Peter Michael, Great Wines and Poppies
By Sophie Lamontagne, le Coureur des Bois Bistro Culinaire
Like many other wine estates of the New World, the story of Peter Michael Winery is a very young one. It hasn’t been forty years yet since the consecration of this project that lived through the one whose house bears his name, Sir Peter Michael. If French wines had already seduced him, it was love at first sight that awaited this wise British during a concert in California; because even though Peggy Lee’s deep voice had everything to intoxicate him, it’s his glass of wine that will forever change his life. What was he drinking? Unlike anything he ever had before, he drank an ample and woody Chardonnay that gave birth to the dream of bringing opulence in a bottle. This opulence, according to Sir Michael, was in American soil.
The Knights Valley, located in Sonoma County, is the cradle of the estate. The view is spectacular; from the steep west face of the Mount Saint Helena to the heart of the valley, the vine grows on volcanic soil, ideal for the production of great wines. It is quite curious that no vines were planted there before the 1980s! Sir Michael, living with the full potential of this place, takes his inspirations from Bordeaux and Burgundy, two areas that he particularly affectionate, and planted mostly four grape varieties: Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay for his white wines, Pinot Noir and Cabernet Sauvignon for his reds, to which are added, in smaller quantity, the other Bordeaux varietals. The Burgundy varietals are easy to accommodate in the cool temperatures and mountain mists of the parcels raised in altitude, while the Bordeaux grapes ripen with complacency in the heat of the hollow of the valley. These micro-climates allow a great range of styles for this estate, although body and depth are the common denominators of each cuvée.
A land, as promising as it may be, can not offer its best yield without being supervised by the hands of a master. Peter Michael Winery is primarily a family story. Sir Michael enjoys the close support of his wife, affectionately known as Lady M, his son Paul and his daughter-in-law Emily. Each contributes to the success of the estate through their own field of expertise, whether it’s the management of agricultural land, the hotel industry or communications. In addition to the sincere attachment that binds this family to the vineyard, their close collaborations extend to people with expertise and passion. Javier Avina oversees the vine rows with his expert eye that he developed at Robert Mondavi and Monticello Cellars, ensuring that only the finest fruits make their way to Nicolas Morlet, oenologist from Champagne, who has conducted brilliant studies in addition to building an impressive curriculum vitae in France. Together, this strong team is involved in the exploration of new terroirs and the production of wines that are, as everybody who had the privilege of tasting them agree, quite spectacular.
L’après-midi named from, according to Sir Michael, the pleasure of enjoying this wine by a lazy sunny afternoon, which is unmatched. This blend is one of two whites from the “Les Pavots” plot. Sauvignon Blanc and Sémillon grow together along with the other Bordeaux varieties of the estate at about 350 meters above sea level, on steep and well-drained soil. The fermentation is done in barrels and is translated in mouth by the magnitude of its aromas.
The 2014 vintage offers an aromatic and complex nose that is difficult to summarize in a few words. First, there are generous notes of exotic fruits such as mango and guava. It then opens up to aromas of lime and lemon zest, then honeysuckle and, finally, giving place to a gourmet nose with lovely notes of almond, nougat, and anise. The palate, rich, is balanced by the typical freshness of the Sauvignon Blanc. It is a wine with a remarkable texture that will make a beautiful table friend, especially for oily fish such as bluefin tuna served in tataki with citrus.
It was during the celebrations of their fortieth wedding anniversary that Sir Michael and Lady M unveiled their great white vintage, called Ma Belle-fille (meaning Step-daughter in French) in honor of Emily, the wife of their son Paul. The latter describes this Chardonnay, made from one of the highest plots of the La Maison des Complexe, generous and beautiful: a description that corresponds perfectly to the mother of his children.
The high contrast of temperature between the days and evenings of 2007 allowed the grapes to reach their optimal maturation and generousness without losing the freshness of the fruit. This vintage opens with an intense nose of peach and apricot, orange blossom, acacia and William pear. The equally opulent mouthfeel reveals notes of meringue, chamomile, and almond. With its length, this seductive wine allows you to enjoy the pleasure of tasting for a long time.
This vintage is undoubtedly the spearhead of the Peter Michael estate. While many vineyards plant rose bushes at the head of their vineyards, here the wild poppies grow freely and act as sentinels, letting Avina and her team see any possible risk for the grapes from their wilting. Why poppies? Simply because this homonymous parcel – the first of the estate at about 425 meters above sea level – was covered when Sir Michael saw it for the first time. This image has marked it to the point where we find one drawn on the label of each cuvées.
Essentially made from Cabernet Sauvignon, the vintage Les Pavots is often completed with a blend of Cabernet Franc, Merlot, and Petit Verdot, depending on the vintage.
The 2011 vintage will charm anyone with its density and depth. Under gourmet berry aromas such as strawberry, blackberry, and blackcurrant, this wine expresses notes of Madagascar vanilla and clove revealing an elegant aging in oak barrels, then black truffle oil, cocoa, and tobacco. Then follows a nose that is evocating the land that is reminiscent of Provencal garrigue: dead leaves, and graphite. Its mouth is round and full, as complex as the nose and endowed with a final that, ironically, seems endless. The 2011 Les Pavots is tasting great as of today, but this is a vintage that could easily lay down for another decade before drinking. It is not only a long-keeping wine, but it is also a great wine whose tasting rhymes with emotion.