As the reputation of Peju and the winery’s location on Highway 29 proved to be good for business, demand soon exceeded supply. By 1995, Tony Peju was buying Cabernet Franc grapes from Juliana Vineyards in nearby Pope Valley. He liked the grapes and subsequently bought Merlot and Chardonnay as well. "In 1996 a friend came to me with an offer to plant grapes on a Pope Valley property,” he recounts. “When I visited the intended site I saw a for sale sign on a property nearby, I learned that in fact there were two contiguous properties for sale and as it turned out I was able to acquire them both.”
Pope Valley is a section of the Napa Valley Appellation a few miles to the northeast of Rutherford and St. Helena separated from them by Howell Mountain and the Vaca range. It is higher than Napa Valley, colder in winter, hotter in summer and without the abundance of water. But the region has been producing wine and wine grapes since the turn of the last century.
“We named our new vineyard Persephone,” continues Tony Peju, “after the goddess of Greek mythology. It is 350 acres at an elevation of 2,000 feet and was the last level, plantable acreage available. It has three feet of loamy topsoil in many places, then 4-5 feet of shale. And fortunately we have water, three ponds and two wells.”
In 1997, 120 acres of the ranch was planted to Cabernet Sauvignon cloned from the HB Vineyard, as well as Cabernet Franc, Merlot, Syrah, Petit Verdot, Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay and Zinfandel. Peju is pleased with the fruit. “Since I had previously purchased fruit from the area, I knew its potential. To me our Rutherford grapes have layers and layers of flavors. In Pope Valley the flavors are more focused—mountain flavors—so we blend and get great wines with both complexity and focus.”
The Persephone Vineyard enjoys the same careful attention to viticulture as the Rutherford Estate. It is trellised to vertical shoot position and crop yields are kept low. The cooler springtime temperatures in Pope Valley necessitate frost protection at the vineyard—unlike Rutherford—and summer’s heat means irrigation is required. Even with its proximity to Napa Valley, it feels remote. Winding roads through steep canyons lead to Pope Valley and the landscape is reminiscent of an earlier era in California history. Grazing land and ancient oaks still cover rolling foothills watched over by craggy mountain peaks. It is a terroir ideal for grapes especially under the demanding and watchful eye of Tony Peju.
“Persephone Vineyard is an extension of our style,” Peju explains. “It gives us a broader flavor palate from which to draw and that is a plus for any winemaker. We’ve already seen what a positive impact Persephone Vineyard wines have in the marketplace.”