenses under the warm inland air.

I bring this up as through serendipity, PMW found that just 1500 feet or so above their Bordeaux Varietals, they could grow world class Chardonnay due to the situation of the property and it's exposure to cooler marine air currants.

As we were touring the winery, there was some replanting being done.


Originally, the vineyards were planted with the vines being horizontal to it's slopes to offset erosion. This was not the best orientation for them as both sides of the plantings did not get good sun exposure. This is a major undertaking. All the top soil is removed, the exposed subsoil reconditioned and the topsoil evenly put back. In their new north-south (perpendicular to slope) orientation, the grapes will receive sun on both sides of the plantings, and be protected from it during the heat of the day. The time frame for this project was anticipated to be 20 years.


Almost everything here is done by hand. The grapes for white wines are picked in clusters, and their juice separated from their skins immediately. This is done to minimize the extraction of Phenolic compounds which can add bitterness to the final product.

Red wine grapes are picked individually, and hand sorted twice to remove under and over mature fruit. The grapes are then fermented whole. The Free Run, or run off from the fermentation process as the grapes pop under their own weight and the fermentation process itself is used to make their wines. The remaining skins are pressed and the juice from this generally is sold on the bulk market.

PMW gained considerable acclaim last year being selected as 2015 Wine Spectator's (WS) Wine of the Year. I asked Peter Kay how they judge wines. He told me that they were the only ones that specified when ranking wine, it be done at WS's property. The wine editors are told of the vintage, varietal and region, but the rest is a blind tasting and ranking based on 100 point scale. After unblinding, they cannot change their score but can retaste and add contextual content such as "best wine ever from xxx winery",

After our tour, we tasted some of PMW's wines.

They have a very nice tasting room,



where we sampled 5 of their wines.


A 2011 Chardonnay, a 2012 Pinot Noir from their sister property in Sonoma, a 2014 Sauvignon Blanc/Semillon blend, a 2011 Cabernet Blend and finishing with their flagship Cabernet Blend. It was interesting that their Chardonnays, in some cases, are blends of different Chardonnay Clones, showing attention to detail at the vine level.
The wines were very nice. Even the wines from 2011, which was one of the worst Vintages on record, shined from PMW.

This was a lovely tour given by PMW's very affable and knowledgeable Director of Sales and Marketing. I would also like to thank the principle, Paul Michael, for making this tour possible. These will be very nice memories from a great Fourth of July weekend.



That's that for another post on Forks.

Peter Michael Winery
12400 Ida Clayton Rd.
Calistoga, CA  94515
707-942-3200












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