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 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, and soon began to forget some of the discomforts of their move.Tony and Manuel Corona, our foreman to this day, worked to cultivate the vineyard while HB 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.
When we converted the large garage into a temporary winery, Napa County objected. They did not want us to sell the wine on location until our permanent building was completed. The County took us to court over the matter, claiming the arrangement a violation of public health and safety regulations. They were also concerned that we had made wine at another winery and were selling it from a temporary building. This, in their opinion, was unacceptable. Custom crush and winemaking without a physical location is now common practice in Napa Valley.
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.
One year after the space surrounding it was completed in 1991, ‘Harvest Dance’, the Carrara marble sculpture to the right of the winery entrance, sculpted by Welton Rotz, was installed in 1992. Finding the right sculpture to fit Tony’s vision was not easy. He discovered Welton Rotz’ work at an art show in Mendocino, and knew immediately he wanted to commission him. His work remains integral to the winery aesthetic today.
For seven years, Tony worked every day, seven days a week, in the tasting room. H.B. relieved him from time to time when she could. They made time in the middle of the day to spend with Lisa and Ariana as often as they could, always being sure to be available to welcome any visitor who came. Not long after the first phase was completed, we would see as many as 250 visitors on weekends. Today, we see as many as 2,000 visitors on a weekend.
By 1995, all 30 acres of H.B. Vineyard had been replanted with resistant rootstock after the catastrophic Phylloxera epidemic, which threatened to exterminate nearly all the vines in the Valley. Phylloxera is a louse which attacks the roots of the vines and essentially suffocates them, rendering them unable to absorb water or nutrients until they die. After all the replanting was done in 1995, we did not produce quality grapes until 2003.
In 2007, Peju received Organic Certification for the Rutherford Estate Vineyard from the California Certified Organic Farmers (CCOF) and in 2009 we were certified as both a Napa County Green Winery and Bay Area Green Business.