PEJU Napa Valley is family owned and located on the east side of Highway 29 about 1/2 way between Oakville and Rutherford in the middle of the busy “wine strip”. The winery was founded in 1982 or 1983 (the winery lists both years as founding dates) by Tony & Herta Peju; both have an international upbringing – Tony was born in Iran and raised in France, Herta was born in Austria and raised in Venezuela. They met in Los Angeles where both were living at the time. Tony became involved in the nursery business in Los Angeles along with residential real estate. Eventually he decided to move the family to the Napa Valley after purchasing 30-acres on site of where the winery is located. He and Herta continue to oversee the operations but their two daughters Lisa and Ariana are now also very actively involved.
Unlike the trend in the Napa Valley for open by walk-in wineries to become appointment only – it is still easy to visit PEJU Napa Valley because no appointments are necessary for tastings. In addition, refreshingly they are open until 6pm, usually after most of the other wineries have closed for the day.
PEJU Napa Valley does an excellent job of local advertising which along with word of mouth – helps attract visitors to the winery. Weekends during the summer are not typically the time to visit unless you enjoy large groups of people and significant social interaction with other visitors. If you are here in the summer or on a busy weekend and are trying to avoid crowds, make this your first stop at 10am.
Compared to many wineries who distribute to restaurants and retail outlets, the majority of their wines are actually sold direct to consumer at the winery.
PEJU Napa Valley is one of the more recognizable wineries along this part of Highway 29 due to its unique architecture, copper roof and row of curved sycamore trees lining their driveway. These trees are pruned so that they essentially have very few branches and are spindly looking and are immediately noticeably by cars approaching from either direction on the highway. The grounds are tastefully landscaped with a variety of outdoor sculptures, diversity of trees and a small koi pond. Visitors entering the hospitality center will see one of their tasting bars at the far end of the room; Peju operates several other tasting bars located throughout the building, both upstairs and downstairs.
Unlike tastings at nearby wineries where visitors immediately head to the tasting bar, when at or near capacity, walk-in tastings are “timed”. When there is an opening at the tasting bar, the host will escort visitors and others waiting back to one of the tasting bars. As a result, tastings are slightly more personal then at some other wineries in which visitors can crowd the bar tastings until there isn’t much room. Until there is an opening at one of their tasting bars, most people typically hang out in the retail room.
Their most popular tasting is the classic (no appointment needed) usually featuring 4-6 current-release wines while the reserve showcases limited production wines. These tastings usually last only 25-30 minutes. Other tastings are all by appointment and include the Rutherford Dust Experience, an exploration of Cabernet Sauvignon grown and produced in Rutherford including some of their most exclusive and limited production wines, the Stained Glass Single Vineyard Experience, a seated tasting exploring the single vineyard wines in their Stained Glass Collection (each bottle’s label is a vertical image of the large stained glass window in the tasting room – so that when the bottles are lined up, the entire image shows) and a seated wine & cheese pairing led by a Peju ambassador.
The center piece in their tasting room is an impressive 10’ x 20’ stained glass window built in Germany in 1906 and purchased by Tony at an art auction in 1993. And this tasting room is housed in the 50 foot iconic Peju Tower – originally designed in 1981 by southern California architect Calvin Straub. However, it was not built until the early 2000s (several years after Calvin died). Their newest tasting space, the Uluru Room features beautiful cut Brazilian quartzite marble on the tasting counters and the floor. Employees told us that the iron ore in this rock glows in the dark at night.
PEJU Napa Valley owns and manages over 550 acres in the valley with land in Rutherford, Oak Knoll, Carneros, Calistoga and Pope Valley. All their vineyards are organically farmed.
During one of our early visits we tried the 2006 PEJU Napa Valley Carnival; this was actually the first wine ever made at PEJU Napa Valley back in the early 1980’s. This wine is made from French Colombard – a variety one rarely finds from a Napa Valley based winery (and was actually growing on site when the Peju’s purchased this property). It is no longer planted on site, so they source this variety from vineyards located in northern Mendocino County. This white wine variety is sometimes compared to German Rieslings. This vintage is both creamy and crisp with notes of red apple and a lemony citrus quality. There is just a hint of residual sugar, noticeable mostly on the finish.
The 2007 PEJU Napa Valley Pink rosé is appropriately named – noticeably pink in color. 25% of the proceeds from the sales of this wine were donated directly to breast cancer research and during the first year the wine was released, the Peju family donated over $64,000. The image of one of the ladies in their stained glass window appears on the label. It is a very unique blend of Zinfandel, Chardonnay, and Colombard. It is fruity with aromas of strawberry, kiwi and watermelon with stone fruit flavors including nectarine and peach. As one of their employees told us in regards to this wine, “chill it, fill it, kill it”!
The 2005 PEJU Napa Valley Syrah is light on oak showcasing a wide variety of fruit flavors and a characteristic spiciness not really found on the bouquet, but more so on the palate, especially towards the finish. PEJU Napa Valley has become known for their Cabernet Franc including a reserve wine from this variety. The 2005 PEJU Napa Valley Cabernet Franc offers notes of chocolate along with floral nuances on the bouquet; the wine is soft and supple on the palate with appealing flavors of plum and blackberry.
Other interesting wines include the non vintage Provence – a multi varietal blend of both red and white grapes including Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Zinfandel, Chardonnay and French Colombard. Also of note is the PEJU Napa Valley annual Barrel Experiment wine. Winemaker Sarah Fowler sources a wide variety of French and American barrels from different coopers and combines the best of the barrels after the wine aged into one wine. The 2013 PEJU Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon Barrel Experiment features leviathan tannins; this wine screams for some protein, layered in strips of fat if possible!
Part of the experience at PEJU Napa Valley is visiting with the people pouring the wines – Alan Arnopole, “The Yodelmeister or rapper, used to sing and perform in the tasting room. He was one of the few people in Napa to consider a tasting room his personal “stage” and he was a “Peju tradition”. He would sing about most anything, often on the spur of the moment with quickly composed lyrics which quickly attracted crowds of people. As of our latest update to this review, Alan is mostly retired but stops by the winery every now and then or is scheduled for special events.
Peju offers wines for all tastes ranging from several not often produced white varieties, to the big deep reds such as their Estate Cabernet Sauvignon. They even produce a Zinfandel Port-style wine for those who have a sweet tooth.
Rotating art exhibits are on display upstairs in the art gallery; usually these works are from prominent San Francisco Bay area artists. Visitors can take a “self guided” stroll around the property taking in the gardens & art displays. This is a “fun” winery and attracts people from all over who want to not only taste good wine but to also have an enjoyable and memorable experience.
And their gift shop is one of the better stocked ones in the valley offering a variety of mostly wine related items including serving devices along with soap rocks, pottery and other souvenirs.
In 2015 PEJU Napa Valley opened another facility, simply called P2 in a business park south of the city of Napa. This location is not open to the public and is used as a shipping location and as offices for some of their employees.
In late 2016, Lisa and Ariana also founded what was originally known as Liana Estates (later LE Estates) and now Calmére Estate Winery – located on site of the old Acacia Winery on the Napa side of the Carneros District. Some of their wines are sold within the PEJU Napa Valley retail shop.
For more information, to schedule an appointment, to join their wine club or for more details about reserving the family condo overlooking Honokeana Cove in Maui, visit: www.peju.com
Peju P2, Napa Business Park