Coke or Pepi?

From that bizarre German grape called lemberger to Barefoot Wines to Frog’s Piss Red to Vin de Merde, I am not sure that I trust the mental stability of folks who name their wine after stuff that smells really, really bad.

Cat’s Pee On A Gooseberry Bush, Big Ass Chardonnay, Fat Bastard

And then there’s Pepi, with it’s inevitable association with Pepi Le Pew, that horny little skunk who wanders around Paris in search of impressionable, boffable felines.

Chateau Vomit-Rothschild is one thing, I suppose, and Bodega Diapero the same thing, but Pepi is a legitimate and respected California winery who have been turning out balanced, crisp and transcendentally cheap white wines for forty years.

Now, I know that wine publicists prefer ‘inexpensive’ or ‘value’ over ‘cheap’, but I am not in the business of wanking wine publicists.  When you can buy a 92 point (California State Fair Wine Competition) sauvignon blanc for $8?  Brah, that ain’t inexpensive, that’s cheap.

Papa Pepi

Robert Pepi

Robert Pepi, the nominal begetter of the brand, is a second generation Napa winemaker.  Like many top vintners of his generation, he is the son of a visionary; his father purchased prime Napa real estate in the mid-sixties and planted grapes—noteably sangiovese clones from the Biondi-Santi estate in Brunello di Montalcino—a varietal which he can genuinely said to have pioneered in California.  For the next thirty years, the Robert Pepi Winery continued to improve the quality of Napa sangiovese while finding equal endowment with sauvignon blanc, which Pepi refers to as ‘his favorite wine’.

Among the innovations which has arisen from the forty vintages that Pepi has tucked beneath his belt is the ‘two-hearted’ trellis system which sees the vines split horizontally, then criss-crossed.  Difficult to explain, but suffice to say, examples can be seen throughout Napa wine country.

Jess Jackson, resident billionaire

In 1994, eager to pursue a globetrotting career as a wine consultant, he sold the winery to Jess Jackson of Kendall-Jackson and apparently, never looked back.  He began to lease vineyards and purchase grapes, and as general manager of Stimson Lane’s California operation, he produced a Conn Creek cabernet that received the highest Wine Spectator ratings of any of the Washington-based estate collection’s labels.

He says, “Consulting has given me success, freedom, and the ability to work with exceptional vineyards and craft wines of which I am very proud. From time to time while traveling the back roads of California and Argentina, tending to my clients’ vineyards, I see vineyards that do not fit into my clients’ needs, but that excite me with their potential for quality wines. These vineyards were the impetus for starting my own label…”

That label wound up being Eponymous, an exclusively red-wine house which pulls grapes from some of Napa’s top vineyards.  Current releases include cabernet sauvignon and cab franc from McAllister Vineyard near the Mt. Vedeer ridge.  These are 90+ point wines according to scores of publications including the Spectator, Wine Enthusiast, QRW and Wine News.

…All of Which Makes For A Good Story

…but has nothing to do with the wines I am reviewing.

Mark Rasmussen, resident non-billionaire

Those wines, labeled ‘Pepi’, have zero connection to anyone named Pepi, but are the vestige of the original winery, and, as stated earlier, are solid, somewhat non-aggressive bouquet of whites—prices kept low by drawing fruit from some of California’s less-sexy regions like Clarksburg and Lake County.  Produced by local boy Mark Rasmussen, the wines have a lot to offer the budget drinker: Affordability, extended fruit, crisp spine and a flash/splash logo.

Everything, in fact, but a catchy slogan.

So I’ve borrowed a few defunct taglines from one of America’s most beloved blends of trimethylxanthine, high fructose corn syrup and fake brown stuff and have placed them below—an inducement free of charge, Pepi people.

You’re welcome.

  • Come Alive, You’re in the Pepi Generation.
  • You’ve Got a Lot to Live, and Pepi’s Got a Lot to Give.
  • Yeh hai youngistaan meri jaan.  (Hindi, meaning,  ‘May our beloved leaders drink so much Pepi that they forget how to launch a nuclear strike against our neighbors.’)
  • Pode ser bom, pode ser muito bom, pode ser Pepsi. (Brazilian Portuguese, meaning: ‘I wonder how many grape vines we can plant if we raze the entire Mato Grosso.’)
  • Badal Do Zamana. (Urdu, meaning ‘When I drink sufficient Pepi, I do not mind so much that I have not had a square meal since 1983.’)

Tasting Notes:

Pepi Sauvignon Blanc, California, 2011, around $9:  A lean, bracing wine that shows some of the glories of Robert Pepi’s wines from the 80’s and 90’s; the palate is loaded with melon, grapefruit and lime while a slightly flinty edge fans out over the finish.

Pepi Pinot Grigio, California, 2011, about $9: A floral, mineral-inflected nose with notes of pear and Fuji apple. The fresh, clean fragrances is followed by a light wine with steely character and a brief, but succulent finish.

Pepi Chenin Chenin Blanc-Viognier, California, 2011, about $9:  Phantom sweetness; the wine gives the impression of more than .48% residual sugar, the result of luscious stone fruit (apricot and peach) and a potent honeysuckle undercurrent.  The blend is judicious—66% chenin, 34% viognier—a proportional breakdown that is sufficiently marvelous that I’m surprised it isn’t used more.  It is true synergy, where the total is more than a sum of its parts.

Pepi Chardonnay, California, 2011, around $9:  A little something for everyone, malolactic, sur lie aging, French and American oak.  For the price, a serviceable chardonnay with crisp green apple scents, lemon curd and creamy vanilla; not to heavy or complex, but nimble complement to lighter fare.

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