Clos Pepe Vineyard, one of the older and widely known vineyards in the Sta. Rita Hills, is now being leased to WALT Wines, a Napa Valley-based producer that’s the sister brand to St. Helena’s HALL Wines, both owned by proprietor Kathryn Walt Hall.
The 29-acre vineyard on Highway 246 was founded in 1994 by Stephen and Cathy Pepe and is currently planted to 25 acres of pinot noir and four acres of chardonnay. Existing grape contracts will be respected.
In a press release, the Pepes said that signing the long-term lease with WALT, which focuses on pinot and chardonnay from California and Oregon, was due to a desire to “scale down” their lifestyle. They plan to remain residents of the property.
Clos Pepe may be best known thanks to Cathy Pepe’s son, Wes Hagen, who helped design and implement the Sta. Rita Hills and has become one of the most respected educators on grape growing in the region. In an email, Hagen explained that he would continue working on the 2014 Clos Pepe and Axis Mundi wines to bring them from barrel to bottle, and focus on those labels until “every last bottle gets a loving home.” That will include winemaker dinners, lectures, and tasting appointments, likely through 2016.
“Clos Pepe will always have a special place in my heart, and I expect I will always see it as my home and the greatest vineyard on the Central Coast, if not all of California,” said Hagen. “I think Steve and Cathy Pepe have earned and deserve a true retirement and I’ll do my best to put the brand to bed in the same inimitable style that I have nurtured and promoted it for 21 years. This vineyard is more than a brand — it’s a culture, and that’s something I am very, very proud of.”
Hagen also said that he is in informal discussions with some brands and educational institutions about future opportunities. “All avenues are open as of today,” he said.