Clos Pepe Vineyards
by Eric Anderson
(excerpted from Vol.10 No.4, Journal du Vin, May 2002. a visit on 5/29/02 to Clos Pepe in the Santa Rita Hills for a tour and tasting.)
Leaving SoCal about 7:00am, our first stop was scheduled for Clos Pepe Vineyard, a small artisan operation in Santa Barbara County. From there, we would head on to Paso for the Hospice du Rhone festivities -- all 4 days of it!
Arriving at Clos Pepe about 10:00, we met up with vineyard manager and winemaker Wes Hagen and his wife Chanda. Thanks to Tom Hill, a visit had been arranged with Wes to show us the Clos Pepe vineyard, as well as barrel taste through a few of his new wines. Along for the tour was Tom, Larry Archibald, Brian Loring, Bob Summers, and Mike Mooney.
Located just West of the Babcock and Melville wineries on Hwy 246, Clos Pepe is situated smack in the middle of what will be the new Santa Rita Hills appellation ... well, maybe. These wineries, along with Sanford, Lafond and Longoria applied for AVA status through the usual channels. However, as It turns out, the Chilean winery, Santa Rita, has taken some exception to the chosen name. This all seems more than a little ironic, considering this particular Santa Barbara County appellation would probably serve to enhance the Chilean winery's name, rather than detract from it. A deal is supposed to be eventually struck that would allow the AVA name on the label, along with a slight caveat.
Like most Santa Barbara County wineries, Clos Pepe is a family operation. The former 40-acre horse ranch was purchased several years ago by Cathy and Steve Pepe, Wes' mother and stepfather. Before setting up the 28-acre vineyard, the family consulted with Jeff Newton and Larry Finkle of Coastal Vineyard Care to site and plant the vineyards. Burgundian varietals are Wes' passion, and that's all that's grown here - with Pinot Noir claiming the vast majority of acreage.
After trying a few wines in the cellar/lab, we went for a walk into the vineyard. Wes explained that his own preference leans toward the 115 clone. Often subjected to morning fog and cool windy afternoons, this area is ideal for growing Pinot and Chardonnay. In fact, nearly everything between the Santa Ynez Valley and Lompoc, is exceptionally cool - some 15-20 degrees cooler than most areas barely 10 miles away to the East.
Although Clos Pepe sells about 90% of its fruit to the likes of Siduri, Ojai, Babcock, Loring, Clifton-Brewer and Hitching Post, they keep 3.5 acres (about 250 cases) of Pinot Noir to bottle under their own label. Commenting on the current upswing of vineyard-specific bottlings, Wes seemed very passionate about his desire to have those who purchase his fruit, also bottle it as a Clos Pepe vineyard designated bottling. The point is obviously not lost on his clients, either. Wes related a story of how Brian Babcock couldn't guarantee that the Clos Pepe fruit he'd contracted for would become a vineyard designate bottling, but rather might end up in a Santa Barbara County blend. Since Babcock felt he'd rather stick with the blending concept, he offered to tear up his contract with Clos Pepe, offering the fruit back to Wes. Wes was initially surprised by the his gesture. But with buyers practically waiting in line for his fruit, it didn't present any problems for him.
Wes had us carpool over to Buellton to the crush facility where he makes his wine. Grabbing a thief, Wes set about providing us with samples of a few more things, including a 2002 Botrytus Chardonnay - picked in January! Wes and Chanda were gracious hosts, and we had a great time.