What is Axis Mundi Wine?

Axis Mundi Wine is the 'second label' for Clos Pepe Estate.  Wines we make from Clos Pepe fruit are labeled as Clos Pepe Estate, while any wine we make from outside our farm we define as Axis Mundi.  All wines are made by the Clos Pepe team and have the same quality and craft perspective as our Estate wines. 

Continue reading to learn the philosophy behind Axis Mundi and explore the wines and flavors of Santa Barbara County through the prism of a holistic and unique winemaking philosophy.

What Axis Mundi Means to Me, by Wes Hagen, Winemaker:

‘Axis Mundi was my first idea for a wine label—something I conceived of in 1996 while working for Babcock Winery in what would become the Sta. Rita Hills AVA.  Bryan was making some Beckmen Vineyard Syrah for his own label and allowed me to keep some must that I shoveled out of a tank.  I took it home in keg tubs and pressed it in a small basket press and aged it for 6 months before bottling it.  I made some simple paper labels that said ‘Axis Mundi’, slapped them on, and promptly drank the wine and the label went dormant.

The concept behind the label came from my deep passion for comparative mythology and the writings of Joseph Campbell.  In Campbell’s Masks of God: Oriental Mythology he describes the concept of the Axis Mundi. 

Physically, the Axis Mundi connects heaven, earth and hell in many belief systems.  It is the connecting location where all things are one.  Many cultures believed the Axis Mundi to be an important actual physical location that was holy and connective:  Mount Fuji in Japan,  the banyan tree in the Pacific Island cultures, the Bodhi tree where Buddha sought enlightenment (and suffered) are examples. Calvary and the Mount of Olives are an Axis Mundi in Christian mythology, while  Judaism has the Temple Mount and Sinai, the Greeks have Olympus and the Muslims have Mecca.  These are localized and narrowly defined 'Axis Mundi', as only the believers of a specific God/Goddess or mythos gain access to some wisdom, experience, blessing or transcendence. I reject exclusionary, stylistic or racial limitations of the Axis.

Psychologically and mythologically, the Axis Mundi is the place where pairs of opposites do not exist.  There is no male or female, only human.  Not good or evil, only acts.  In an ancient Vedic statuary, a cave-encased monolith bears three faces, a male countenance faces north, a female faces south and from the center, facing west, is a face neither male nor female.  This face is the Axis Mundi.  Divorced of pairs of opposites we see the truth, the connections inherent in all things when we see without judgment or categorization.  The Axis Mundi is similar to the ‘nominal fallacy’: by naming something we believe we understand it, but we do not.

Personally, I define the Axis Mundi in mythological and psychological terms.  I don’t believe in a physical heaven or hell, nor do I believe there are places on the earth that have actual, metaphysical connections between other worlds.  I do follow quantum physics (on a poetic level) and understand that quantum particles can appear in two places at the same time, and observation of these particles can actually cause them to behave differently.  I have a great sense of childlike wonder at the scientific principles that we have yet to illuminate and define.  Confucius defined the Axis Mundi beautifully: ‘He who says he knows does not know, he who admits ignorance is wise’.

In this way I suggest that the Axis Mundi informs humans to  a critical understanding that will make or break the future on this planet: that nature and philosophy both hate anything fundamental in nature.  Humans are blind to the final truth: that truth in a human mind is neither static or absolute.  Those that observe without defining, those that live without killing, those that are peaceful in not knowing the final ground of being…these are the wisest among us.   Humans who act violently to support a single philosophy or religion have lost the Axis Mundi—they are blind to the only truth there is—that we are all connected, we are all alone and we have the greatest capacity for learning, violence, altruism, wisdom, stupidity, arrogance, peace and destruction than any other force that we know of in this universe.  The final message of the Axis Mundi for me personally is that I have a great responsibility while I walk this planet to treat every human with respect.   I try to work in my life to give others a chance to understand and observe beauty and what Joseph Campbell called ‘joyfully participating in the unfolding sadness of this world’.

Axis Mundi expresses itself in wine in the following ways:

1.       A wine should reflect the place it was grown in flavor and style.

2.       A wine should be defined by its vintage, not my conception of what I want to make.

3.       A wine should ‘make itself’.  Properly grown fruit from a great vineyard requires very little help in ‘becoming’.

4.       A wine should be delicious on release and show complexity as it ages 5 years or more.

5.       I believe science and technology are not the enemy, but a tool to help us understand how to achieve balance.

6.       Ancient winemaking and traditional belief is not the enemy either.  There is something to learn from the Old World as well as the New.