Sir Peter & Lady Michael
“When I looked at the creek, looked at the mountain, listened to the noise of the birds, I thought this is the most extraordinary place on earth. But I couldn't have imagined just how well it would work and how lucky I was to have found it.”
Sir Peter’s education and interest in wine was nurtured at his father’s side in Bordeaux and Burgundy, but it was at the Fairmont Hotel in California, while enjoying a performance by Peggy Lee, where the inspiration for Peter Michael Winery was born.
The chardonnay that Sir Peter and his colleagues shared on that fateful evening in San Francisco—and which later won the Judgment of Paris in a competition against France’s very best wines—was like nothing he had ever tasted before. The experience not only shifted his European point of view about great wine, but it ignited a passion in him to create terroir-driven wines of unsurpassed quality, as rich and singular as the California land itself.
Sir Peter’s search for a property in the Knight’s Valley region of Calistoga to build a family retreat and winery ended when he stood on the steep, rocky hillside of Mount St. Helena in 1982. At that moment, Sir Peter says, it was love at first sight. “When I looked at the creek, looked at the mountain, listened to the noise of the birds, I thought this is the most extraordinary place on earth. But I couldn’t have imagined just how well it would work and how lucky I was to have found it.”
While the idea of a California winery project came as a bit of a surprise to Lady Michael (or Lady M, as she is universally known), it wasn’t long before she embraced Sir Peter’s enthusiasm, matching it with her years of experience farming their 1000 acres in Berkshire, UK with arable cereals and a pedigree South Devon Red breeding herd. Her keen interest in farming and animals afforded her perhaps the greatest appreciation among family members for the dedication and artistry required to develop the winery’s world-class vineyards.
An entrepreneur many times over, Sir Peter is the founder of Micro Consultants’ Group and UEI plc and the driving force behind a group of high-tech companies including Cosworth Engineering and Quantel, the digital special effects company for television and film production. The graphic-arts tool Paintbox is just one of several commercial applications his company introduced in its 20 years of operation. From 1989 to 1992, Sir Peter served as CEO of Cray Electronics, overseeing a turnaround of the technology company, and in 1992, Sir Peter founded Classic FM, the UK’s first national commercial radio station with an audience of 6 million listeners. Sir Peter was knighted by Queen Elizabeth in 1989 in recognition of his contribution to British industry.
Paul & Emily Michael
Paul Michael – Paul recalls the first time he set foot on the land that was to become the Peter Michael Winery: “I was a teenager on summer vacation in 1982, and my father took us all up the valley and into the sticks to see this beautiful spot on the mountainside. Standing there surveying the scene, he told my brother and I that we were going to plant some vines. By ‘we’ he meant, my brother and I. Sure enough, the following April we found ourselves on that rocky, hot, steep but extraordinarily beautiful hillside above Knights Valley planting the first 16 acres of vines that were to become Les Pavots. I had just turned 18 years old, and the winery has been part of all of my adult life.”
Emily Michael – Emily’s first visit to the Peter Michael Winery was in 1996, when she and Paul were newly engaged. “We’d been engaged a week, and I was still speechless, I think, from that, and then speechless at the property. It was just so breathtakingly beautiful.” Six years later, she found herself without words once again, when at Sir Peter and Lady Michael’s 40th wedding anniversary celebration, Sir Peter dedicated the latest chardonnay to Emily, naming it Ma Belle-Fille (French for my daughter-in-law). Inspired by the vineyard at the winery’s highest elevation where the vines for the chardonnay grow and the fog rolls off the morning hills to open up to the first sunlight, the dedication was both a celebration of Emily joining the family and Sir Peter and Emily’s shared connection to the extraordinary land.
Today, Paul, along with his wife, Emily, oversees the winery and the family holdings, which includes hotel and farm holdings and a portfolio of early-stage and growth-company investments. Paul graduated from the Ecole Hôtelière de Lausanne in 1990 and spent his early career in the hotel and restaurant business, living in London, Zurich, Lausanne, Paris and Dubai, before completing his MBA at Ashridge Management College in 1994 and joining the family business.
Paul was also the executive producer of the preschool educational television series Tiny Planets (Pequeños Planetas in Spanish speaking territories), in co-production with Sesame Workshop. Critically acclaimed for its educational and early computer-generated animation, Tiny Planets earned two BAFTA awards (British Academy for Film and Television Arts) and was broadcast in over 100 territories.
After growing up in Wiltshire, in South West England, Emily moved to London where her work in the advertising industry and a diploma from Le Cordon Bleu laid the foundation for a successful career in event management, producing numerous music festivals and charitable events, including concerts on behalf of Diana, Princess of Wales, AIDS awareness and leukemia.
Today this accomplished background serves Emily well in her role overseeing the winery’s brand marketing, interior and landscape design. Additionally, Emily currently oversees guest-experience operations at the award-winning Vineyard Hotel in West Berkshire. A Relais & Châteaux hotel and spa, the Vineyard is an iconic destination that marries world-class cuisine, award-winning wines and luxurious accommodations. Additionally, Emily holds a seat on the advisory board of the Michael family’s hotels and serves as an ambassador for the Peter Michael Foundation. The Foundation contributes significantly to prostate cancer patient care and the identification, treatment and management of the disease.
From the earliest days, the winery, ranch and surrounding land has become a cherished home away from home for Emily, Paul and their three children, and it continues to be the backdrop for some of their most treasured memories.
Nicolas Morlet - Winemaker
Wine has always been a way of life for Nicolas Morlet, as it is for his brother and predecessor at Peter Michael, Luc Morlet: both grew up working on the family domaine, Pierre Morlet & Fils, in Avenay-Val-d’Or, Champagne. Born in Epernay, France to a fifth generation wine-grower family, Nick and his brothers grew up spending all their free time from school working on the family estate. At 40 acres, it was small enough to be managed by the family alone most of the year, but large enough to require the efforts of all its members.
“Before you settle in an area, you must experience winemaking in many different places” Pierre Morlet had advised his sons. Nick pursued education and work that immersed him in the classic winemaking techniques of Champagne, Burgundy and Bordeaux. Following his degree in Viticulture, Enology and Wine Business at Lycée Viti-Vinicole de Beaune, Burgundy, Nick worked, as Luc did two years earlier, at Maison Chanson Père & Fils in producing Premiers and Grands Crus of Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. Then, while working at Margaux’s 2nd Grand Cru Classé “Chateau Lascombes” Nicolas researched the advantages of macerating Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and Petit Verdot in small oak barrels. His thesis on “vinification intégrale” won him honors when he received his Bachelor of Science in Enology from the prestigious University of Dijon in Burgundy (Jules Guyot Institute). “I enjoyed school, being something of a science buff,” says Nick. “But as I studied, I placed everything I learned against the background of all those seasons I spent in the vineyards and cellars. I truly believe in the constant observation of nature and the use of our senses to guide our decisions.” Nick’s first trip of many to California was in 1994, when he combined agricultural work with two months of traveling to national parks and mountains. After a stint at Joseph Phelps Vineyards for the Insignia and Backus labels, working with winemaker Craig Williams, Nick joined Peter Michael Winery in the winter of 2005.
“Here in California, there is an opportunity to actually discover new terroirs.” says Nick. “The Seaview venture into coastal vineyards to produce vineyard-designated Pinot Noirs is tremendously exciting. That kind of viticultural exploration is not available in France anymore. Freedom is crucial to let art express itself. Freedom is vital to achieve the best quality possible.” This passionate approach to classical winemaking with a sense of innovation is natural to Peter Michael Winery’s philosophy. Innovations such as the exclusive use of wild yeast take us more deeply into the legacy begun by Helen Turley and developed by Mark Aubert and Luc Morlet, who has now become a consultant to Peter Michael Winery.
Javier Aviña - Vineyard Manager
Born in Patzimaro de Aviña in the Mexican State of Michoacan, Javier has worked his entire life in agriculture. As a teenager, he began working with his brother on sugar beet and tomato farms in the Central Valley. When his brother decided to move north in 1977, Javier followed him to the Napa Valley. In 1981 Javier worked at Robert Mondavi Winery where a supervisor recognized his talent and helped develop it. His experience there, and later at Monticello Cellars, brought him to Peter Michael Winery in 1991 as vineyard manager.
Quietly working out of the limelight, Javier supervises a crew of 25 to 50, depending on the season. He has been an essential force responsible for the quality of fruit grown on the three estate owned vineyards. This fruit is a critical component of the reputation of the wines at Peter Michael. The foundation to growing great fruit is in the terroir and in the farming of the vines. With over 33 years in viticulture, and two decades at Peter Michael Winery, Javier makes it happen in the vineyard. Our winemakers rely on his passion for excellence and his keen understanding of the vines, soil, water, and the men he supervises to deliver the quality of the fruit they desire.