Every now and again, you encounter a moment… a day in your life that you instantly realize will forever be apart of you. Beneath the books, flashcards and tastings that have come to swallow my life in the past couple years, today was a day that caused me to pause and really reflect on why I fell in love with this magical fruit turned wine when it is handled with utmost, unequivocal intention.
In short, this special man and his wine will cause a girl to write…
Emidio Pepe got his start in the 60’s, back when most were leaving the agriculture in search for industrial work in the northern cities of Italy. Even before he could conceive of it, harsh chemicals or even oak were not in his plan. He named the winery Aurora– meaning the birth of something new in Italian. And while many scoffed, going so far as calling his vision a house of cards (to which he responded with a cellar designed in such a fashion to challenge the skeptics), he chose instead to follow his instinct.
Walking with his granddaughter Chiara today through the pergola vines, an ancient training system no one has the time, patience or economy to wish to maintain, we learned of the ‘why’ that ran beneath the roots. The soil is the most fundamental part of the entire process. Keep it healthy, the rest will follow. Looking out into the fields, there was an energy no one could really deny– a vibration that resonated in rhythm to the nature surrounding the spaces between.
Pepe is steadfast in his principles: no herbicides, no pesticides, minimal or no added sulphur and not a lick of oak. He with is daughters, Sophia and Daniela who have take over the estate representing the fourth generation, will hold these wines until they have come to a place for understanding. For the Trebbiano, this often means a few years. For the Montepulciano, 2008 is only just coming to market after 8 years of coming into its own. Their credo insists they collect healthy grapes, otherwise, they simply will not make wine. Never will they compromise principle and ultimately quality. Though they sent for analysis of the juice to a lab to get an idea for harvest times, it is Emidio’s instinct that best determines where is best to pick and when. Much comes down to his prophetic, omniscient gut. He was even planting, pruning and harvesting according to the moon before Biodynamic viticulture was a thing just because it felt… right.
Perhaps you have envisioned the age old image of women stomping on the grapes and drinking wine through harvest– a delicious fantasy to conceive. Here… it is a reality. Pepe takes tradition to another level. Whites (Trebbiano and Pecorino) are brought in, crushed by foot (3 or 4 people with boots) for about 45 minutes. The juice that seeps through the barrel is then pumped into tank for fermentation. The Trebbiano particularly is often bottled in the spring before the weather warms up so it can finish malolactic fermentation in the bottle–acting as a preservative from bacterial development and allowing them to avoid the addition of sulphur. For red grapes, there are hand grated through a wire rack that help the grapes to fall down whole into the receiving bucket without the stem which harvest bitter tannins. Montepulciano has enough on its own. It is then hand fed into a vat where it will ferment long and cool for up to 25 days using only spontaneous yeast for its development. This is a crucial characteristic to their wine.
As if that were not enough, after they age in tank for a couple years followed by a slumber in the cellar for another few more years (or decades), there comes time to get it to market. Pepe does not believe in filtering. In fact, he tries to avoid even rackings (transfers of one from one vessel to another) at all cost, keeping the action to only a couple moments in the lifetime of a wine, as anything left behind in the tank is a removal of the wine’s soul. And so, come time to bottle, grandma Pepe hand disgorges each individual bottle. No funnel, no hose. Bottle to bottle, she allows a tiny bit of air to see the wine. She can also check each wine for imperfections at this point. Each wine receives a new cork (so a 2007 might have a 2016 cork). She then hand capsules and labels each bottle herself.
Not only that, she made one of the most memorable meals I will never forget. From local egg crepes with parmesan and chicken broth to homemade spaghetti with duck marinara and finally to a homemade roast chicken with some kind of lovely fat braised potatoes. I have never been so happy to gain 5 pounds as I have this past week. I highly recommend it to everyone.
We enjoyed 04, 09, and 12 Trebbiano. Then 13 and 14 Pecorino. Finally, for the reds we had 84, 00, 02, 07, and 10. We were even fortunate to celebrate two birthdays from the family, so an exception of 70 and 93 were brought to the table. Of the whites, the 04 Trebbiano was sublime, it changed its mood at least 10 times in the course of 7 hours. From quite and shy, to honeyed and nutty, to salty and savory. The reds ranged from high toned, delicate cool vintages (84 and 70) to more engaged and talkative 00 and 07. There was such promise for the entirely too young 2010. Honestly, this evening with regards to the reds, the 08 had my heart. A gorgeous wine I am only too eager to try again when it arrives to Colorado in a couple months. But really, who am I kidding. Each had a personality that begged for you to drink them in isolation. Spoiled we were to taste them all side by side and decide which the fit the weather, mood and food tonight. Tomorrow, it would likely be another. That’s the thing about consuming the energy of a year’s harvest.
I am honored to represent these wines. And I thank the Pepe family for welcoming us into their home as they did for food, drink and a place to sleep. They have impressed upon me such an image of generosity and sincerity, a sense of family and tradition. They have inspired me to follow my instinct and do what feels… right.
2004 Trebbiano: Deep golden hue and developing with hints of almond skins, wet hay and a beeswax. Gains momentum in the glass and becomes a bit brinier with a few hours to breath.
2009 Trebbiano: Nuanced on the nose with nuance nettles, chamomile and wildflower honey. Softer acid and welcoming.
2012 Trebbiano: A bottle of complex energy waiting to work through a whole lot of lovely. As though each time you bring to the rim, there is a different story to be told. This is a wine that is incredibly young but so promising and compact. A phenolic texture really advances the palate and lingers on the finish.
2013 Pecorino: Incredibly chatty on the nose with bright, youthful aromas of white flower and orange peel. The warmth of the vintage snuggles on the palate and works to balance the natural acid of this grape.
2014 Pecorino: So young, delightful and honest. This wine demands to make itself a little more interesting each vintage it sits in Pepe soil. I am all too anxious to watch this wine develop in the next couple years. Right now it is shy and humble.
1970 Montepulciano: Wet leaves and shitakes, this is a wine that needs autumn, a fire and perhaps a long discussion on Russian literature.
1984 Montepulciano: The coolness of the vintage does not try to hide. What begins in a very high toned fashion of dried citrus peels, apricot, mint and balsam fir developed over time into a gorgeous collage of dried rose petals and leather bound books from grandpa’s library. Overlooked…
1993 Montepulciano: Wearing impressive concentration and smelling displaying a spicier expression. This has a smokier, dustier personality of cured meats and pepper. A beauty that no doubt is hardly mid-stride in its life.
2000 Montepulciano: One of Pepe’s favorite vintages, and I can easily see why. There is so much intensity of black cherry fruit, violets and secondary aromas combined with such structure and length. This wine is a baby, just beginning to show its development.
2007 Montepulciano: Forte– this is a strong, rich red that reflects the warmth of the vintage. Dried fruit, cocoa and forest floral form a wonderfully competitive bouquet that is sure to resolve itself in time, once they learn to play nicely. This is a wine that is wound up tight and certainly could use a little time.
2008 Montepulciano: A gem in its youth. This wine is incredibly well integrated and delicate. Speaking in hushed tones, there is a little bit of everything one could want (and even a little sediment, as the winery waits until 10 years to disgorge!). Harmonious so soon, it seems one that would be a delight to cellar several and watch evolve starting now…
2010 Montepulciano: Compared to the famously regarded 2001, the 2010 packs a punch and has every intention to be as good as everyone believes it will be. There was so much depth and intensity to this wine. Though it is hardly in a place to truly understand its story just yet, it really is a remarkably well built wine that no doubt will be a star performer at the 100 year anniversary in 50 more years, according to Mr. Pepe.
If you care to view a fantastic video of their estate, go to: https://vimeo.com/113795120.