Tucked into a picturesque corner of Santa Barbara's Santa Rita Hills is a young but remarkable vineyard site. The 50 acre Peake Ranch Vineyard sits on 105 hilly acres directly abutting the rugged Santa Ynez Mountains, which cradle the property and protect it from the cold and perilous Pacific Ocean raging just a few miles to its south. The landscape of Peake Ranch is defined by a steep ridge that crests out from the mountains and cascades down towards the valley floor. This singular ridge is home to a majority of the estate's vines, and the unique exposures it creates help form a series of distinct topographic microclimates that each present specific challenges for winegrowing. The vines of the Peake Ranch Vineyard struggle, and it is no easy task to ripen fruit on such challenging terrain, but the end result justifies the arduous toil.
John and Gillian Wagner, the Los Angeles based owners and proprietors of Peake Ranch, are no strangers to making wine in Santa Barbara County. In addition to the Peake Ranch property the Wagners also own the John Sebastiano Vineyard in the Santa Rita Hills along with a portion of the Sierra Madre Vineyard in the Santa Maria Valley, which are two extremely highly regarded vineyard sites. After getting their feet wet in wine country the Wagners decided to take the plunge towards a special new project to serve as the pinnacle of their vineyard collection. The Peake Ranch property was portioned off from Rancho El Jabali and was purchased by the Wagners, who planted it to vines in 2012 with the help of Coastal Vineyard Care.
John and Gillian spared absolutely no expense on their new project. The natural landscape of the Peake Ranch property is gorgeous on its own, but the Wagners further added to its grandeur by commissioning the construction of a state-of-the-art tasting room and production facility on the property. They also built a beautiful house amidst the vineyards to serve as their home base while they are in town. To run the operation they brought in an all-star supporting cast led by famed winemaker Paul Lato, who is well known internationally for crafting wines of tremendous character. Add up these perfect ingredients and Peake Ranch is a recipe for greatness.
After learning about and becoming intrigued by Peake Ranch we knew we had to get in there for a visit. Although construction was still underway and the winery had not yet been finished the Peake Ranch team was gracious enough to host us for a tour and tasting, and we gladly partook. Perry Koon, the Director of Public Affairs for Peake Ranch, served as our guide for the day as we learned all about this idyllic hillside estate.
Our visit began at the Wagner's house on the property where we met up with Perry to taste through the Peake Ranch lineup. We were presented with a selection of wine sourced from each of the Wagner's three properties, which are all bottled under the Peake Ranch label. The tasting began with a trio of Chardonnays, followed by another trio of Pinot Noirs, and ended with a Grenache and a Rhone blend. The Chardonnays started the party with a bang - projecting astounding richness and concentration. While edging towards forward ripeness these wines were balanced and extremely composed, showing off luscious fruit backed by impressive Santa Barbara terroir. The Pinot Noirs were even more impressive, again expressing magnificent ethereal fruit atop notes of marine soils and subtle forest tones. We were then blown away by the Grenache and the Rhone blend, which despite their fullness maintained juicy acidity alongside wonderful structure and poise.
It's hard to describe how excellent the Peake Ranch wines are in just a few words, but we'd immediately put them in a category with the best bottlings in the region. Stylistically these wines are unabashedly expressive, displaying amplified fruit that manages to remain cohesive and weightless. They are relatively full bodied yet brim with acidity, and at the same time they embrace the characterful saline notes indicative of the world-class vineyards from whence they came. The wines of Peake Ranch have already received a number of glowing critical reviews, and after tasting them we concur that they are absolutely worth chasing.
We had finished tasting through Peake Ranch's remarkable wines and it was time for our favorite part of our visits: exploring the vineyards. It had rained hard all week and most of the estate was covered in deep mud, but we chose to brave the terrain in our trusty Subaru as we attempted to make our way up the steep unpaved road leading to the crest of the vineyard. Unfortunately the mud was too thick and we quickly realized hiking was the only way up, but that didn't stop us. Perry, dress shoes and all, led us up the precipitous muddy hillside to the peak of Peake Ranch. From top the views were absolutely spectacular. We gazed upon the majesty of the Santa Rita Hills as the landscape glowed neon green from the winter's heavy rains. Just west of the property sits another series of spectacular hillside vineyards, El Jabali and Eleven Confessions, and we stared in awe at the 360 degrees of beauty visible from this vantage point. We took in the scenery and poked around the vines to get a good look at the soils, which we discovered are actually quite unique for the appellation. Peake Ranch has top soils composed primarily of clay, which retain moisture well and can aid vines in producing powerful and concentrated fruit during the long and strenuous growing season. This helps explain the unique profile of wines from the Peake Ranch Vineyard in comparison to others grown nearby.
After making our way back down the steep slopes and carefully maneuvering our Subaru out of the mud it was time for our visit to come to an end. While this was our first time stepping foot on Peake Ranch we can absolutely guarantee it will not be our last. We completely fell for the beauty of this mountainous estate, which exists in a unique corridor strategically protected yet substantially exposed to nature's raw elements. The property is exceptional and the wines are completely extraordinary, and we would be grossly negligent if we did not scream their praises. Peake Ranch is the real deal, plain and simple, and deserves the attention of a world-wide audience. We were impressed and you will be too.