Will his winery in Sonoma County’s Knights Valley remain in Sir Peter Michael’s family for an entire century?
We likely won’t be around to find out. But that certainly is the goal of Michael who, after an extensive, seven-year search for California property to serve as both family retreat and vineyard, purchased 630 acres of volcanic ridges on the western face of Mount St. Helena.
That was in 1982, and for the entrepreneurial founder of Quantel and frequent visitor to Northern California, it was love at first sight.
A year later, Michael and his wife planted red Bordeaux varietals in the volcanic soils at the site. Four years after that, they hired Helen Turley to make their first wine, the 1987 Mon Plaisir Chardonnay, produced from fruit grown at the nearby Gauer Estate (now Alexander Mountain Estate) in the Alexander Valley. That wine was followed a year later by their first Cuvee Indigene Chardonnay, a barrel selection of wine fermented with indigenous yeast.
Over the years, the Michaels expanded their plantings of red Bordeaux varietals on the lower, warmer sites and Chardonnay on the higher, cooler portions of the estate.
To take full advantage of the unique conditions, each block was delineated and developed based upon the intricate puzzle of terroir. Soils, microclimates, topography and exposures were all considered in the selection of varieties, rootstocks, row orientation, vine spacing and drainage.
In addition to the vines, the family also ensured the long-term natural balance of the estate by restoring native habitats and extensively reforesting with native species trees – a nod to Sir Peter’s “100 by 100 plan” – 100% family ownership for at least 100 years.
In 1998, the family purchased the 400-acre Seaview property, located on the Sonoma Coast. This amazing site possesses the best attributes of both coastal and mountain sites. While the climate is quite cool throughout the growing season, its location above the fog line provides enough sunlight to fully ripen the fruit.
Seaview was planted to Pinot Noir in 2006 and ’07.
Last year, the winery purchased a 41-acre parcel on a raised plateau overlooking the east side of Napa’s Oakville appellation, with 26 planted acres of red Bordeaux varietals.
Through the years, some of the most illustrious names in the industry have served as Peter Michael’s winemaker, including Turley, Mark Aubert, Vanessa Wong, Luc Morlet and current winemaker Nicolas Morlet.
Wine has always been a way of life for Morlet, as it is for his brother and predecessor at Peter Michael, Luc. Both grew up working on their family’s domaine, Pierre Morlet & Fils, in Avenay-Val-d’Or, Champagne.
Born in Epernay to a fifth-generation winegrower family, Nick and his brothers spent all their free time from school working on the estate. At 40 acres, it was small enough to be managed by the family alone most of the year, but large enough to require the efforts of all family members.
“Before you settle in an area, you must experience winemaking in many different places,” Pierre Morlet had advised his sons. Nick pursued education and work that immersed him in the classic winemaking techniques of Champagne, Burgundy and Bordeaux. Following his degree in Viticulture, Enology and Wine Business at Lycee Viti-Vinicole de Beaune, Burgundy, he worked, as Luc had two years earlier, at Maison Chanson PÃ¨re & Fils in producing Premiers and Grands Crus of Chardonnay and Pinot Noir.
Then, while working at Margaux’s 2nd Grand Cru Classe Chateau Lascombes, Nick researched the advantages of macerating Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Petit Verdot in small oak barrels. His thesis on “vinification integrale” won him honors when he received his Bachelor of Science in Enology from the prestigious University of Dijon in Burgundy (Jules Guyot Institute).
“I enjoyed school, being something of a science buff,” says Nick. “But as I studied, I placed everything I learned against the background of all those seasons I spent in the vineyards and cellars. I truly believe in the constant observation of nature and the use of our senses to guide our (growing and winemaking) decisions.”
And those decisions result in some amazing wines, vintage after vintage, for the Peter Michael Winery.
We can only imagine what vintage No. 100 will be like.