Life Among The Vines: The Murphy Family Puts Down Roots Amid Their Presqu’ile Vineyards

Posted on Aug 20 by SEASONS Magazine

Photo by Erin Feinblatt

Photo by Erin Feinblatt

By Mary Ann Norbom | Photography by Erin Feinblatt |

The love of family and a national tragedy are the twin reasons behind why the newest and most elaborate winery property in Santa Maria Valley is named Presqu’ile. The family centers around Matt Murphy, his wife, parents and siblings, all of whom love nothing more than projects they can do as a group. The tragedy was Hurricane Katrina, the devastating 2005 storm that destroyed the original Presqu’ile, an 18-acre Mississippi estate owned by his grandparents. Pronounced press-KEEL, the word is French/Creole for peninsula, or “almost an island,” explains Matt. Geographically, it perfectly suited the Gulf Coast retreat for this El Dorado, Arkansas-based family. Now it ideally describes the warm camaraderie that envelops his winery, vineyard and residence in northern Santa Barbara County.

“We closed on this property in 2007 and knew from the start that our residence was going to be part of it. I love this property and love what I do, and I can’t imagine living anywhere else,” says Matt.

While planning, permitting and building the current winery facilities (and the home for Matt and his wife Amanda), Presqu’ile began producing wine in 2009 in the barn that came with the land. Their Los Olivos tasting room opened in 2012.

The enterprise is most definitely a family affair. Matt is Presqu’ile Winery’s president. Amanda handles events, helped develop the website and e-commerce plans, and oversaw the opening of the Los Olivos tasting room. Matt’s brother, Jonathan, is the assistant winemaker, sister Anna works in production and Jonathan’s wife, Lindsey, works in the tasting room. Dad Madison, who Matt calls his “mentor,” functions as chairman of the board. “He and [Matt’s mom] Suzanne are the only board members,” laughs Matt. The winemaker is the magnetic South Africa-native Dieter Cronje, who Matt calls his “brother from another mother” and “one of the founding pillars of this company.”

Photo by Erin Feinblatt

Photo by Erin Feinblatt

This Junethe full scope of their endeavor came to light. Just a short distance off the 101 Freeway as you approach Santa Maria, Presqu’ile encompasses 192 acres, including 73 acres of farmed vineyards. As you drive a distance up Presqu’ile Drive, you see the new 11,000-sq.-ft. winery, the hospitality center sprawling another 13,000 sq. ft. and, finally, the magnificent home Matt and Amanda share with their golden retriever, Kaya, and a steady stream of visiting relatives.

The three structures are a consummate achievement of contemporary design, with a single seamless architectural statement. They are modern, yet warm, with a feeling of timelessness. Perhaps unique for a project of this magnitude, nothing screams, “Look at me!” The designs are horizontally focused with gently pitched roofs and seem to almost organically rise up from the earth.

The residence draws the outside in, with massive windows, the way the glass is angled and tall openings. Earth tones dominate the color palate, and the decor has been designed to soften the structure’s modern contours. The oversized living room achieves intimacy thanks to clever seating arrangements, and an eye-catching chandelier brightens the minimalist staircase. A Cor-Ten steel fireplace warms the terrace off the dining room. Large and colorful paintings by Arkansas artist George Dombek hang in the dining room and kitchen.

That chef’s kitchen isn’t just a showcase either. It’s one of Matt’s favorite features. “I love to cook,” he says with a broad smile. “I’m a cookbook chef. I break out The French Laundry cookbook and make a production out of it. Amanda is much more spontaneous.”

Photo by Erin Feinblatt

Photo by Erin Feinblatt

The couple met as students at University of Colorado in Boulder; Amanda is a Colorado native. They wed on New Year’s Eve, 2008, and moved into the home upon its completion in 2011. Amanda’s office is in the residence, but she says, “I’m hoping to be able to pull back from work a bit in the near future. We definitely want to start a family.” Matt’s anxious for that too, but now says he and Amanda jokingly refer to some of the modern features in their home as “deathtraps” that will someday need to be childproofed.

The state-of-the-art winery produces a mere 3,000 cases at the moment, with plans to grow to 5,000 cases in the near future and build to 15,000–18,000 cases over the next 15 years. Varietals include Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Syrah and Rosé of Pinot Noir.

The hospitality center is nothing short of breathtaking. “We wanted to break the mold with the hospitality center,” admits Matt. “We want people to come out here and spend the day.” A tour takes visitors through the center, the cave with its stored barrels and up into the winery, which sits at a higher level on the hillside property to allow for gravity feed.

In addition to tasting their elegant wines, “people can walk around the vineyards, if they want,” Matt says. There are also a bocce ball court, a horseshoe pit, a man-made lake that’s the perfect spot for a picnic and an amphitheater for presenting live music. “We’re going to bring in some great chefs for winemaker dinners, both local chefs and out-of-town chefs,” says Matt.

Presqu’ile has already earned the name “the Beacon of Santa Maria,” and it’s an important achievement for the Murphy family, who has very much become part of their new hometown.

“The grapes we are able to grow here are what brought us to Santa Maria,” explains Matt. “It’s a hard-working farming community, and at the heart of it, we’re hard-working farmers. We want to really be part of the community and do what we can to support the nonprofits here. That’s always been important to our family and follows in the tradition of our family’s foundation in Arkansas. We want to do right by everyone who has come before us and everyone who will come after us.”

It also means that the Presqu’ile vineyards are SIP (sustainability in practice) Certified and that vineyard and winery workers are treated with respect and paid accordingly.

“I’m hoping Presqu’ile will encourage tourism here and put Santa Maria wines even more on the map than they already are,” Matt says. It is already where his and Amanda’s day-to-day life is centered. “This is our home now,” he says.

Photo by Erin Feinblatt

Photo by Erin Feinblatt

Creating Presqu’ile

Tom Taylor of San Francisco’s Taylor Lombardo Architects has worked on many wineries and winery residences before, but never anything quite like Presqu’ile. “It’s the very best opportunity we’ve had because we were involved in the master planning of the entire project, from the site planning and location of the vineyards to the construction of the three structures,” he says.

For their residence—which was built first—Matt and Amanda told Taylor they wanted something modern. “‘A modern masterpiece,’ is what Matt asked for,” he says. “From that point, it was up to everyone’s imagination how it was going to go.” Going green was a priority for the couple, as was the use of as much sustainable local material as possible.

Lompoc Stone, for instance, was used for the fireplace in the residence and in the hospitality center. “We wanted everything to be fresh and new and express the beauty of the area,” says the architect, while diplomatically adding that “Santa Barbara County has been one of the more challenging” areas he’s worked.

Carol Puck Erickson of Santa Barbara’s Arcadia Studio was the landscape architect and used only sustainable natural landscaping throughout, including original California chaparral. Neil Korpinen of Montecito’s Korpinen-Erickson was one of the designers for the winery and the hospitality center. Says Matt: “He’s one of the best I’ve ever worked with.”

 

Presqu’ile
Winery, Vineyard, Tastings & Hospitality Center
5391 Presqu’ile Dr.,
Santa Maria
805/937-8110
Hours: 10 a.m.–5 p.m.

Tasting Room
2369 Alamo Pintado Ave.,
Los Olivos, 805/688-202
Hours: Thurs.–Sun.,
11 a.m.–5 p.m.

Originally published in the Fall 2013 issue of Santa Barbara SEASONS Magazine.

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