Peju’s winemaker Sara Fowler earned the title Napa Valley Winemaker of the Year two years in a row from Napa Valley Life Magazine. Voted by a group of her peers, the acknowledgment bears meaning in a region rife with good wines and competitive spirit. Twelve years ago, Fowler joined Peju, bringing her love for Bordeaux varieties and blending to the family-owned and operated-winery. Together, Fowler and the Peju family produce a variety of award-winning wines.
You make myriad wines at Peju. What are your favorite wines to make and do you have much opportunity for experimentation? I currently make around 30 wines for Peju. I really, really like playing with blends! I feel it allows for more creative freedom and I believe that there is a very layered flavor and texture effect that plays at different levels on the palate. I have plenty of opportunity to experiment and I totally take advantage of that opportunity!
What have you learned over the years of conducting barrel trials? I’ve been conducting barrel trials for over 20 years and what I’ve learned is this: a) it is very important to measure the consistency of a cooperage; b) French and American Oak have different flavor profiles, but one is not necessarily better than the other; c) toasting has a huge effect on flavor profile; d) trust is a key component in your cooper relationship; and e) striving to find the best match for your fruit with the right barrel is paramount.
When did you discover your love of wine? How did you decide to become a winemaker? I discovered my love of wine in high school. My first job ever was working at the first Kendall-Jackson winery, where I worked on their mobile bottling line. Each day after work they would give us a bottle (or 2) of wine. They obviously wouldn’t do this anymore. The wines I enjoyed most at that time were the Muscat Canelli, Johannesburg Rieslings, roses and dessert wines. I also made beer with my dad in high school. Fermentation seemed natural to me. I decided to become a winemaker after I dropped out of college. I was an art major initially and thought I wasn’t going to be able to make a living doing what I was passionate about. I moved to Mexico and lived on a sailboat for a little over a year to contemplate life. When I eventually moved back to the states, I knew I needed to finish school. It was a toss-up between studying to be a chef, brewer or winemaker. I choose wine and have been very happy with that decision.
Given concerns over climate change, drought, and a changing ripening period, where do you see Napa Valley wines in the next forty years? There have been shifts in our climate going back hundreds of years (perhaps slower shifts but shifts nonetheless). With that said and with all the new technology that’s been coming out — and will come out — I am confident that the Napa Valley will continue to be in the forefront of making the highest quality wines in the world!
[Image Source: Peju Napa Valley Media]