The Tasting Panel magazine

JUNE 2011

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INTRO-VINOUS Sheep Clos Pepe winemaker Wes Hagen and members of his flock. Clos Pepe Estate 2009 “Hommage to Chablis” Chardonnay (SRP $45) Pale straw color. Aromas of fresh lime and green apple give way to Meyer lemon flavors, faint tropical fruit and river rock minerality. The wine’s racy acidity suggests that it will mature gracefully for the next 5 to 10 years. Clos Pepe Estate 2009 Vigneron Select Pinot Noir (SRP $64) Medium garnet color. Dark cherry and blackberry fruit on the nose, highlighted by savory notes. The wine’s silky layers and delicate, almost lacey, tannic structure make it texturally intriguing. Deep raspberry and cherry fruit 44 / the tasting panel / june 201 1 LAURA SANCHEZ SHEPHERDS CLOS PEPE WINEMAKER WES HAGEN IN THE STA. RITA HILLS in the Chardonnay C los Pepe Estate winemaker Wes Hagen and I watch as a newborn lamb blinks open its eyes and takes in its first shuddering breaths of air. Springtime, it seems, brings not only cool breezes and budding vines to Santa Barbara County’s Sta. Rita Hills AVA, but the tiny bleats of new life. In 2006, Clos Pepe enlisted the help of three wooly weed-eaters—a trio of Olde English Babydoll Southdown sheep—in an effort to minimize human intervention in the vineyard. The flock of smaller-than- average ruminants (chosen for their ability to pass beneath the vineyard’s trellising system without causing damage) grazes during winter months while vines are dormant, eliminating the need for mowing or herbicide sprays. With their grass- chomping zeal—they can clear five acres in about a month—and flair for fertilizing, they serve as shaggy symbols of the winery’s commitment to sustainability. “Wine should take you back to the place where it was grown,” Hagen says as he gives Gaius, the resident sheepdog, a friendly rub. That place, located between Buellton and Lompoc on Highway 246, happens to be a 29-acre plot that produces some of the most coveted (and expensive) fruit in Santa Barbara County. Producers such as Arcadian, Ken Brown Wines, Hall, Loring Wine Co. and Siduri extract lean, mineral-laden complexity from Clos Pepe’s Chardonnay and character- istic cherry notes and forest floor earthiness from its Pinot Noir. According to Hagen, meticulous, non- invasive farming—aided, of course by the flock—allows these terroir-inspired qualities to shine through. For his estate wines, Hagen also harvests early, uses moderate cooperage (25% new French oak on Pinot Noir and neutral oak or stainless steel for Chardonnay) and is thoughtful about yeast selection to ensure the purity of expression. As a result, each wine in his estate portfolio—from the lithe 2009 Clos Pepe “Hommage to Chablis” Chardonnay to the 2009 Clos Pepe Vigneron Select Pinot Noir—reveals the acid structure and fine tannins of its geographic identity. “My goal is to grow the best grapes and make the best wines I can in a socially and environmentally responsible way. These little guys support that,” Hagen says as we watch the lamb extend its crumpled legs. After a couple of wavering attempts, it stands, chest deep in spring grass. “Welcome to the world, number 22,” he says with a chuckle. “I hope you’re hungry.” flavors are complemented by high-toned acidity and baking spices. Clos Pepe Estate 2009 Barrel Fermented Chardonnay (SRP $45) Light straw color. This blend of Dijon 76 and Wente Clone shows floral fragrances up front. Its lovely body and richness (provided by 100% malolactic) is nicely balanced by the wine’s quenching acidity and characteristic minerality. PHOTO: JEREMY BALL

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