These roots are from Los Angeles, but this LA is only 17 miles from the Louisiana line.
I know you already guessed it: it’s El Dorado.
That’s right, but it’s not just a California winery, it’s an award-winning one. It was chosen as one of the 10 Best Wineries in the Country for two years in a row by USA TODAY, and was also recently chosen as one of the 10 Best Wineries by Conde’ Nast.
Yes, I am writing about the Presqu’ile Winery located in the Santa Maria Valley area of California, owned by Madison and Suzanne Murphy, residents of El Dorado.
Now let’s take a closer look at this award-winning winery. Presqu’ile (“press-keel”) is a family-owned winery dedicated to making exceptional cool-climate Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and Syrah wines.
The name of the winery, Presqu’ile, is a French/Creole word meaning peninsula, or literally “almost an island.” It was the name of the Murphy family hangout on the Mississippi Gulf Coast. For decades, it was a place to relax and enjoy with family and friends.
In August 2005, Hurricane Katrina made landfall, ending an era. The winery was named in honor of that beautiful place and a way of life.
Vertis and I spent a weekend there several years ago with some friends. The magnificent setting of the estate among the huge live oaks was truly magical. When Hurricane Katrina destroyed the homes, along with many of the huge live oaks, a piece of history and beauty was lost forever and as friends of the family we felt a loss as well.
The creation of Presqu’ile Winery by Madison and Suzanne Murphy is a natural extension of the Murphy family’s farming roots, which stretch back four generations.
Of course, Madison Murphy is well known in Arkansas, having served in various leadership roles at Murphy Oil Corporation, Murphy USA, and The Murphy Foundation, where she helped create the Murphy Arts District in El Dorado. He served a decade on the Arkansas Highway Commission, chaired several cultural and business boards, and was a long-time member of the Hendrix College Board of Trustees, where he received an honorary doctorate in 2014. He is the recipient of the 2006 Arkansas Cultural Enrichment Award, the 2004 US Fish and Wildlife Service National Wetlands Conservation Award and the 2018 Arkansas Tourism Person of the Year.
The family still lives in El Dorado, and though they travel from one side of the winery to the other, Madison’s involvement in the new El Dorado entertainment district continues, and his hands-on input is evident in the quality of MAD’s operating program.
In the mid-2000s, Madison and Suzanne decided to turn their passion for wine into the family’s next chapter in farming. They began researching potential warehouse sites in California’s Santa Barbara Valley, Sonoma County, and Oregon’s Willamette Valley. As they delved into the world of wine, sharing this knowledge and passion with their adult children Matt, Anna, and Jonathan, the entire family came together in finding a suitable site to grow cool-climate Pinot Noir and Chardonnay wine grapes, which were Murphy’s house favorites.
His son Matt Murphy was working in the Santa Maria Valley in northern Santa Barbara County alongside one of California’s most celebrated winemakers, the late Jim Clendenen of Au Bon Climat Winery, and in 2007, the Murphy family acquired his initial 200 acres in Santa María Valle. They immediately began building their vineyard and winery.
Presqu’ile Vineyard is 16 miles from the Pacific Ocean, and began with 73 acres of Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Syrah, Gamay, Nebbiolo, and Aligoté grape vines. The resulting wines are produced with fruit from the estate and high-quality fruit from select vineyard sites in the Santa Maria Valley and the Santa Rita Hills. Presqu’ile’s goals are to capture the true essence of their vineyards, vintages, and unique senses of place.
Although Presqu’ile’s primary focus is making delicious California cool-climate wines, their southern hospitality combined with their fine wines make a winery tour an unforgettable experience.
They recently added 595 acres to the original 73-acre property, bringing their total grape acres to 130. In 2022, they branched out and planted 12 acres of avocados, with plans to add 10-12 acres in 2023.
To produce high-quality wines, they have collaborated with Jeremy Seysses, the owner of Domaine Dujac in Burgundy. Jeremy is recognized as one of the world’s top winemakers, and his involvement is one of the reasons Presqu’ile wines are of quality in the vineyard and in winemaking.
I love their Pinot Noir, and I think it will match the best of their variety, and is equal to the highly regarded Pinot Noirs of the Willamette Valley of Oregon. Vertis loves their Chardonnay, and won’t pass it up if it’s available.
But Madison and Suzanne have more than just making great wines as their goal. They are making sure that the winery is a beacon of sustainability, that it is embedded in everything at Presqu’ile, from the ground to the winery. Their conservation efforts also ensure that they continue to be good neighbors by protecting the community’s natural resources for generations to come.
Presqu’ile has been SIP certified since 2014. SIP stands for Sustainability in Practice. While the Presqu’ile vineyards have been Certified Organic for years, SIP goes beyond organic and takes a 360-degree look at the entire operation of a winery, from the vineyards and the winery, to the use of energy and employee benefits. Obtaining and maintaining SIP requires third-party audits of key criteria including energy and water conservation, social equity, and pest management, among many others.
The buildings are built to LEED specifications, including the Presqu’ile main building houses, tasting room, barrel room, caves, and winery. It was designed by President Matt Murphy, San Francisco-based winemaker Dieter Cronje and Taylor Lombardo Architects.
To match his minimalist approach to the vineyard, the winery is a gravity flow winery, significantly reducing energy use. The cellar is built into a hillside to keep temperatures cool and has strategically placed insulated windows to allow in natural light throughout the day.
The Presqu’ile solar field has 774 panels and produces 493,112 kWh per year. Its annual emissions reduction is 404 metric tons of carbon dioxide, or the equivalent annual electricity use of 47 average homes and nearly 100 gasoline-powered cars. The Presqu’ile Winery and the buildings on the estate are a model of energy conservation.
The original goals of 2007 remain today: a relentless pursuit of quality in growing and making wines that purely express the estate and region, while delivering an unparalleled guest experience that reflects the inherently warm and welcoming Southern hospitality. Murphy’s Cozy. Madison and Suzanne spend a significant amount of time each year at the winery and have incorporated the experience necessary to create superior wines.
Obviously, Madison and her staff contributed heavily to this column, and her final note on family involvement tells us that Presqu’ile Winery is a family affair. “Having our three adult children (Matt, Jonathan and Anna) interested, involved and running Presqu’ile is very special.”
Richard Mason is an author and speaker. He can be contacted at [email protected]