There are moments in life, as they come along, that you know you will hold close to you for the rest of your life. Our annual trip to Napa and Sonoma counties, with dear friends, is a trip focused as much around great food and wine as it is purposely designed to feed another part of our souls… great gardens. This past October we traveled again to the west coast and had one of those unforgettable experiences.
Peju Province Winery is located on St. Helena Highway in the famed Rutherford Appellation. A true Napa Valley experience, Peju offers fine wine and an unforgettable garden component. The initial approach into Peju, you cannot help but notice the prodigious, fastigiate Sycamore trees lining the length of the driveway. Standing nearly 40 feet tall, it felt as though I was in Alice in Wonderland. Sycamore trees are known for their towering heights with equal spreads punctuated by gorgeous flaking bark. The mottled bark of an imposing Sycamore is enough to captivate the attention of even the most novice gardener.
During our wine tasting at Peju, I struggled to concentrate on the wine, as there were constant reminders of those Sycamores everywhere. Photographs and artistic renditions were on the walls and I had to ask, who was responsible for such bold and creative design? A chance encounter later had me face to face with “the gardener” as I was introduced to him. Our dear friend, Brenda Levron traveling with us, has a unique ability to talk with nearly anyone; anywhere, and her infectious personality can disarm and break down any wall quickly. In short, her warm, genuine and sincere personality transcends all barriers. This was the case as we met “the gardener”, Tony. Tony’s poise immediately struck me and I quickly learned of his generosity. We talked plant material for a few moments and I asked if he would oblige a quick picture with him in front of his prized Sycamores. An effort, more than 3 decades in the making, he was eager to accommodate the request. Together we walked up Peju’s long driveway to where he thought we would have the perfect opportunity. As we walked up the driveway, I asked if he had other responsibilities at Peju besides being “the gardener”. I later found that Tony was in fact Tony Peju, the patriarch of Peju Province Winery. He told me that horticulture was his initial passion and he combined that love with his love for wine over time. Tony has his roots on the Caspian Sea; he traveled around France, England and eventually landed in Los Angeles. In 1982, Tony and his wife Herta purchased 30 acres of land in the Napa Valley and so Peju Winery was born. Anyone that knows anything about wine knows that Peju’s astute judgment to purchase property there proved wise beyond his years. Routinely, some of the finest wines in the world come from this “Fertile Crescent” and the “Rutherford Dust” is legendary.
Standing at the foot of his driveway, marveling at his meticulous work is an image I will hold with me for the rest of my life. Beautiful windswept Sycamores, enhanced by the prevailing winds at the southern edge of the property, are a sexy sight for a plant guy like me. These towering totem poles arch over the driveway and with enough time, who knows they may even reach the other side and form a tunnel? Pruning these Sycamore trees has been taken to an extreme. And it is this extreme that had all visiting guests, the day we were there, commenting on their beauty and uniqueness. Appearing as giant walking sticks, for the likes of the Giant in Jack and the Beanstalk, these slender and gnarled stilts are engrained in my mind forever.
Our time at Peju was memorable on so many levels. Jeanne Friskel, CSW (Certified Specialist of Wine), our wine educator at Peju, led us through our Privé tasting and in so doing helped us appreciate what we were imbibing. Jeanne found the words to describe the libations we were afforded and that made the experience even more brilliant. Additionally, Tony Peju himself just put the experience over the top! A gentleman who graciously and earnestly gave his time to share his initial discipline, horticulture, and in so doing gave this writer a deeper appreciation for not only his fine garden design, but also his other body of work, fine wines. Oh, by the way, Tony’s efforts continue to hold our attention as our shipment of his Petit Verdot and Cabernet Franc Reserve has just arrived.