What’s Going On?

I guess you could classify me as a Marvin Gaye fan (but then who isn’t?) and this past week the song “What’s Going On”, which I consider the greatest protest song of all time, kept popping into my head….

A little less than two months ago, there was some pretty big news in the wine business when Adam and Dianna Lee, owners of Siduri and Novy Family Wines, announced that they were selling the winery to Jackson Family Wines.

Earlier this week, I read a press release that stated that Clos Pepe, one of the premier Pinot (and Chardonnay) producers in Sta Rita Hills will, starting with the 2015 vintage, be leasing the vineyard to Walt Wines, who produce many Pinots and Chardonnays from both Oregon and California (including a Clos Pepe for the last five vintages).

And now, just a couple of days ago, I read that Gallo, the largest wine producer in the world, has bought J Vineyards, one of the best sparkling wine producers in California.

Siduri Clos PepeIt seems as though the Siduri and J situations are rather similar as both had built their brand from the ground up, and they decided that this would be a good time to cash out. As I mentioned at the time, virtually everyone is happy for the Lees as the sale likely came along with a healthy price tag and the winery that they started back in the mid-nineties with a few thousands dollars and a host of loans, would now enable them some relative comfort as they move on to the next phase in their lives.

I am one of those that is exceedingly happy for the Lees—their children, while still young, are not so little any more and, if nothing else, this will allow them to be home with their kids instead of out on the road, constantly selling their wines.

I do not know Judy Jordan at all, the soon to be former owner at J Vineyards, and there is no doubt that her journey has been far different than that of the Lees, but I am happy for her as well.

There is no doubt that I would have done the same thing (in fact, probably even sooner).

I have been a very happy consumer of Siduri and Novy wines (all Pinots—which number somewhere around 20—are produced under the Siduri label and all other wines—from Chardonnay to Syrah—under Novy), but now, strictly from a consumer standpoint, I am afraid that some of my favorite Pinots will never be the same.

Somewhere else on the spectrum, perhaps, is Clos Pepe. I can only speculate as to what actually happened to cause the Pepes to decide to make the change, but it seems as though there is quite a bit more to the story.

The Clos Pepe vineyard for me sits right at the pinnacle of California Pinot Noir—if there were ever a Grand Cru appellation system established for Pinot Noir in the U.S., Clos Pepe would undoubtedly be at the top of the list. There likely is no more impressive list than that of the producers who have made a wine from grapes grown at Clos Pepe: A.P. Vin, Arcadian, Au Bon Climat, Brewer-Clifton, Ken Brown, Copain, Hitching Post, Longoria, Loring, Roessler, and Siduri.

The last of those, Siduri, was the first Clos Pepe that I ever had–and from that first bottle I was hooked. Shortly thereafter I learned that there was a Clos Pepe Estate, and I figured that the owners of the vineyard surely kept some of the best plots for themselves. I had to get some. I did, and it was fabulous.

Clos Pepe SignI first met Wes several years ago when my wife and I drove down to the Sta Rita Hills to do our own little Sideways escape. I somehow landed a tour and tasting at the Clos (employees in other tasting rooms were rather impressed) and the tour and tasting at the estate was one of the more memorable I have had. Wes was passionate, opinionated, on the verge of obnoxious and it was all wonderful. We were then invited into his parents’ home for a tasting of a few Chardonnays and several Pinots.

We left with several bottles, a new appreciation of the Sta Rita Hills, and huge Wes Hagen fans.

The party at Clos Pepe was legendary, with a blind tasting of hundreds of bottles. I am proud to say that I was able to identify Clos Pepe Pinot….

The party at Clos Pepe was legendary, with a blind tasting of hundreds of bottles. I am proud to say that I was able to identify Clos Pepe Pinot….

The Clos Pepe wine club was the one that I maintained the longest (by far) over the years and every time that someone asked for a suggestion for wineries to visit, Clos Pepe was always at the top—if you have ever experienced the Wes Hagen led tour of the property, you know what I mean. My affinity for Clos Pepe culminated this past summer with the post Wine Bloggers Conference party held there where I cooked pizzas with Wes and chatted about who knows what with, coincidentally, Adam Lee.

As I said, there is more to the Clos Pepe story than meets the eye, which was underscored when I saw what Wes posted on Facebook, confirming my fears—no more Clos Pepe Estate:

“I will continue to support the label vis a vis sales and hospitality, but I am planning on moving on with my career to elevate another brand or teach full time. 2014 will be the last vintage Clos Pepe Estate and Axis Mundi Wines will be bottled, and I will properly put them into bottle with care and love, and make sure they find good homes.”

I get that wineries change hands all the time, and that this is nothing really new, but these three (and particularly Siduri and Clos Pepe) were particularly noteworthy, at least to me.

As I mentioned at the top of this article, I just could not get Marvin out of my head when reading the news….

“What’s going On?”

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About the drunken cyclist

I have been an occasional cycling tour guide in Europe for the past 20 years, visiting most of the wine regions of France. Through this "job" I developed a love for wine and the stories that often accompany the pulling of a cork. I live in Houston with my lovely wife and two wonderful sons.
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12 Responses to What’s Going On?

  1. talkavino says:

    I read this and at first had no comments to leave. Than a bit later, it downed on me. I guess what I’m loathing the most (don’t know if this is your feeling too) is an exit of passion in the winemaking. I don’t know if the quality of new Siduri and J wines will suffer, but the soul most likely will be gone… I hope the soul will be reborn elsewhere, and I hope both Siduri and J wines will continue to be as enjoyable as they are (and yes, I’m very happy for the people and families who built those wines on lots of pain and sacrifice). Nevertheless, the “pain of the loss” and “fear of the future” for us oenophiles is all acute…

    Liked by 1 person

    • Excellent way of putting it! I guess since France was my foray into wine, I use it as my yardstick and this kind of thing rarely happens over there. Most often, wineries are passed on to the next generation, but that does not seem to happen over here. From a purely consumer standpoint, I think this will not be a good thing at all–there is just too much evidence to support it.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I too felt deep pain when I saw Wes’ annoucement on FB. Furthermore, I agree with you that Sta. Rita Hills is the “Grand Cru” of SBC.. My husband and I first discussed how to stock up on current and library CP wines; then wondered where such a gifted winemaker as Wes Hagen will go next. Wherever it is we will be immediate fans!

    Liked by 2 people

    • I would say that Clos Pepe is a Grand Cru of Sta Rita Hills (along with Sanford & Benedict, Cargasacchi, Fe Ciega, and a few others). I have a bit of a stock pile of CP right now (five cases-ish), but will likely “need” more. I wonder if they plan to sell it all off? I am sure Wes will land on his feet….

      Liked by 1 person

  3. nomadfromcincy says:

    I think this is just the natural path of start-ups in any industry, though there seem to be different forces at work in each of these situations. But like you, especially because Siduri was one of the wineries that really turned my interest in wine into a passion, I agree that there is so emotion wrapped up in these changes.

    I think Adam and Dianna have a family and eventually the travel was just too much. Adam was on the road constantly, whether for sales or for vineyard management. While I am sure he is still passionate about making great wine, he earned the chance to step out of the craziness. I hope he got paid enough to relax for a few years, then start his own thing again.

    For Wes, I don’t know him but I am guessing he got an offer he could not refuse. Hall has a ton of money and if they decided that it was the perfect source for the Walt wines, I can imagine they made a good offer.

    For J… that winery has had its ups and downs but unless Judy Jordan was planning to hand it down to her kids (if they have any), now is a good time to sell. The markets are hot, big wineries are looking for boutique DTC brands, and it is a good time to exit (financially). Plus J is the type of winery that might fetch a good multiple for the right acquirer (like Gallo) because I am guessing they can dial up production based on demand.

    But at the end of the day, start-ups get acquired. That is the end game for many people who start businesses. For these wineries driven by passion, sometimes it feels strange that they would leave their business… but is it so different from other companies?

    Liked by 2 people

    • I agree. It seems as though it is the natural progression of “start-ups.” I just feel like wineries are a different type of company since more than any other, the owners/winemakers are wrapped up in the “soul” of the product.

      Like

  4. frankstero says:

    I “liked” this post…but I don’t like this post, if you catch my drift. Sad times.

    Like

  5. Lynn Millar says:

    There’s always time for a Marvin Gaye song and a glass of wine. And as we know in Sonoma County – Jackson and Gallo rule – until the revolution – they’re our ubergooglefb.

    Like

  6. linnetmoss says:

    Great post, and thanks for the Marvin! It’s one of my all time favorites too.

    Like

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