Blending and tasting the 2012 Vintage of Clos Pepe Estate

2012 Vintage Notes

2012 breaks a streak at Clos Pepe of ‘classic’ vintages being mostly of odd years.  2005, 2007, 2009 (and I would add 2011) produced wines of excellent concentration, fruit and verve.  2012 will likely make a wine a touch more concentrated than the 2011, a bit more earthy than the 2009, and may prove to be the most complex young wines we’ve ever put into bottle.

Today’s tasting and blending exercise was a big surprise.  I follow my wines in barrel carefully, but try not to intervene too much as the casks mature.  After tasting each barrel in the winery, the assembled tasters (Steve Pepe, Wes and Chanda Hagen, Andrew Turner and a few select invitees) discussed and argued for our favorite wines.  The terms that came up again and again in the discussions seemed to classify the Pinot Noirs into two camps:  ‘Feminine with red fruits and persistent earthy complexity’ and ‘Dark and richer black fruit character with earth, game, or both.’  Those tasters steeped in Burgundy wines were especially appreciative of the amazing mineral depth in these young wines.  Whether by maturation older vines at the Clos, or as a function of vintage or picking decision, these are pinots that will make their mark with pedigree over punch.

2012 Chardonnays will continue to excite our core Chardonnay customers: those that appreciate bone-dry, high-mineral and bright, zingy, mineral character.  The tiny-production ‘Homage to Chablis’ program continues to impress in it’s 13th year (SBC’s first stainless Chardonnay?) with a bone dry wine with great mineral depth, and echoes of ocean salinity and bright peach, apple and tropical notes.  The 2012 Barrel Fermented Chardonnay will sell out first, no doubt, because of the quality of the vintage and the surprisingly affordable price tag.

Well, that’s the vintage in under 300 words.  If you need 300 more, just ask.  You know me.

Tasting notes:  From Barrel Samples, Wed. August 14th 2013.  (2 weeks prior to bottling)

2012 Clos Pepe Estate Pinot Noir: Very complex nose that marries bright red berry fruits, baking spice, Asian spice, cherry, cranberry and gorgeous layers of complex dusty earth.  The wine is bright, juicy, balanced and nuanced in the mouth.  It is unusual for a wine this young to show so much bright fruit and earthy complexity at the same time.  With firm acid and great structure, this wine should improve in the cellar for most of a decade, but it also may show early complexity as well, making this a wine that may peak for most palates in 3-5 years (2016-2019)

2012 Clos Pepe Estate Pinot Noir ‘Vigneron Select’:  A little more dense in color and a little more on the masculine, black berry fruit side of aromatics, the ‘VS’ was put together as a wine for long-term aging as well as a luxury appeal for both collectors and hedonists.  After tasting at least a few dozen blends, this finally won the panel’s consensus as the best wine we could blend from the vintage.  Only four barrels made the final cut, and we believe we have blended something very special.  A hint darker in the glass than the Estate bottling, the nose shows a little more dark fruit character, ripe cherries and raspberries with a loamy saline complexity that will make you think of $500 Red Burgundy.  You can’t fake a wine like this.  Lay it down 5-10 years and then put it in a blind Burg. lineup and watch the eyebrows rise when you uncover it as a ringer!

Our new ‘Signature’ and ‘Singular’ wines are our attempt to make exclusive wines that are only available to those who buy Full Allocations in our Futures program.  We will continue to experiment with tiny lot, single barrel wines for our Wine Club as well.  (Hint, hint…get in before we have to close it!)

2012 Clos Pepe Estate Pinot Noir ‘Signature’ (Full Allocation Orders Only):  The criteria for this single barrel wine was the most delicate and nuanced barrel that exhibited such character and completeness, that blending it into Estate program would have been a shame.  This wine will be lost on those that believe great pinot noir is about concentration and extract.  This is a Burgundy Snob’s kind of wine.  Delicate, nuanced, earthy, but with enough sunny, California fruit to keep it from being thin or anemic.  Out of 50 barrels from a gorgeous, elegant vintage, this was the one barrel that we thought showed the most restrained perfection.  We call it ‘Signature’ because this is the style of wine our family prefers to age and drink at table.

2012 Clos Pepe Estate Pinot Noir ‘Singular’: The evil twin sister to ‘Signature’, ‘Singular’ has riper curves and is a little more full throttle than our other pinot noirs.  This program is not only about ripeness, but how ripeness can be captured, tamed, and still turned into a wine that is balanced, and can age beautifully.  Expect a bit more fruit on the nose, with focused blackberry, cassis, cherry and red berry fruits with echoes of baking spice, and smoked game.  Some producers think ripeness is a God, some think it’s a curse.  We think there’s a wine for everyone, and pinot noir always says ‘yes’!

2012 Clos Pepe Estate Chardonnay ‘Homage to Chablis’:  Lean, mineral and crisp.  Those are my guiding craft principals when I try to guide a vintage to the bottle.  If Chardonnay is the grape that winemakers ‘hang clothes on’, the Homage to Chablis is about nudity in a cold, foggy breeze off the Pacific.  Medium straw color with a nose of tropical fruit, peach skin, apple and pear intermixed with the trademark minerality/salinity that is so often compared to the aroma of chardonnay grown in Chablis.  Proof positive that Chardonnay grown at Clos Pepe is a complete wine, with or without the French wood.

2012 Clos Pepe Estate Chardonnay, Barrel Fermented: Speaking of the French wood, shout out to Nikki Nelson of Liquid Farm for recommending the Damy barrel for the new wood (10%) in this year’s BF Chardonnay.  The wood is half as invasive as last year’s and twice as integrated.  Those barrels are a miracle, and when you taste this wine you’ll realize why the marketing department wants to raise the price.  Light to medium straw color with aromas of green apple and lemon zest.  There’s some minerals under the bouquet of sublime toasted oak, but the wine is very complete right now, showing a gorgeous posture to be de-capped and emptied.  But patience will be rewarded.  Three to five years this wine will smoke White Burgs three times the price. 

2012 Axis Mundi Grenache/Syrah:  This wine has become very special to me.  Who else in California is plumbing the unknown waters between rose’ and light bodied-red?  Seems like big, rich ripe wines are here to stay, perhaps balance is making a comeback, and sweet wines are enticing a whole new younger crowd to wine.  That’s awesome, but I think there’s an untouched bonanza in flavor in red wines as extraction and skin contact is dialed way down.  Wine is about pleasure, and this wine is light, juicy and easy.  Light garnet color with grapey, juicy, baking spice and white pepper, perhaps a melon or tropical hint, with the slightest whisper of smoke from the syrah and oak.  Chill it down and light it up!