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Repost – The Eponymous Wines of Bob Pepi

Bob and dogs compressedBob Pepi has been around the wine industry a long time, almost forty years long, and you might think after that amount of time a person would start to burn out.  I had a chance to talk to Bob for a bit recently, and can assure you that he is one wine veteran who is not burning out anytime soon.  He’s motivated, insanely busy and apparently having a great time.

Back in 1980 he started a winery with his dad in Oakville, in the heart of Napa Valley.  For more than ten years he served as winemaker at Robert Pepi Wines, earning praise for his consistently excellent results.  There is a strong family tie to those early days, along with the family’s Italian heritage, demonstrated in the initial Sangiovese bottlings which to this day are some of Bob’s favorites.  Eventually, in 1994, the Robert Pepi name was sold with the winery to Kendall-Jackson.  By that time Bob was already working making wine for other wineries, including Stimson Lane early on and several others through the years.  His talents have found their way into many 90+ point wines, and his experience spans continents, hemispheres and just about every varietal you can think of.

Current efforts include winemaker at Andretti Winery in Napa and consultant at Bodegas Valentin Bianchi in Mendoza, Argentina as well as the up and coming Canyon Wind Cellars in Colorado.  He’s also introduced the Two Angels line.  Bob has been consulting at Valentin Bianchi since 1996.  Having some of his projects in the Southern Hemisphere works well logistically, as the harvest there is in the Feb to April time frame and comfortably opposite California’s pick and crush.  You can’t be in two places at the same time, and Bob is extremely busy come harvest, crush and fermentation time.  It’s hard enough balancing that between California and Colorado.  You might think Colorado would be the first thing to fall off the plate, but in Bob’s words “it’s been a lot of fun, and the grape quality is close to that of California and the West Coast.”  He thinks the vineyards at Canyon Wind can comfortably support quality wines in the $20 – $30 range.  We haven’t yet put that to the test, although we certainly plan to.

But we’re here to talk about Bob’s Eponymous line, which he started fifteen years ago, and of which we were lucky enough to sample four different bottlings.  The name Eponymous is a play on words.  It’s definition, according to mirriam-webster.com, is “of, relating to, or being the person or thing for whom or which something is named”.   Clearly a reference to not being able to use his own family name on his own wine, you might think he longs to be able to use the Pepi label, but not really so much.  According to Bob “the only reason the wines were called Pepi was that we weren’t creative enough to put something else on the bottle.”  Tongue in cheek maybe, but what matters here is what’s in the bottle.  These are his wines, not made for someone else, and he is very serious about them.  After forty years in the business he still “learns something from every wine I make.”  You can bet when he finally did make his own wines again he thought they had a chance to be special.  He picked the vineyards which sourced the fruit, or you might say they picked him.  His initial cab came from Napa Valley, with vines in rather unforgiving soil which produced really intense fruit. He had sampled wine from that fruit and recognized the potential, and knew this is where his Cabernet would come from.  In recent years he’s added others as special parcels of vines beckoned to him, such as the MacAllister vineyard in Sonoma, just over the ridge line of the Mayacamas Mountains.

There is no brick and mortar winery attached to Bob’s name these days, and he is consolidating production at the Napa Wine Company, which has facilities capable of handling thousands of cases.  The Eponymous wines are produced in numbers far less than that, with hundreds of cases of each variety.  There is a great amount of freedom in not owning a large scale winery, and through his multiple efforts he gets a chance to make “twenty to thirty times the wine he could in his own facility.”  Considering he put almost half a million into the MacAllister Red before he ever sold a bottle, you can appreciate the capital required, and risk associated, with a major physical footprint.  This is easier, and a better fit for Bob.  He’s not a landowner.  In his words, “I am a winemaker.  I love what I do.”

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Here are the Eponymous wines we were fortunate enough to try and what we thought about them:

2010 Eponymous Syrah – the wine is dark purple with red tinges at the rim.  Long legs cascade down the glass.  IMG_1121The nose is dominated by dark fruits, mostly plum.  Savory, meaty aromas join in, and it really is a pretty classic Syrah profile.  On the palate this wine is full bodied with very good length.  It seemed like it had more to offer though, so we corked it and left it for a day.  When we returned the wine was so much better, which is saying a lot since it was really good to begin with.  It was rich and integrated, with firm tannins.  Decant for an hour to let it evolve a bit.  There is 4% Cabernet Sauvignon in here. $36

2011 Eponymous Cabernet Sauvignon Spring Mountain District – this is a dark red, transparent wine,IMG_1123 with a nose of dark fruit, a touch of charred oak and some meaty tones.  It is full bodied and very long.  Blueberry and black cherry present on the palate.  It’s got some nice acid, and it is really fresh while still being a pretty big wine.  The tannins are firm, but very approachable.  This will last a while.  Another wine that just screams quality.  100% Cabernet.  $65

IMG_11222009 Eponymous Cabernet Sauvignon – a dark purple red wine with huge legs, this sports an herbal laced nose featuring mint and cigar box.  The fruit presents dark berries with some cherry as well.  Very full bodied it is a beautifully pure wine with substantial mouthfeel.  Black cherry and complex herbal notes, with some subtle oak fill out the palate.  This is elegant and powerful, and really is a beautiful wine.  Also 100% Cabernet.  $58 and worth it.

2010 Eponymous MacAllister Red Wine – this is a brilliant, dark ruby wine with a complex nose of berries IMG_1120(raspberry and currant), spice and orange. It’s a full bodied wine with nice acid balance, keeping it fresh and vibrant.  Solid tannins promise a long life ahead.  It’s very long.  The second day this tasted like blueberry pie, it was kind of crazy and amazingly delicious.  This is a luscious and, again, a beautifully pure wine, and by that we mean the flavors are clean and precise.  This is no muddled mix.  Truly outstanding stuff.  A blend of 51% Cabernet Sauvignon, 28% Cabernet Franc and 21% Merlot. Sonoma fruit.  $45 and a very good value there.

There is a definite uptick in quality when you splurge on a $50-ish bottle of Napa or Sonoma Cab, if you’re fortunate enough to be able to do that occasionally.  All are not always excellent of course, but it is a pretty good bet.  The wines reviewed here represent outstanding bottles, that just scream quality through and through.  Bob Pepi knows what he is doing.  We can’t say every wine he makes everywhere is this good, because we haven’t tried them all, but the Eponymous line is outstanding.  You should give them a try.

Clearly we need to explore Bob’s other projects as well, and we’ll be revisiting Two Angels, Canyon Wind, Andretti, and Valentin Bianchi to see how his vision manifests itself in other terroir and with other varietals.  This will also give us a chance to try out one of the more interesting points from my conversation with him, which is that he believes there is a symbiotic relationship between Malbec, Syrah and American oak.  While he tends to favor French

A very interesting man!

A very interesting man!

oak in his wines, for these two varietals something special happens when combined with the more aggressive American species.  I’ve never heard this before, and it certainly needs to be tested.  Of course I believe him.

Lastly, something dawned on me while I was talking with Bob.  I found the conversation to be extremely interesting,

he has done so much and he was very gracious and patient in answering questions.  Then I recalled the Dos Equis beer commercials of  a few years back, and looked at Bob’s picture again.  Could it be that Bob Pepi is actually the most interesting man in the world?  Not saying yes, just saying…. you never know.

He definitely is a great winemaker, and a true gentleman.

A votre sante.

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