Meet the Peju family and the people behind the wines, vineyards and Napa Valley's most engaging tasting room.
The love of farming and a passion for wine brought Anthony Peju to the Napa Valley. A series of ideas - starting in his birthplace on the Caspian Sea, then France, England and eventually, Los Angeles - created their Napa Valley winery.
Tony Peju was studying film at LACC and UCLA when he met Herta Behensky (HB), his future wife. HB encouraged him to start the winery, and together with her help, a Mustang as a down payment, landscape companies, florist stores, buying and selling properties, looking all over Southern California for an appropriate 500 acre farm site - Napa Valley seemed to be the right place.
In 1982, they purchased 30 acres of land with the magic ingredient - location. Neighboring vineyards at Rutherford included Robert Mondavi, Inglenook and Beaulieu. Situated between Highway 29 and the Napa River, the acreage included a 1900-era house and rambling vineyards, some 60 or more years old, planted to Cabernet Sauvignon and French Colombard.
Herta "HB" Peju
Thirty two years ago, Herta (HB) Peju helped her husband Tony transform a 30-acre parcel of land into a Napa Valley jewel. Her handprints are everywhere, from Peju's exquisite gardens, to its flagship wine, the H.B. Reserve, picked from the Rutherford Estate's best fruit and named for her first two initials (Herta Behensky).
HB and Tony, two idealists from Europe, had many dreams when they arrived in America, though owning and operating a winery wasn't originally an option. Timing and a series of events led HB to where she made her home, career and family in the heart of the Napa Valley. Owning and operating a winery turned out to be her calling and the Peju family's passion.
HB was born in Austria but at the age of five, moved with her parents to Venezuela while her two brothers remained in post-World War II Austria. After spending 13 years in South America, she learned to speak fluent Spanish and made her way through the educational ranks, finishing high school with plans to attend medical school upon her return to Europe.
In 1960, the family was reunited in Austria and HB had aspirations of attending medical school in Italy. But a fire at her Venezuelan school destroyed what were once her transcripts, making it impossible for her to be accepted to any European college. So she became an apprentice in a photo studio while preparing to make another enormous life change, she and her mother planned to immigrate to the United States.
In 1962, they arrived in New York City and settled across the country in Los Angeles. Shortly after, HB's first job in the United States was with a photo studio and then a dental office. While working, she earned a B.S. in the dental hygiene program at USC and helped her boyfriend Tony as the bookkeeper for his new floral business.
Tony and HB were married six years after their first blind date. Together, they expanded floral shops into a successful nursery business when Tony decided that their agricultural talents would be better served in the country, not in the bustling city. When the two acquired land planted to wine grapes in Rutherford, the family relocated and began to adjust to Napa Valley life.
The couple made their first vintage in 1982 and opened for wine sales in 1985. HB and Tony had only one full-time employee staffed to assist them at that time Manuel Corona who remains the Peju's right-hand man 32 years later. HB served as Peju's tasting room attendant, accountant and marketing representative until the winery grew and more help was hired.
There's no such thing as a typical day for Lisa Peju. The oldest Peju daughter is always on the go, sometimes traveling to three different states during a week's time to represent the winery at winemaker dinners, trade and consumer events and to meet with retailers.
The Peju's Rutherford vineyard has been home to Lisa since she was six years old. It was then that she moved with her parents from Southern California to wine country to begin a life devoted to growing grapes, producing high-quality wines and finding new and innovative ways to market the family brand.
Lisa spent her childhood attending Napa Valley schools during the day and tending to the vineyard in the evenings and on weekends. It wasn't uncommon to see Lisa and her sister Ariana driving the family four-wheeler along the property's dirt paths with piles of grapes in the back bed.
After graduating from St. Helena High School, Lisa first attended Marymount College in Palos Verdes and then U.C. Santa Barbara to study marketing and graphic design with plans of becoming a computer animator. But a summer trip to Paris in 1999 to study French at Sorbonne University with Ariana planted the seeds for another calling. Three years later, the French language came in handy as HB took her daughters to VIN EXPO in Bordeaux, the largest wine Exposition in the World. Lisa enjoyed promoting Peju's wines so much that she decided to change career paths and join the family business as a marketing and public relations ambassador.
Since joining Peju in 2001, Lisa has traveled throughout Europe and Asia, including Japan, Korea and Hong Kong, representing Peju. In the United States, Lisa has blanketed the map and led the charge to reach younger customers. Peju's consumers of the future.
Growing up in the Napa Valley with a vineyard as her backyard, Ariana Peju chose her course in life at a young age. When her parents relocated to the Napa Valley from Southern California 30 years ago, they brought with them a vision, an unwavering work ethic and two young daughters who soaked in the couple's entrepreneurial spirit and determination to create a successful, high-quality family venture.
Ariana and her sister Lisa were involved every step of the way. The two harvested grapes and hauled them in the vineyard tractor, suckered vines for an allowance of $1 and welcomed some of Peju's first guests to the tasting room, then housed in the family's garage.
As an adult, Ariana has joined her family at Peju, overseeing all aspects of the winery's daily business operations. Since joining the Peju team in 2006, Ariana has spearheaded a number of important environmental initiatives. As part of Ariana's environmental plan, the winery converted to solar in 2006 and is transitioning over to energy efficient light bulbs, non-toxic and environmentally safe cleaning products and recyclable packing and biodegradable shipping materials. These efforts are also reflected in the vineyard, as Peju is certified in organic farming on its Rutherford Estate.
A Napa Valley farm girl at heart, Ariana attended local schools in St. Helena and then set off for college in rural San Luis Obispo. Not surprisingly, Ariana's favorite job while living in that area was on an apple farm, where she could mesh her business acumen with her agricultural roots. During that span, she came to fully recognize that her talents were best utilized hands-on.
Ariana returned home to the Napa Valley in 2003 and began working in the tasting room at Peju's neighboring Rubicon Estate for almost three years. During her time there she was promoted twice, most recently as the assistant tasting room manager. When she was poised to take the next step in the industry, Ariana returned to Peju to continue growing her family's business and carry the Peju legacy of high-quality wines into the future.