#MarchMadness #MerlotMe with Peju plus Pizza and Rabbit Ragu too #WomensHistoryMonth

How about a little March Madness — with wine and a March hare too!

  1. #MerlotMe in March — not October as usual!
  2. Rabbit Ragu — not the expected beef!
  3. #WomensHistoryMonth — featuring a family!

This year for Women’s History Month, I’ve emphasized wines where the women have an important  role in the business — like Erica Crawford of Loveblock,  women in Champagne and couples who make Cabernet Franc.

Today’s feature is similar but different: Napa’s Peju Winery is owned and operated by a husband and wife team where both daughters are also involved.

Foreign born and bred, Tony Peju was studying film in LA when met Herta Behensky aka HB who  was born in Austria but raised in Venezuela. Tony and HB developed a florist and a nursery business, but in 1982 moved to Napa where they shifted to growing grapes and making wine. By 1985, they began selling it.

The couple’s two daughters Lisa and Ariana grew up in the vineyards and today are both involved in the business.

While Lisa  studied marketing and graphic design with the intention of working as a computer animator, in 1999 a study abroad trip in French at Sorbonne University with her sister Ariana followed by a 2001 trip with her mom and sister to VIN EXPO in Bordeaux led to a different calling: Lisa’s life as Peju’s marketing and public relations ambassador.

Younger sister Ariana‘s experiences in the vineyard harvesting grapes, hauling grapes in the tractor, and suckering vines for spending money led to her hands-on approach to the winery business. Today Ariana is in charge of the winery’s basic operations and instigated numerous environmental initiatives.

Under Ariana’s leadership, the winery went solar in 2006 and Peju’s Rutherford Estate vineyards are certified organic. Peju is also certified as a Napa Green Winery.

So why did we choose to have a March Hare for our #MerlotMe #MarchMadness?

Simple: I asked HB if she had a favorite pairing for the Peju Merlot and rabbit is what came to mind — rabbit the way her Austrian grandma made it with a gravy made from pan drippings. “It must be the Austrian in me,” HB said by email, noting that “most American don’t eat “ bunny.” However, HB says,

My husband will always say PIZZA….

And that’s how we decided to go with an Italian rabbit ragu along with gourmet mini-pizzas. Sue looked at several rabbit ragu recipes before deciding what to do on her own. She also adapted it to cook in the instant pot in an hour and half rather than the traditional 3 hours or  longer traditional stove top variety. I also found several recipes for a traditional German/Austrian/Hungarian rabbit stew — which we will do another time!

2014 – Peju – Merlot – Napa Valley – 15.3% alcohol – $42
97% Merlot, 2: Petit Verdot, 1% Cabernet Sauvignon
Sample for my review consideration; no other payment 

Grapes are a combination of their Rutherford Estate organic fruit and sustainably farmed fruit from Persephone.

Color: Maroon, red velvet drapes, rose rim, long legs on this baby!

Nose: Forest floor, super ripe fruit, eucalyptus, bramble fruit,

…like you are picking the ripe fruit right off the vine and popping it in your mouth.

Nice minty herbal notes, anise or fennel pollen. The nose overall is rich and intense, very seductive.

Palate: Lucious fruit, with nice acidity, velvety tannins with a  long lingering finish. Surprised how high the alcohol is on this wine — it is perfectly balanced between the fruit, tannins, and acidity.

This is a very easy drinking and affordable for Napa (mostly) organic wine.

Pairing: Great with the margarita pizza, the asparagus, canadian bacon, fresh rosemary pizza was great, the wine was perfect when paired with the herbal rosemary; this pizza brought out a nice tartness and cut back on the richness of the wine. Loved the fresh herb and went with the pesto pizza as well. Once again, it loved the freshness of the herbs and the sausage, and the salt cured olives.

The rabbit brings out spice and a drama in the wine while the acidity in the tomato sauce brings out a sweetness. Because the rabbit was stewed with its skin on there is a richness to the ragu. Rabbit cannot be compared to chicken or duck. It is a different thing on to itself and I look forward to doing a pairing with it again.

Sunday April 7, 2019 from 10:30AM to 1:30PM, Peju celebrates newly-released reserve and spring wines, including 2016 Fifty/Fifty, 2015 Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve, 2015 Cabernet Franc Reserve and 2018 Rosé. Tickets are $50 for wine club members, $75 for guest and include small bites influenced by the flavors of spring. Enjoy the beauty of the Peju Rutherford estate and welcome in spring!


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