The story of Presqu’ile Winery has always been one of family, contributing to the heritage of Santa Maria Valley and improving land for the next generation.
It all began in the early 2000s, when Madison and Suzanne Murphy and their children, Matt, Jonathan, and Anna, had a goal to start a winery with a focus on Burgundian-style wines in the U.S. They researched the best place in America suitable for cool-climate Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. They found the perfect place, an old gladiolus farm in Santa Maria, and purchased the 72 acres in 2007.
The name Presqu’ile literally translates from French into “almost an island” or peninsula. The name refers to a place the family owned on the Mississippi Gulf Coast that was full of wonderful memories of great times past. Unfortunately, it was destroyed by Hurricane Katrina in 2005. The winery was named in honor of the place and what it meant to the family. A reference to a phoenix rising from the ashes.
The winery makes Pinot Noir, Sauvignon Blanc, Aligote, Syrah, Nebbiolo, Gamay and a Sparking.
On the tenth anniversary of the opening of the winery’s tasting room, I had the opportunity to chat virtually with Matt Murphy, President, and Dieter Cronje, Winemaker. It was interesting to hear how both of their paths intersected as the winery was forming. Matt joined two months prior to Dieter when they both worked at another winery, and they were instrumental in planning all aspects of Presqu’ile.
A Little About Matt and Dieter
Matt Murphy studied molecular, cellular, and developmental biology and graduated from the University of Colorado. He did a summer internship in Napa at Signorello Estate for two months when he fell in love with wine. After university, he joined Ambullneo Winery for three years in the cellar where he first met Dieter and realized they shared the same wine philosophy. He joined the family winery in 2006 at its inception and Dieter joined two months later.
Dieter Cronje was the founding winemaker for Presqu’ile. He grew up in Durbinville in South Africa near Cape Town. He thought the sound of fermenting grape juice seemed like a fun major and received his degree from Elsenberg Agricultural College, which has trained winemakers since the late 1800’s. As a part of his education, he worked for Kuna Winery under the mentorship of Richard Kershaw who taught him his appreciation of Pinot Noir. He also traveled to France for an exchange program with the University of Bordeaux. The final part of his program brought him to Santa Maria.
The Santa Maria Valley AVA
If you haven’t heard of the Santa Maria Valley AVA, it is located at the intersection of Santa Barbara and San Luis Obispo on the California Central Coast. The 7,500-acre AVA was established in 1981, making it California’s second oldest. Because of its location perpendicular to the Pacific Ocean, there are cool winds, mist and fog referred to as the “maritime fringe.” The climate lengthens the growing season and contributes to the sugar/acid balance in the grapes from the region. The elevation of the area ranges from 200 feet to approximately 3,200 feet.
They both talked about how they wanted to be a part of growing the awareness of the Santa Maria AVA. “Wines produced in this region were already great, so wanted to make the dot on the map a little bigger in terms of awareness by making great wines,” Matt said.
They talked about Southern hospitality being a key part of the guest experience at the winery. It’s pairing all the elements – family, food, and wine – and making all people feel comfortable with wine. They have hired Julie Simon, a full-time chef, and operate a commercial kitchen.
“We used to be uncertain if we were pushing the boundaries too much, Matt said, “But when Covid happened, we were well-positioned to meet all the food requirements necessary for wineries.”
The family is committed to farming naturally and conserving resources. The vineyard is Sustainability in Practice (SIP) certified, which is audited by a third party. Unlike organic certification, which looks exclusively at chemical usage, SIP also audits social responsibility, carbon footprint, water conservation, energy efficiency and clean water. The winery also has a garden with includes ten acres of avocados and they are currently planting another ten.
When I asked about bottle weight (which was standard for a pinot noir bottle), Dieter told me that they had already reduced the bottle size twice and were open to doing it again if someone could develop the right mold.
But sustainability isn’t an easy journey. Juggling all the rigorous requirements and making a solid wine is a challenge. Dieter said, “You must take a long view.”
We tried two wines made in 2020 – the year of the pandemic. Dieter talked about how hard it was to make wines when humans had to separate. It was a good growing season, but a heat wave had some impact.
- 2020 Presqu’ile Winery Chardonnay – this was a great version of an Old-World Chardonnay. You could taste the sea with notes of citrus, jasmine, and flint.
- 2020 Presqu’ile Winery Pinot Noir – sandalwood, Asian spice, cherry, rose and orange. It was delicious and told the story of its place in a Burgundian style.
Matt said something that really stood out to me, “In a lifetime, an average winemaker has about 50 tries to make wine. You’ve got to sail your ship in the direction of where you want to go and always try to make your wines better.”