Presqu’ile is the California winery I’ve been waiting for.
In 2007, Matt Murphy and his parents, Madison and Suzanne, purchased 200 acres in California’s Santa Maria Valley, ending a year-long search of vineyard sites that extended from Oregon to Santa Barbara County. They named their new wine estate Presqu’ile (press-KEEL).
The Murphys are Arkansas natives,-cum-Louisiana farmers, and pinot noir lovers. Matt ventured west for a science education at the University of Colorado at Boulder; a summer job at Napa Valley’s Signorello winery kindled his interest in viticulture. After graduation in 2006, he moved to California, working three consecutive harvests in the cellar at Ambullneo Winery in the Santa Maria Valley appellation.
Murphy worked alongside assistant winemaker Dieter Cronje. They shared a common vision of pinot noir as it’s made in Burgundy and at the renowned Domaine Dujac. So, when Murphy opened Presqu’ile, Cronje became the winemaker and they ran with their vision.
Santa Maria Valley lies between the only mountain ranges on the west coast of North and South America that run east-west. This geographical shape gives the valley a natural jet stream of cool air from the nearby Pacific Ocean, creating a cool-climate and long growing season conducive to producing wines with moderate levels of alcohol.
The Murphy’s planted 60-acres at elevations from 700 to 1,000 feet and purchased an adjoining 11-acre vineyard. Pinot noir took primacy with its 32 acres, followed by 17 acres of chardonnay, 16 acres of sauvignon blanc and parcels of syrah and nebbiolo.
Presqu’ile uses estate grapes and also buys fruit from the stellar Bien Nacido Vineyard in Santa Maria Valley and the Steiner Creek Vineyard in San Luis Obispo.
While many wine drinkers think of rose’ as a warm-weather wine, I like it anytime. And you might, too, after tasting the 2015 Presqu’ile Rosé Santa Maria Valley. Made from pure pinot noir, it brightens a winter’s day with its copper color, and appealing orange, tangerine and lemon-y fragrance. The pleasure of summer’s fruits are captured in the strawberry and cranberry flavors lifted with a steam of acidity that is refreshing and long lasting. 93 points. Retail is approximately $19.50.
The 2014 Presqu’ile Chardonnay Santa Maria Valley is as close to a Premier Cru Chassagne-Montrachet as you’ll find in this country. Cronje coddled his estate grown chardonnay grapes for six months in stainless-steel tanks and a year in neutral French oak barrels. The wine’s spring-water hue and elegant floral, vanilla scent are instant messages that this is not another California oaky, fruit-bomb chardonnay. Then, the white peach and pear flavors crossed my palate with their medium-full body and balancing acidity, confirming its Burgundy style.
The 2014 Presqu’ile Chardonnay was perfect with sautéed skate, followed by a cheese plate of Camembert, Pont-l’Évêque and Wisconsin Ribolla. 94 Points. Retail is approximately $40.
The 2014 Presqu’ile Steiner Creek Vineyard San Luis Obispo County Pinot Noir is made only from fruit purchased at the Steiner Creek Vineyard. Its translucent raspberry color is a relief from the opaque pinot noirs of many California wineries. And its cinnamon and Chinese five-spice aroma has a Chambolle-Musigny accent. The rich, black-cherry, raspberry and cranberry flavors are supported with tingling tannins giving this wine a very Burgundian style and good aging potential.
Red wine with fish has been a decades-long pairing for me. And the 2014 Presqu’ile Steiner Creek Vineyard Pinot Noir with mahi-mahi, roasted cauliflower and red bell peppers was as rewarding as the wine’s 97 Points. Retail is approximately $48.
As seductive as the 2014 Presqu’ile Steiner Creek Vineyard San Luis Obispo County is, I surrendered to the 2014 Presqu’ile Santa Maria Valley Pinot Noir. Cronje blended 90 percent estate fruit with 10 percent pinot noir from the acclaimed Bien Nacido Vineyard. The wine’s hypnotic power begins with the strawberry, rhubarb and five-spice aromas that seem to float above the glass like vapors of incense. Then, when you pull yourself away from the mesmerizing scent, you are immediately captivated by the kaleidoscope of black-cherry, raspberry and strawberry flavors that unfold like an accordion and play in your mouth with their elegant, soft tannins. Add the 12.9 percent alcohol and you have a nearly perfect pinot noir. 99 Points. Retail is approximately $50.
Anna Murphy, Matt’s sister, has joined the Presqu’ile winemaking team that is producing some of America’s most aromatic and flavorful pinot noirs with reasonable alcohol levels and integrated tannins.
Thankfully, the characteristics that have defined numerous West Coast pinot noirs–cola and Luden’s black-cherry coughdrop tastes, high alcohol and candied-styled–is MIA at Presqu’ile. In its place, you will find a Burgundy vision with an American viewpoint.
Photos: John Foy