Some tastings leaving you wanting more, while others are hardly of note. However, sometimes you find yourself at a tasting that leaves such an impression on you that afterwards you think about how lucky you were to experience it. That’s exactly what happened to me when tasting through nine vintages of Peter Michael.
The story of how the Peter Michael Winery came to be is a fascinating one, especially when it’s being told by his son Paul, who was just a teenager on holiday with his family when he one day realized that the trip was really meant to scout out a location for their new winery.
In 1982, Peter Michael purchased 630 acres of volcanic ridges on the western face of Mount St. Helena in Knights Valley. It was a little-known location, which had played host for vines over a century ago, but disappeared into history through prohibition and disease; and so, it came with no guarantees of success. However, Peter was determined and believed in the terroir. Suddenly, family vacations became the start of a whole new era for the entire family, as they began planting and laying the foundations for today’s Peter Michael Winery.
It all started with Bordeaux varieties, and then with the help of Helen Turley, the winery released its first wine in 1987, a Chardonnay. Much has changed since then, as the family has worked to delimit each of their parcels, splitting them up by soil types and microclimates. Looking to marry the ripeness and fruit intensity of Sonoma with classic old world winemaking, Peter Michael enlisted a team combining winemakers from the old world and the new. In fact, the list of famed winemakers who have contributed goes on and on.
On thing that has remained the same is the family that brings us these amazing wines. Peter’s mantra, “mountain vineyards, classical winemaking, and limited production”, has been followed since the beginning, and the goal is to keep the winery under 100% family ownership for at least 100 years. Looking at the pride Paul feels when speaking about his family and their accomplishments, it’s hard to imagine that they will ever give up the reins. Knight’s Valley is in their blood.
On this day, it was a tasting of two wines, both from the estates Les Pavots (The Poppies) vineyard. The first was the acclaimed and highly sought-after L’Apres-Midi, a Sauvignon Blanc with a touch of Semillon, which pays tribute to the great white wines of Bordeaux, but in a truly Peter Michael style. This was followed by the wine bearing the vineyard’s name, Les Pavots. This is a wine that speaks to the old-world wine lover, as well as the new. It’s a Bordeaux blend, made primarily from Cabernet Sauvignon, with varying amounts of Cab Franc, Merlot and Petit Verdot. Somehow the cooler climate and rocky volcanic soil lends Les Pavots a classic feel and refined balance, all while displaying perfectly ripe California fruit. Both wines are beautiful, and both are also highly limited.
In the end, it’s amazing to think about the courage it must have taken for the Peter Michael family to embark on such a journey. Today, they enjoy a much-earned respect from wine lovers around the world. Enjoy!
On to the tasting notes:
2010 Peter Michael L’Apres-Midi – The nose showed intense citrus and minerals, gaining richness with time in the glass, adding floral tones and hints of wild herbs. It displayed soft textures on the palate, along with flavors of ripe peach, apple, melon, hints of honey and inner floral tones. It finished with a zing of acidity, yet remained pure and elegant, tapering off with notes of young peach and crushed stone. (93 points)
2011 Peter Michael L’Apres-Midi – Showing a darker and richer side of L’Apres-Midi, the ‘11 opened up with notes of ripe peach, kiwi, and minerals in an alluring display. On the palate, I found silky textures, which gave way to smoky peach, apple and wet stone. The finish was long and intense with floral perfumes, ripe peach and hints of honey. (94 points)
2012 Peter Michael L’Apres-Midi – The nose showed intense fruit and floral tones, displaying ripe pear, apple, hints of spice, crushed stone and honey suckle. On the palate, it displayed perfect balance with soft textures giving way to tart lemon, zesty minerality, and exotic inner floral tones. Sweet apple, citrus and spice waited for me on the finish, which was remarkably long and fresh. What a beautiful performance from a wine that I would love to sit with for hours. (95 points)
2013 Peter Michael L’Apres-Midi – The nose was rich and fruity with hints of vanilla and wild herbs, which turned to floral perfumes. On the palate, it was lively and pure, seeming to hover upon the senses, displaying ripe stone fruits, and sweet inner floral tones. Hints of honey and ginger lingered on the finish. The ‘13 L’Apres-Midi is gentle giant of a wine that finds beauty in its understatement. (93 points)
2014 Peter Michael L’Apres-Midi – The nose was peppery with rich and savory notes of lemon, wild herbs, olive and green apple. On the palate, I found tense, angular textures with young stone fruit and hints of spice. It finished on wild herbs, lemon and brisk acidity. The ‘14 is hard to judge today, as it comes across and remarkably youthful. (92 points)
2006 Peter Michael Les Pavot – The nose was gorgeous with rich black currant, cherry sauce and spice, complicated by hints of wild herbs and olive. On the palate, silky textures faded to reveal intense dark red fruits and spice, yet it remained remarkably elegant and refined. The finish was long with saturating raspberry fruit, herbs and minerals. The ‘06 is in a beautiful place right now. (95 points)
2007 Peter Michael Les Pavot – The nose showed tart cherry and floral perfumes with hints of sage and dusty spice . On the palate, I found silky textures with medium weight, giving way to black cherry and blueberry with still-youthful tannin contrasting vibrant acidity and providing a truly classic feel. The finish was long with notes of dried blackberry, pine, tobacco and herbs. I’m usually not a fan of the ‘07 vintage but Peter Michael’s Les Pavot is a real standout. (96 points)
2008 Peter Michael Les Pavot – The nose was restained with notes of dark earth, dried cherry and minerals. On the palate, I found a mix of cherry and blueberry, yet all was kept in check by a mix of brisk acidity and tannin. It finished on hints of cola and spice. At nearly eight years old, I found the ‘08 to be a bit of a mystery to me, but it’s possible that we’re seeing it through an odd phase. (92 points)
2009 Peter Michael Les Pavot – This showed a dark, deep and layered bouquet of blackberry and herbs in an almost-savory performance with hints of tobacco pulling up the rear. On the palate, tart cherry gave way to wild herbs and minerals, and it gave a perfectly balanced and almost juicy performance. It finished on a contrast of vibrant acidity and ripe fruit. This wine is a pleasure to drink. (94 points)
2010 Peter Michael Les Pavot – The nose was dark and brooding, showing blue fruits, savory cherry sauce, dusty spice, hints of wild herbs, minerals, and pepper. On the palate, it was soft-textured, almost creamy, with intense black cherry that seemed to coat all of the senses. Youthful tannin came forward on the finish, as its rich fruit slowly tapered off. The ‘10 is still quite young yet full of potential. (93 points)
2011 Peter Michael Les Pavot – The ‘11 Les Pavot is already quite appealing today, with a mix of spicy red and blue fruit and minerals on the nose. It was super-soft, yet not weighty on the palate, with notes of ripe blueberry and spice. Hints of tannin came forward on the finish, drying the palate, yet not detracting from the experience. In fact, I found ‘11 Les Pavot to be one of the most enjoyable and ready-to-drink wines from this day’s flight. (94 points)
2012 Peter Michael Les Pavot – The ‘12 displayed a gorgeous bouquet of dark fruit and spice, with hints of pepper, lifting herbal tones, and minerals. On the palate, I found silky textures, yet seemingly weightless somehow, displaying a mix of cherry and blackberry, which gave way to wood spice and sweet tannin. It finished long and refined as its dense core of fruit persisted and youthful tannin coated the senses. This is a classic in the making. (96 points)
2013 Peter Michael Les Pavot – The nose was restrained at first; yet with coaxing, it opened up to reveal dark earth and minerals, followed by dried blueberry, floral tones and brown spice. On the palate, I found a soft and elegant expression with blackberry fruit and spice, followed by sweet tannin that saturated the senses. It was long, structured and spicy on the finish, with hints of dried berries, ginger and dark chocolate. This is so youthful today, yet you can sense the potential in the glass. Truly Stunning! (97 points)
Article, photos and tasting notes by: Eric Guido