The Legacy of Tony Peju
Anthony “Tony” Peju, founder of PEJU Province Winery and wine industry pioneer, died of natural causes in his Calistoga home on June 10, 2023, at the age of 85.
Tony was a self-made man of great principle, integrity, and courage. He had an insatiable appetite for learning, teaching, and giving. Tony was fiercely devoted to his family, his winery, and those he loved. He was tough but fair, helped build and was a steward of Napa Valley, and fought for the rights of vintners and all those who farm the valley.
“Today we lost a force of nature,” said his wife Herta Peju. “Tony was relentless, had incredible drive and perseverance, which enabled him to overcome all obstacles to make his vision a reality.”
Born in 1937, Tony immigrated to the United States in the 1950s. He and Herta owned successful flower shops and a nursery in Southern California, but Tony had grander dreams: In 1981, he had already designed a logo for the PEJU brand of wine, and in collaboration with architect Calvin Straub, he envisioned and sketched the design of a beautiful winery with stunning towers. With that vision in mind and drawing in hand, Tony and Herta bought a 30-acre property in Rutherford in 1983, moved to Napa Valley to raise their two young daughters, and begin making and selling wines out of their garage.
As a newcomer to Napa Valley in the 1980s – dressed in his white business suit – he did not quite fit the farm community culture of his new home. Years later he mused, “Would I have known what I know now, I would have shown up at the county offices in my jeans and work boots, and so much heartache would have been avoided.”
Persistence and passion were hallmarks of Tony’s personality and his presence is experienced everywhere at PEJU. He architected and acted as a hands-on contractor laboring over every detail to bring his vision to life. Tony wanted to be a farmer, so he drove the tractor, planted, and replanted vineyards. Because of his love of the land, he chose to preserve the majestic oaks on the Persephone and Calistoga vineyards rather than plant more grapes and, in 1986 he planted, and hand-shaped the iconic sycamore trees that greet guests from all over the world. From the sculptures which decorate the grounds, to the iconic landscaping, to the koi fish in the pond, Tony’s influence can still be felt throughout the PEJU Rutherford Estate.
Beyond his accomplishments in building PEJU, Tony’s impact was felt throughout Napa Valley and the California wine industry. In the mid-1980s, California law stated that a grower could sell wine at the location where it was grown. Napa County officials disagreed, and the matter went to court. A judge sided with Tony, earning vintners the right to sell wine made from their own grapes, paving the way for the hundreds of wineries that do so today. Remarkably his lawsuits were the catalyst for Napa County codifying the definition of a winery in 1990, which to this day governs how wineries may operate in Napa Valley.
As a winemaker, Tony was mostly self-taught and collaborated with local winemakers to create a beautiful Cabernet Sauvignon that earned high praise from Wine Spectators James Laube who pronounced it a Top 15 Cabernet Sauvignon as early as 1988. Always with an eye toward his guests’ experience, he noted that many visitors wanted to enjoy red wines but didn’t at first taste. In response to this need, Tony created a unique wine made of a proprietary blend of red and white grapes, called Province, which served as a “bridge” to introduce white wine drinkers to red wines with a softer style. It was an instant success, and today Province remains one of the winery’s best sellers.
In 2003, Tony completed the iconic Tower he envisioned twenty years prior, once again making his mark by constructing the tallest building in Napa County at the time of opening. In 2023, Tony had been overseeing the final phase of his original design, and the groundbreaking for the final tower is expected in 2024. Over the years, Tony purchased five other vineyards throughout Napa Valley, which total over 600 acres today.
Tony also modernized the way wineries do business through his innovative selling and marketing strategies applied directly to his consumer rather than through wholesale. Personal connections were valued over volume, and it didn’t hurt that guests of PEJU appreciated his charm and were eager to buy from the proprietor himself. His unwavering commitment to creating a “guest-first” culture has led to loyal employees and thousands of vocal fans. While many early Napa Valley wineries have become large-production brands or been sold to large corporations, Tony was committed to being a boutique family-owned and operated winery, which PEJU remains to this day.
Over the years, PEJU has received hundreds of accolades, including being named “Best Artisan Tasting Room” by Wine & Spirits and “Best Tasting Room to Visit in North America” by the North American Wine Blogger. Now celebrating its 40th anniversary, PEJU is led by Tony and Herta’s two daughters, Lisa, and Ariana, who continue to champion his mission, which was to “Make PEJU the highlight of every guest’s visit to Napa Valley.”
Tony gave quietly but incredibly generously to individuals and larger causes. He was a powerful man who will be remembered with love and admiration, by his wife Herta, his daughters Michelle, Lisa, and Ariana, son-in-law Ian White and his grandchildren Benjamin and Sonny. “Tony you are our rock, and we love you.”
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Tony’s service will be private. Condolences may be sent to PO Box 478, Rutherford, CA 94573 c/o The Peju Family. In lieu of flowers, please donate to the Napa Valley Farmworker Foundation (FarmworkerFoundation.org). Tony always said that “Without the vineyard workers we would not be here.”