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.
It 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.
I 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 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?”