In 1980, after running several plant nurseries in Los Angeles for many years, Tony Peju decided he wanted to find a piece farm property tucked away somewhere nearby where he and his young family could live part-time. He visited farms on every hill and in every valley between San Diego and San Francisco, but nothing fit the vision he had in mind.
Tony took trips from Temecula to Mendocino to learn about grapes, and once he reached the Napa Valley, he knew he had found his life’s passion. After visiting for the first time in 1982, his vision had changed. He was no longer looking for a 500-acre farm, but a ‘modest’ 30-acre vineyard in Rutherford, California, the Eden of Cabernet grape growing. Tony acquired the Rutherford property in 1983. It was November 3, 1983 when the Peju family arrived in the Napa Valley and the luxurious California sun was shining radiant in the sky.
Not long after, the family met Stan Meyer, the owner of Rustridge Ranch and Winery, who kept horses and magnanimously offered to give two to the girls. They rode horses, played on the wind machine and forklift, rode with glee on the Honda wagon cart. Tony and Manuel Corona, our foreman to this day, worked to cultivate the vineyard while H.B. and the children became acclimated to the Napa Valley, discovering the magic that vineyard land beheld. At that time, they were selling their grapes to other wineries, the excess of which went to home winemakers in Canada. During harvest, they would load up thirty-pound boxes and put them on a truck to be shipped.
Almost ten years after arriving in Rutherford, Tony decided to start building a winery. He transformed the garage, installing foil-finished insulation and palm trees to divide the 33×33 sq. ft. building into two-thirds barrel storage and one-third into a tasting room.
The complete architectural and artistic plan for the Rutherford property as you see it today was conceived in 1981 by Los Angeles architect Calvin Straub. In 1990, the family was able to receive financing for the first phase of construction. The popularity of wine and the increase in new vineyard plantings grew dramatically in the mid-90’s as a result of a number of studies in the U.S. and Europe on the health benefits of wine.
In 1991, the first phase of construction was finished. We were producing our own wines, welcoming guests to the Tasting Room, and entertaining our Tasting Room visitors by Honda wagon cart rides to the river behind the winery. Our business was taking off and our popularity and visibility were becoming more apparent. The H.B. Vineyard Cabernet scored among the top 100 Cabernets in the Wine Spectator, and Peju Province Winery won ‘Top Artisan Winery’ in Wine & Spirits Magazine.
Motivated by the high quality of the grapes and the poor economy in the ’80’s, Tony decided to study winemaking at the University of California at Davis. With the help of consultant Walter Schug, his first vintage in 1985, heralded good press and a gold medal.
Tony and H.B. converted their large garage into a temporary winery, and Napa County objected. The County did not want to allow sales until the permanent winery building was completed and they also frowned at crushing grapes off site. The County took the Peju’s to court over the matter. The county also voiced concern that the grapes they had grown were crushed at another winery. Today, custom crush and winemaking without a physical location is a common practice in Napa Valley. This is why Tony Peju is often referred to as the father of Custom Crush and Direct-To-Consumer sales.
Eventually, the court asked the planning commission to issue a temporary permit for the garage until the permanent facility was completed. Estate law, which supersedes the county, states that if you grow the fruit and produce the wine, you can sell the wine on premise. Once the first phase of the winery was completed in 1991, there was no longer cause for conflict.
In 1993, ‘Harvest Dance’, the Carrara marble sculpture to the right of the winery entrance, sculpted by Welton Rotz, was unveiled. Finding the right sculpture to fit Tony’s vision was not easy. He discovered Welton Rotz’ work at an art show in Mendocino. Rotz’ work remains integral to the winery aesthetic today where several of his sculptures are on display.
For seven years, Tony and H.B. worked every day, seven days a week, in their garage tasting room. They made time in the middle of the day to spend with their daughters, Lisa and Ariana, always being sure to be available to welcome any visitor who came. The girls used to hide between the barrels and wine cases, watching their parents work. The long awaited new winery building was completed in September 1991 allowing room for more guests to visit.
By 1995, all 30 acres of H.B. Vineyard had to be replanted with resistant rootstock after the catastrophic Phylloxera epidemic, which threatened to exterminate nearly all the vines in the Napa Valley. (Phylloxera is a louse which attacks the roots of the vines and essentially suffocates them.)
In 2007, Ariana Peju spearheaded the installation of solar panels at the winery. The panels provide almost 40% of the winery’s energy use. PEJU’s Rutherford Estate Vineyard was California Certified Organic (CCOF), in 2009 the winery and vineyards were certified as both a Napa County Green Winery and Bay Area Green Business, in 2019 all of our estate vineyards were certified fish friendly. The commitment to sustainability continues on today.