The Napa Valley’s beauty is evident everywhere, but hidden away is a majestic Domaine by the name of Peter Michael Winery. Entering a driveway shadowed by giant trees, I knew we were approaching something different. There is a house, no tasting room or venue for visitors to mingle and sip prestigious wines. This is hallowed ground, private with a regal feeling all its own.
We met Sales and Marketing Director Peter Kay and Winemaker Nicolas Morlet. Nicolas was born in Epernay, France and is a fifth generation winegrower. He was the winemaker of Champagne in France before moving to California. It was a pleasure meeting both men and learning about their passion for Peter Michael Winery.
The grounds were quiet with the exception of birds singing and the wind blowing. It was a sunny, beautiful day. Peter Michael Winery is a tranquil paradise. Visitors are limited to active members on the winery’s retail mailing list, with certain members of the press and wine trade allowed. I felt privileged to be among the selected few to share such iconic wines.
When Sir Peter bought the property in 1982 it was a cattle ranch. Sir Peter, a tech savvy entrepreneur, fell in love with Northern California. He created a retreat for his family and world-class, internationally recognized wines. The winery remains 100% family owned and the wines are elegant.
The Michael family is diligent in its wine practice, sharing that the winery has a simple vision, “Mountain vineyards, classical winemaking, and limited production. Paul Michael believes in classic winemaking and current marketing.” He said, “Both great wine and social media are meant to be fun and for sharing with friends.” There is no pretense here, just a passion for the making the best wine possible.
The tour of the vineyard was vast and spectacular. Nicolas shared that you can’t manufacture soil conditions; there is white compressed volcanic ash from millions of years ago. The volcanic ash absorbs. It is about the sun exposure explained, Nicolas. The climate, perfect drainage… It’s all about the terroir. There are formats for each site, and they work as a team to make the best wine possible, shared Nicolas. “We talk to almost every single vine.” He said. They take quality care and manicure it. It cost’s $10,000 an acre to farm the vineyards. High quality, focus embrace and uncompromising high quality are just a few words mentioned by Nicolas to create outstanding wine. Nicolas continues, a lot of terrior is designated with ceratin minerality, they have an area called the spoon, and in this area the minerality and delicate space make a most feminine wine. When making wine it takes precision, love, creating length in the wine and finding the finesse. These are things Nicolas does flawlessly.
Nicolas said the wines have to be seamless and of consistent quality, reliable for the wines aging. The key achievement is showing the personality of each vintage. Nicolas never forgets the reputation of Michael’s family and the families drinking Peter Michaels wines. There is never pressure to make a certain amount of wine, which is a gift and happens to few winemakers. Supportive ownership and quality is the driving force for everything we do. Making the highest quality wines we can produce.
Nicolas likes fine smaller berries. The team goes through every berry, making sure they are the finest quality and this is no small feat.
They pick grapes at sunrise in Napa and Knights Valley in fog. They pick block-by-block, sub block by sub block. Small bins arrive in perfect condition they do not crush the grapes. Nicholas is present through every process and every tank is different. The delicate care of these grapes is incredible for a winery as large as Peter Michael. Nicholas wanted us to know that Peter Michael wines are not j jammy, ,they are 100% natural, showing elegance and always reaching a balance. Each wine has a strong personality.
After viewing the exceptional vines, driving up the terrain and viewing the stunning landscape, it was time to taste Nicolas’s masterpieces.
We started with the 2007 La Carnere. This wine embraces the terrior; the minerality are impressive with age and very precise. It had great orchid fruit, delicate, tasting of white peach, with a buttery brioche note of pastry; lemon and lime also come through. It is a feminine wine, sultry, creamy and 100% natural. Embrace this wine with food. It is very tactile in the mouth. The length on the tongue can last up to two minutes
The 2007 Ma Belle-Fille is Peter Michael’s most intense Chardonnay. By itself, it is the world’s finest chardonnay. This wine has massive fruit, such as baked apple and nectarine, with cake and pastry, and the essence of dried chamomile tea keep you wanting more.
The 2009 Le Caprice is a love affair of Pinot Noir. 60% slope, 1400 feet at the highest and 1000 feet at the lowest. It comes from 30 acres out of 396 acres. This wine is an orchestra in your mouth. The ruby color is pronounced and the aroma lingers for days. Strawberry, sandalwood, nutty, sherry with brandy and an ocean, almond minerality creates a very special dance in your mouth. Aging this wine for five years is ideal.
The 2010 Après-Midi has the essence of spring flowers, with vanilla beans and fruits such as apricot, grapefruit and guava, the complexity of honey and the aromatic honey suckle and quince paste finish is complex. This wine is seamless.
The 2006 Les Pavots was the first vintage. “It will age better than me in forty years,” shared Nicolas. He explained that this glass is what Sir Peter had in mind when he bought the vineyard. When you can bring a vineyard into a glass, it is like drinking a symphony of flavor. This wine indicates summer. It is incredible and intense with blueberry, licorice, vanilla, chocolate, lavender and caramel. This wine has a little higher alcohol volume. It is enormous with huge potential with aging. It’s intense in all the ways that are good and it stays with you. Something you will be most grateful for.
2006 L’Espirit des Pavots is a wine that is firm, with tannins. It is a dry wine, slightly rustic with more merlot comparison. It is precise and brings a lot of blackberry and licorice elements.
Peter Michael’s is like the Wizard of Oz of wineries, except here, you don’t want to go home.
There are a variety of places to stay in Napa. Luckily, I came upon a sensational, secluded cottage inn within Calistoga. The Cottage Grove Inn has resort Storybook cottages nestled in a grove of century-old Siberian Elms in the Napa Valley.
The exterior of white porches and seating are charming. It is intimate and inviting.
The rooms are lovely with windows over looking the porch and area. The wood-burning fireplace, cottage bedding with fine linens, stuffed chairs and hardwood floors make for a relaxing atmosphere. There is HDTV, as though you will have time, a wet bar and wireless internet. The bathroom is a gem. There is a fabulous large two person deep soaking tub, shower, and separate area with two basins and luxury toiletries.
The Cottage Grove Inn serves breakfast in the dining area or patio. The breakfast is complimentary and offers everything from waffles, to quiche, fruit smoothies, cereal, pastries, and coffee specialty drinks.
You can rent complimentary movies, or bikes. Take a hike on one of the many trails they have outlined for you. Requests are available for everything from horseback riding to wine country exploring to spa services.
The cottages are so close to the main area of Calistoga that you can walk across the street to swim, (with spa services), take a mud bath, shop, wine taste, and of course dine. Having everything so close is a gift but you may be tempted to come back to the inn and curl up in bed. Cottage Grove Inn is a definite A+ in service, cleanliness, atmosphere and quality.