A California winery with deep Arkansas roots
These roots are from LA, but this LA is only 17 miles from the Louisiana line.
I know you’ve guessed it by now: it’s El Dorado.
That’s right, but not only is this a California winery, it’s also an award-winning one. It was selected as one of the top ten wineries in the country two years in a row by USA TODAY, and was also recently selected as a top ten winery by Conde’ Nast.
Yes, I am writing about 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 producing exceptional, cool-climate Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and Syrah wines.
The winery’s name, Presqu’ile, is a French/Creole word meaning peninsula, or literally “almost an island.” It was the name of the Murphy family gathering place on the Mississippi Gulf Coast. For decades, it was a place to relax and enjoy 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 a few years ago with friends. The magnificent setting of the estate among the large live oaks was truly magical. When Hurricane Katrina destroyed the homes, along with many of the massive live oaks, a piece of history and beauty was lost forever, and as friends of the family, we felt a sense of loss as well.
Madison and Suzanne Murphy’s creation of Presqu’ile Winery is a natural extension of the Murphy family’s agricultural roots, which stretch back four generations.
Of course, Madison Murphy is well-known in Arkansas, having served in several leadership roles at Murphy Oil Corporation, Murphy USA and The Murphy Foundation, where he helped create the Murphy Arts District in El Dorado. He served for a decade on the Arkansas Highway Commission, chaired several cultural and business boards, and was a longtime member of the Board of Trustees of Hendrix College, where he was awarded an honorary doctorate in 2014. He was awarded the Cultural Enrichment Award of Arkansas 2006, 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 although they travel back and forth to the winery, Madison’s involvement in El Dorado’s new entertainment district continues and his hands-on input is evident in the quality of the MAD 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 winery sites in California’s Santa Barbara Valley, Sonoma County, and Oregon’s Willamette Valley. As they delved deeper into the world of wine, sharing this knowledge and passion with their grown children Matt, Anna and Jonathan, the whole family joined in the search for a suitable place to grow Pinot Noir and Chardonnay wine grapes in a cold climates, which were Murphy’s household favorites.
Their son Matt Murphy was working in the Santa Maria Valley in northern Santa Barbara County alongside one of California’s most famous winemakers, the late Jim Clendenen of Au Bon Climat Winery, and in 2007, the family Murphy bought her initial 200 acres in Santa Maria. The valley. They immediately began building their vineyard and winery on the property.
Presqu’ile Vineyard is 16 miles from the Pacific Ocean and started with 73 acres of Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Syrah, Gamay, Nebbiolo and Aligoté grapes. The resulting wines are produced using both estate fruit and high quality fruit from select vineyard sites throughout the Santa Maria Valley and Santa Rita Hills. Presqu’ile’s goals are to capture the true essence of the vineyards, vintages and unique sensations of the country.
Although Presqu’ile’s primary focus is to produce delicious, cool-climate wines from California, their southern hospitality mixed with their fine wines make a visit to the winery an unforgettable experience.
They recently added 595 acres to the original 73-acre property, bringing their grape total to 130. In 2022, they branched out and planted 12 acres of avocados, and have plans to add 10 to 12 acres in 2023. .
To produce high quality wines, they have collaborated with Jeremy Seysses, owner of Domaine Dujac in Burgundy. Jeremy is recognized as one of the best winemakers in the world and his involvement is one of the reasons why Presqu’ile wines have quality in the vineyard and in the winery.
I love their Pinot Noir and believe it will match the best of its variety and equal the highly regarded Pinot Noirs from Oregon’s Willamette Valley. Vertis loves their Chardonnay and she won’t miss it if it’s available.
But Madison and Suzanne are about more than making great wines. They are making sure the winery is a beacon of sustainability, which is integrated into everything at Presqu’ile, from the land to the cellar. 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 certified by SIP since 2014. SIP stands for Sustainability in Practice. While Presqu’ile’s vineyards have been certified organic for years, SIP goes beyond organic and takes a 360-degree look at a winery’s entire operation, from the vineyards and winery to energy use and employee benefits. Winning and maintaining the SIP requires third-party audits of key criteria, including water and energy conservation, social equity and pest management, among many others.
The buildings are built to LEED specifications, which include Presqu’ile’s main building houses, tasting room, barrel room, caves and wineries. It was designed by President Matt Murphy, winemaker Dieter Cronje and San Francisco-based Taylor Lombardo Architects.
To match their minimalist approach to the vineyard, the cellar is a gravity flow winery, which significantly reduces energy use. The winery is built into a hillside to keep temperatures cool and boasts strategically insulated windows to allow natural light throughout the day.
Presqu’ile’s solar array has 774 panels and produces 493,112 kwh per year. Its annual emissions reduction is 404 metric tons of carbon dioxide, or the equivalent of the annual electricity use of 47 average homes and about 100 gas-powered cars. The Presqu’ile winery and estate buildings are a model of energy conservation.
The original goals of 2007 remain today: A relentless pursuit of quality in growing and producing wines that simply express the richness and region, providing an unparalleled guest experience that reflects Murphy’s inherent warm and welcoming hospitality in south Madison and Suzanne spend a significant amount of time each year at the winery, and they have brought the expertise necessary to create superior wines.
Obviously, Madison and his staff contributed a lot to this column, and his final note about family involvement tells us that Presqu’ile Winery is a family affair. Having our three grown children (Matt, Jonathan and Anna) interested, including leading Presqu’ile is very special.”
Richard Mason is an author and speaker. He can be reached at [email protected]