Mother Nature had her own artist-in-residence program long before the Michael family came to this valley. Near the tippy-top of the property sits a 16-ton boulder that now serves as a signpost to the Ma Belle-Fille vineyard. Perhaps as good as any art installation on the property, the mass of volcanic rhyolite makes you stop and think. That boulder and countless others were moved to make way for vines, an endeavor emblematic of what Sir Peter Michael calls America’s “can-do” attitude.

The boulder also represents the enormous amount of work that it took to establish these mountainside vineyards. The boulder’s vantage point, some 2,000 feet above sea level, provides a sweeping view of the estate and the vineyards below. “When I stand at that rock and look over the vineyards from the top of Ma Belle-Fille, particularly during harvest, I just think what a miraculous site it is,” ruminates Sir Peter before adding, “And I can sit back and feel pleased about what has happened.”

Paul and Emily Michael rest with Javier Aviña by the boulder situated in Ma Belle-Fille vineyard, contemplating the immense work that has transpired over the past forty years.

This year marks the fortieth anniversary of Sir Peter and Lady Michael’s vision to reinterpret Mother Nature’s plans for the land while still respecting her original handiwork. Interspersed among the sprawling 750-acre estate are 149 acres of vines, with more than half the land earmarked as a wildlife preserve, including ancient redwood groves, native manzanita and madrone trees, and coyote brush.

For many, forty years would be a life’s work, but one has to consider the long game when it comes to land ownership. After all, it took fifteen years of labor before the business ever turned a profit. “It was a white-knuckle ride,” recalls Sir Peter, adding, “But eventually, we got the formula, and I think we can be justifiably proud.”

“Perhaps as good as any art installation on the property, the mass of volcanic rhyolite makes you stop and think.”

Les Pavots vineyard was first planted in 1983.

It can take a generation or more to understand the nuances of a wine-growing region, especially one that keeps expanding. And since first laying eyes on this property in 1982, Sir Peter has had longevity and legacy in mind. The story of a second career in wine is a familiar one, and one that often involves investing, turning a profit, and being content with that. But Sir Peter says he’s always wanted to build things. “My motto is to be more of a doer than a thinker . . . early on, I think everyone was laughing at me, quietly saying, ‘he’s only playing,’ ” recalls Sir Peter, “but I rarely just play at things. It was a very serious effort.”

Over the last four decades, the Peter Michael Winery has steadfastly followed the well-defined founding principles of mountain-vineyard planting, classical winemaking, and limited production. Sir Peter may have been the visionary, but he wasn’t alone. Winemakers, vineyard managers, general managers, staff, and more are all part of the collective “we” contributing to forty years of excellence and a future of maintained distinction. “Starting this was only an ambition, because I don’t know how to do it, but each team member has left a mark in some way or another,” says Sir Peter.

Before developing the extensive hillside Chardonnay vineyard plantings, Sir Peter trusted then–caretaker and ranch manager Alan Peirson to transform portions of the vast landscape for the Michael family’s enjoyment. “Peter set the tone for everything he wanted going on here,” says Peirson, noting that Sir Peter told him that he wanted to come and watch the place grow every year. “A lot of things we did were serendipitous or on the spot,” he says, recalling the original plans for the suspension bridge being drawn on a napkin. Peirson established native gardens, supervised the planting of thousands of trees, and created a series of pathways that the Michael family and staff have enjoyed for years, among many other tasks.

Lush gardens provide a seasonal display of color, obscuring winding trails and bridges that offer the opportunity to explore the enchanting landscape.

“I remember driving up to the lake before we put the vineyard in—there were cows and turkeys everywhere, and the Cadillac we had was scraping on undergrowth and ditches. Now you go there and it’s pristine and connected,” says Sir Peter’s son, Paul.

Sir Peter poses with the late winery mascot, Tucker.

Three generations of the Michael family have shared a connection to this place: Sir Peter, Paul and Emily Michael, along with their kids, Anna and Mylo, pose with Herb Westfall, estate manager for the past twenty years.

Peirson was also influential in mentoring young artists, particularly after Sir Peter offered a scholarship for an artist-in-residency program on the property. As a result, artists have been inspired by and taken directly from the land for their creations. For example, one artist took sizable boulders and whittled them down to 3-foot-diameter spheres. Those spheres and some sixty other pieces have been left behind for the enjoyment of family and guests. Peirson himself, inspired by the nails remaining from a burn pile of a torn-down fence, created the bronze nail sculptures that you may see while walking the trails. “When Pete would talk about permanent outdoor sculpture, it was about making things that would stand the test of time, like the vineyards,” says Peirson, adding, “Half the fun of this place—whether it was something [Sir Peter] wanted or we wanted, he was always very supportive,” says Peirson.

Patience and support are tenets that run through every aspect of the property. It’s taken four decades to achieve the aesthetic that you see now. And that includes the vineyards. Javier Aviña, the winery’s vineyard manager since 1991, has a keen understanding of every aspect of the operation. “Every day involves learning each corner and hill,” says Aviña. He speaks equally passionately about soil composition and row orientation as he does reservoirs, drainage, and keeping the estate in balance. The confidence, support, and patience bestowed upon him and the Peter Michael staff give everyone the self-assurance to achieve the best results. “Working thirty years for the family, I can say I couldn’t have made a better choice,” says Aviña, adding, “Year after year, I see the improvement, and to be able to complete this in my lifetime and see results is great.”

In 1996 and 2003, two acres of olive groves were planted to manzanillo, frantoio, leccino, and moraiolo varieties. The fruit is harvested each year to make extra-virgin olive oil.

“It’s taken four decades to achieve the aesthetic that you see now.”

Thanks to the family’s patient dedication to the land, their vision, and the people who have made it all possible, this anniversary signals a turning point for the next forty years. Referencing the family’s “100 × 100” vision—100 percent family ownership for 100 years—Paul’s wife, Emily (the namesake of the Ma Belle-Fille vineyard), says that this property is not just a business but also a home. “[We’re] fortunate that we’re creating longevity for future generations, and about getting it right,” she says. “And a hundred years isn’t very long.”

“It is a team sport,” says Sir Peter, observing how much progress has been made since he first saw the property in 1982. “There’s probably the same sort of progress left to go. I don’t know what it is, but it will emerge, and we will see differences.”

Javier, Paul, and Emily frequently walk the vineyards together.

With the next generation, consisting of Paul and Emily at the helm, and perhaps the subsequent generation (their children, Elliot, Anna, and Mylo) contributing soon, the winery is poised for dedicated, continuous land stewardship. Paul says that teaching his children to respect the land is just as important as their knowing the business side of things. “They need to love it and understand it’s not just a day job,” he says, stating that they have to go out into the world and work out who they are. He hopes that, eventually, over time, they keep visiting and loving the land and the business the same way he does. “Forty years is a lot in the wine business, but there’s a long way to go,” he adds.

“Paul says that teaching his children to respect the land is just as important as their knowing the business side of things.”

“When I bought the property, my wife said, ‘You’re completely mad!’ ” Sir Peter laughs, admitting that she may have been right. “But I’ve been very pleased with my madness and my adventure. Of all the things I’ve done, this was the best.”