What's Cookin' on Wine with Michael Horn


February 19, 201552 min
WES HAGEN – VINEYARD MANAGER/WINEMAKER, CLOS PEPE Clos Pepe Vineyard was purchased by Steve and Cathy Pepe in 1994 as a horse ranch, and established the 9th vineyard in what would become the Sta. Rita Hills AVA. Specializing in cool-climate, small production, craft-based Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, Clos Pepe is now recognized as a leader in local and national wine culture, wine education and providing fruit to some of the best winemakers in California. The Italians say, ‘Il vino e' la Poesia della Terra.’  Wine is the poetry of the earth.  There is nothing that can obfuscate Pinot Noir’s ability to speak of a time and place.  Of every plant on earth, Pinot Noir is unique in its ability to show every angle of a vintage, every silt particle in the soil, and every drop of morning dew that wet its leaves. Tea, coffee, white truffles—these can tell a story and confound us with their deliciousness, but the uncontested Queen of Natural Complexity must be Pinot Noir. We anticipate each vintage with a proper mix of anxiety and hope, knowing Mother Nature and the Sta. Rita Hills have a plan that will allow time and effort to fill a glass. WHERE THE OLD WORLD MEETS THE NEW Great wine is born, not made. The great wines of the world weartheir provenance proudly and show a regional character andquality that is impossible to imitate. The world’s most vauntedbottles all have one thing in common: they are grown on the edge ofwhere ripeness is achieved. Bordeaux, Burgundy, Champagne,Barolo — these are all areas where getting the fruit ripe is notassured. In most of California ripeness is easy to achieve. The goal becomes‘hang time’, allowing the fruit to hang on the vine as long as possibleto develop flavor, color and character. Clos Pepe, and the Sta. RitaHills AVA, are stuck between these two archetypes: we are one of the coolest areas on earth where winegrapes can be ripened, but wehave tons of California sunshine and a relatively dry Septemberand October for extended hang time and later harvest. We love the complexity and age-worthiness of the Old World, butclaim our purely New World heritage. Making wines that have thefruit and impact of the New World, with the mineral structure andacidity of the greatest Old World bottles, gives us enviable baseingredients for making some of the most profound cool-climatewine in the world. These wines can be drunk at release when they're young and fruity(0-3 years), as the primary fruit begins to sublimate (4-7 years), orwhen fully mature like the greatest Grand Cru Burgundies (7-20years).  The Santa Rita Hills and Clos Pepe make a wine for everytable, every plate and every palate. THE WINES The Santa Rita Hills produce many styles of Pinot Noir and Chardonnay — wines that will excite every palate and match with almost any food. The Chardonnays are naturally lean, mineral-laden and racy, but with more winemaking influence can exhibit richness and roundness: new oak, malolactic treatment, extended barrel aging. When young, the wines have austere structure and bright apple fruit with hints of tropical fruit and peach. Clos Pepe Chardonnay is crafted for both early enjoyment as well as cellaring for a decade or more. As the wines age they gain a hazelnut and mineral complexity, quite similar to Premier Cru Chablis and White Burgundy from great vintages. Try young Clos Pepe Chardonnays with oysters, fried chicken or barbecue. Older vintages can be enjoyed with sand dabs in a lemon cream sauce, firm cheeses, cream-based soups, or any kind of delicate seafood preparation. Clos Pepe Chardonnay seems to like 3-5 years from vintage date to fully integrate, and can last up to 10-12 years for those that appreciate full maturity and a bit of oxidative aromas and flavor. Pinot Noirs from Clos Pepe can range from delicate and earthy to dense, purple, full-bodied Pinots that are among the darkest and richest on the planet. The Pinot Noirs from Clos Pepe also age wonderfully, but can also be drunk earl


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