William Kelley went to New York to taste the world-class Californian wines of Englishman Sir Peter Michael

When, in the late 1970s, an Englishman named Peter Michael began planting vineyards on the western slopes of Mount St. Helena, nobody could have anticipated the acclaim that his wines would one day enjoy.

Nobody, that is, except Sir Peter. He recalls asking his first winemaker, Helen Turley, if it would be possible to produce a world-class Bordeaux blend in California.

‘If we can’t, I said, don’t let’s bother’. Turley replied in the affirmative, and the rest is history.


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It was around the time of the so-called Judgement of Paris that Sir Peter first encountered a memorable California wine, a bottle of Chateau Montelena Chardonnay. An exhaustive search for a ranch suitable for viticulture ensued, leading him to the Knights Valley, just north of the rustic town of Calistoga.

His initial idea, as we have seen, was to produce a Bordeaux blend. His proprietary blend Les Pavots (‘The Poppies’, named for the ubiquitous state flower of California) was the result of that endeavour.

But the Peter Michael Winery was soon producing Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Semillon and Pinot Noir too; different varieties, but all united by the winery’s mantra: ‘mountain vineyards, classical winemaking, limited production’.

Moreover, like Les Pavots, all the winery’s cuvées were inspired by France and bear French names, though the resulting wines burst with a distinctly Californian exuberance of expression.

Tasting through the entire Peter Michael portfolio over lunch at New York’s splendid Restaurant Daniel—in the company and by the gracious invitation of Sir Peter, his family and their winemaking team—afforded a comprehensive look at the winery’s work today.