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Wine Report from the Fort
Brit splits from USSR in 1955 with high hopes and only $300
By Fred McMillin

With high hopes of realizing his childhood dreams of directing movies, British-born Tony Peju (pay-zhoo) buys his way out of Azerbaijan, USSR, leaving with only $300 in his pocket.

The Peju saga
    1965: Having made his way to Los Angeles, Tony works nights as an assistant theater director, and days full time delivering flowers. “When I fainted at lunch, I realized that this was not working out.”         
    1970: Herta Behensky, his friend (and future wife) suggests he get into something he enjoys as much as the theater: flowers and plants.
    1979: The new business goes so well that Tony buys a 30-acre ranch in Rutherford, with marvelous old Cabernet Sauvignon vines. With this choice Napa Valley location, success is a slam-dunk.
    1984: Horrors! Napa Valley powers decide the Pejus are “not serious winemakers.” The Peju stainless steel tanks stand forlornly on a concrete pad.
    1986: Without a winery, Tony takes his U.C. Davis training and his marvelous grapes to another winery and creates the 1986 Peju Province H.B. (his wife’s initials) Vineyard Cab. When released, it wins a “Best of Region” at the California State Fair and a double gold at the S.F. Wine Fair.
    Now let’s fast forward to:
    2009: This story has a happy ending. A steady stream of subsequent awards makes it clear that Tony is a very serious winemaker. It culminates in the very serious trade publication, Wine & Spirits, selecting Peju as the Best Small Winery of the Year.
    Postscript: Current release Peju wines that have scored well in my classes are the Syrah and Zinfandel.

The best Sonoma aroma and Napa nose?
    “I have never tasted a bad wine. They never get beyond my nose.”
– British Connoisseur
    The nose knows – my picky panel has pretty good noses too. So I had them sniff a number of wines and these had the best aroma.

•    Best Sonoma white: Dry Creek Vineyards Taylor’s Vineyard Sauvignon Blanc Musqué, $25
•    Best Sonoma red (tie): Frick Winery Dry Creek Valley Merlot, $12; Kenwood Vineyards Sonoma County Merlot Reserve, $25
•    Best Napa white: J.Phelps Vineyards Napa Valley Sauvignon Blanc, $32
•    Best Napa red: Corison Winery Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon, $70

Try to remember the classes for September
    Edgar Vogt and I teach wine classes for S.F. City College each month, Saturdays at 1 p.m.
•    Sept. 12: Basics for Beginners – learn the five basic types of wines and how they are made.
•    Sept. 26: More Basics – includes a careful comparison of
important varietals.
    To enroll or wait-list, phone San Francisco City College at 415-5611-1840, or visit

Our hunk of the month
    Northside San Francisco reader Gwynn A. asked what was the best wine in our recent classes? Answer: Steele Wines Lake County Cabernet Franc 2004, $16.

Teachers’ pets
    Fort Mason teacher Edgar Vogt and Presidio Cafe teacher Michael Perry have given us three of their pet wines for super sipping.
    Vogt’s Votes: (1) Steele
Wines DuPratt Vineyard Mendocino County Chardonnay 2006; (2) Sanford Winery Santa Rita Hills Pinot Noir 2007; (3) Silkwood Wines Stanislaus County Petite
Sirah 2007.
    Perry’s Picks: (1) Dry Creek Vineyard Chenin Blanc 2007;
(2) August West Graham’s
Family Vineyard Pinot Noir 2007; (3) Foggy Bridge Tradewinds Yorkville Highlands Bordeaux
Blend 2005.

Best aviator vintner: Ventana Vineyards
    In an earlier issue, we said
that Doug Meador, founder of Ventana Vineyards three decades ago, flew 200 combat missions in
his Navy Skyhawk A-4 during the Vietnam War. Correction: It
was 329!
    We are about to taste these current releases:
•    Ventana Vineyards Monterey County Chardonnay 2007, $18
•    Ventana Vineyards Monterey County Pinot Noir 2007, $28
    Stay tuned.


And a final wine smile
    Native American grapes do not make great table wines. I served two in wrapped, numbered bottles. The tasting form asked which was the American Scuppernong and which the American Catawba. Panelist Dr. Henry Cohen took one sip of each, frowned, and wrote on the form, “Who cares!”

Credits: Edgar Vogt (tastings); Ophelia Mercado (statistics)

Fred McMillin was voted one of the best wine writers in the United States by the Academy of Wine Communications. Phone him with questions at 415-563-5712 or fax him at 415-567-4468


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