CEO of Elyse Winery talks industry trends, wines to watch for and more.
Story By Robyn Passante + Photography by W Photography
Napa Valley’s Elyse Winery CEO Josh Peeples wants you to stop feeling sheepish about whatever kind of wine you like, whether it’s sickly sweet or bone dry, corked, capped or bagged.
“Much like fashion, everyone has their own taste. Not everyone has to agree,” says Peeples, son of former Hilton Head Mayor Tom Peeples and his wife, Mary Ann. Peeples has been on the West Coast since 1999, following friends into the dot-com boom after graduating from The College of Charleston. By 2002 he was immersed in the wine business, and has been ever since. In October 2018, Peeples and a few partners purchased Elyse Winery, where they’re continuing the long tradition of Elyse-brand wines as well as adding a couple of their own — Addax, one of Peeples’ previously established brands, and Institution, which is brand new.
If you didn’t catch Peeples and his wines at last month’s Hilton Head Seafood Festival, they’ll be back for next month’s RBC Heritage. In the meantime, he shared a few tips for wine newbies and pros on all points of the sweet-to-dry spectrum.
Keep a log of wines you try, including the brand, year and style of wine, plus whether you liked it and why. “Then you can use pattern recognition,” Peeples says. “If you figure out that your favorite Chardonnays are all from Russian River Valley, then just keep repeating that pattern instead of going from Russian River to Carneros to Santa Barbara to Washington State.”
“Find a wine store personality; I call them wine sherpas. It doesn’t have to be a sommelier, but someone you’re consistently working with, and tell them what you like and what you hate. All people on the sales side that are knowledgeable about wine need to know your successes and failures.” Then they can start suggesting wines for you with a much higher probability of success than you guessing on your own, he says.
“I’m sure everyone in Napa Valley would kill me for saying this, but don’t be afraid to drink internationally. There are some amazing values coming out of every part of the world. You can get some really amazing wines,” he says. One to try is French Chablis. “If you really love Chardonnay, don’t be scared to try Chablis. It’s Chardonnay grown in France; it’s not sweet. It’s brazenly acidic, and amazing with oysters.”
A lot of large retailers are now doing “progressive” wine displays, where wines get more intense as you go down the shelf. “So if you want something light and fruity it’s on the far left, and if you want something that’s the most intense wine you’ve ever had, it’s on the right.” Peeples was an early consultant for this trend in the designing of restaurant wine lists for outlets like P.F. Chang and Marriott Hotels. “We started listing the wines by intensity, so you knew where you were within each category,” he says. “So now at the store if you see a Chablis, you might not know what it is, but if it’s next to your favorite Chardonnay, chances are you might like it.”
“Merlot got a bad rap based on the ‘Sideways’ movie, but I think some of the greatest wines in Napa Valley, including what we make, are upwards of 50 percent Merlot. We might not put it on the label, but it’s true. Cab is king in Napa Valley, so a ‘Napa Valley red wine’ is a blend of Cabernet and Merlot,” he says. “People think, ‘Oh it’s a blend, it can’t be good.’ I would negate that.”
“Box wine—‘bag and box,’ as they call it—technically is the best way to preserve a bottle of wine without it oxidizing, because there’s no oxygen exposure as you drink it. So I would say there are higher quality wineries choosing that as a bottling option. That’s what’s increasing the quality of box wine, not box wine producers making better wine,” he says. “Much like 10 years ago when people went to screw caps instead of cork, the next generation of that is going to bag and box instead of screw cap.”
“Tasting parties are a great way of diluting the cost of figuring out what you like,” he says. “Because you may have to bring one bottle, but you get to taste 15.”
“The 2016 vintage, which is coming to market now, is one of those once-in-a-100-years vintages. We had an amazing growing season and it really was a winemaker’s vintage. The weather was perfect and the fruit came in in perfect condition. So it really was one of the easier vintages I’ve seen in a long time. Anything from ’16 from Napa or Sonoma, you should have a home run with.”
“Tourism has been down about 35 to 40 percent. So we’ve seen the effect of the wildfires, not in what’s in barrel or bottle, but in the number of visitors to Napa Valley. I’d equate that to just how many people canceled trips after hurricanes on Hilton Head,” says Peeples, whose winery was less than a mile away from last year’s wildfires but sustained no damage. “So buy Napa Valley wines, and don’t be scared to come out and visit. All the hotels and restaurants are just waiting for people to show up.”
Fans of Elyse Wine should consider joining their wine club. Enrollment and membership are free and you will have immediate access to special pricing programs, discount shipping, access to limited release wines and more. Find more information at elysewinery.com.