Napa Valley AVA

94 Points & Outstanding - Pinot Report

Johnathan and Susan Pey bring four decades of education, training and experience to their small lot winegrowing and ultra-boutique wines in Marin County, California. This month’s Pinot Noir Series selection comes from their ‘Pey-Lucia Vineyards’ label, one of the five programs that makes up the Scenic Root Winegrowers Company the Peys founded in 1999.

The Peys met while attending undergrad at the University of Arizona and realized they had something special in common – each had enjoyed some time in Europe that instilled in them a deeply rooted interest in fine wine and premium winegrowing. Johnathan had lived in Paris, France for 3 years as a teenager while his father’s business was relocated and was immediately drawn to wine and its emigration into the culture.

“Everywhere I went there was a bottle of wine on the table,” Johnathan Pey remembers. “It was such a part of the culture there – the science, art, and business of it was rooted in everything and became a big part of our everyday life.” When Johnathan returned to the United States, he began his career and went on to work for a number of industry giants: Burgundy’s Domaine Lousi Jadot, Pomerol’s Chateau Petrus, Penfolds and even Robert Mondavi. Susan, on the other hand, was raised in wine country in northern California and had wine aficionados for parents who planted the wine bug in her at an early age. While attending college, Susan spent a year studying abroad in Florence, Italy where she enveloped herself in the world of fine wines and food and realized where her future was headed. Upon returning home, Susan landed a major career opportunity as Wine Director for Spectrum Foods and Il Fornaio restaurant groups, for which she would taste, evaluate, and purchase hundreds of wines from around the world.

The Peys settled in Marin County, California and in 1998, read a life-changing book called “Early Marin” that touches on the winegrowing history of the region. They found that interestingly enough, Marin had a vibrant heritage of viticulture that predates surrounding appellations by almost twenty years. “We were surprised to learn that Marin had an earlier winegrowing history than Napa Valley,” Johnathan Pey revealed. “We started researching the County’s history, climate, soils and vineyards, and realized that Marin had the potential to be an exceptional spot.”

The following year, the Peys took the plunge and together produced their first vintage – 300 cases of a Pey-Marin 1999 Merlot. Susan and Johnathan were thrilled to find success in cool climate viticulture, and started incorporating a range of small vineyard sites and reputable appellations (Sonoma Coast, Napa Valley, and Santa Lucia Highlands). To diversify each wine, the Peys came up with a series of unique label names.

“If I was taking a marketing class, I probably would have gotten an ‘F,’” Pey laughed. “I know we’re supposed to create one winery name to build a brand, but as we started making the wines, different names were coming about and we stuck with them.” The current label names include a Pey-Marin Pinot Noir and Dry Reisling, Pey-Lucia Pinot Noir, Textbook Cabernet Sauvignon, SpiceRack Vineyards Syrah, and a Mount Tamalpais Vineyards Merlot. “We only produce about 1,800 cases total, and of course we’d like to increase that number, but we’re really picky about the grapes we use. We don’t want to make more just for the sake of making more. The wine has to be as good, and preferably better than the year before,” Pey recently explained. Together, Johnathan and Susan share all of the work that goes on at the winery, but Johnathan tends to spend more time in the vineyards and Susan more time in the cellar.

“With Susan’s job, she evaluates and tastes so many wines from around the world everyday, which really helps with our winemaking and crafting the right blend in the cellar,” Johnathan remarked. The Peys’ collection of Scenic Root wines are beginning to earn some serious recognition, especially recently with the release of their Pey-Lucia 2006 Pinot Noir.

“Santa Lucia Highlands is a superb spot for Pinots. I wanted to take the purity of the site and put it in the Burgundy style, which I think we captured in this 2006 vintage,” Johnathan enthused. As their Tasting Room just opens its doors and their wines find stunning critical acclaim, the Peys are making a splash in Marin County wine country and help mold the future of this emerging winegrowing region.

Featured Wines

Susan and Johnathan Pey

This extremely talented couple share the role of ‘Winemaker’ for their five wine programs and bring extensive, but rather different, experience to the table. While Johnathan works as a consultant for a number of International wineries, including big-name Kim Krawford, Susan is known as one of the most prominent wine buyers in North America and professionally evaluates hundreds of wines each week. It is with these talents and backgrounds that they have been able to successfully produce a number of award-winning, cool-climate varietals from northern California's Marin County.

The couple is busy, keeping all winery operation tasks split between them, but they do find time for activities with their three young daughters, Lauren, Alexandra, and Cameron, ranging in age from 9 to 15 years old. Johnathan coaches the girls soccer team, and even enjoys a competitive league of his own. The Peys also find it rewarding traveling the world to show their children culture outside of California.