Winemaking Philosophy

If all goes well in the Vineyard, the crop from an acre or two of Chardonnay or Pinot Noir is hand picked in the cool of night, and the fruit is delivered to the winery as the sun is rising or the fog becomes visible, like a blanket reminding us of the sleep we've missed.

At this point the winemaking process begins.

While it might seem odd to provide our 'recipe' for winemaking, we don't see it as a trade secret. Some wineries thrive on secrecy and an insistence that what happens behind the cellar door is a magical process with French elves and Italian sprites sprinkling fairy dust over the fermenters, but we don't see it that way. Winemaking is a simple process for preserving the integrity of the fruit, the site and the vintage. Again, the magic is in the site, and we'd rather show a refreshing level of transparency in the way we farm and make wine so our customers, and those who visit the website, feel that they can clearly understand and intuit how we treat our fruit and wine, and how simple the fermentation and aging process can be.

The greatest secret in winemaking is that Pinot Noir is very, very simple to make. If the fruit comes from the right vineyard, picked at the right moment, and delivered cool and sound, there’s not much to do.
— Wes Hagen
Winemaker, Wes Hagen

The Virtual Winemaking Tour

In general we are low-impact winemakers (we do intervene, though!). That means:

  • Brewery-level care in sanitation and cleanliness.  (Low-impact means keeping unwanted microbes out of the winery.)
  • Just enough French Oak to round the wine and elevate some aromatics. (Stainless chard never touches oak.)
  • 11 months in barrel for all of our non-sparkling wines, allowing them to age but keeping their verve and youthfulness for those that wish to age them.
  • Not moving the wines during their 11 month ‘rest’.
  • Gentle handling during blending/bottling and allowing the wines to rest 4-5 months after bottling.
HARVEST: When the fruit is ready to pick for the Estate wine,  the wine’s potential is 100% realized. Our job in the winery is to preserve the quality and soundness of the fruit as it has been grown, tended and harvested. Fruit is harvested between 9pm and 6am to maximize quality and to minimize the production of off flavors and aromas. Fruit harvested in hot weather produces volatile acidity and can seriously degrade quality. All Clos Pepe fruit is 100% hand-harvested.

HARVEST: When the fruit is ready to pick for the Estate wine,  the wine’s potential is 100% realized. Our job in the winery is to preserve the quality and soundness of the fruit as it has been grown, tended and harvested. Fruit is harvested between 9pm and 6am to maximize quality and to minimize the production of off flavors and aromas. Fruit harvested in hot weather produces volatile acidity and can seriously degrade quality. All Clos Pepe fruit is 100% hand-harvested.

SORTING IN THE FIELD: Two to three interns ‘ride the bin trailer’ and sort the clusters as delivered from pickers. We remove leaves and what is known as MOG: ‘material other than grapes’. We pride ourselves in delivering some of the cleanest bins in the business.

SORTING IN THE FIELD: Two to three interns ‘ride the bin trailer’ and sort the clusters as delivered from pickers. We remove leaves and what is known as MOG: ‘material other than grapes’. We pride ourselves in delivering some of the cleanest bins in the business.

FERMENTATION: After allowing the night-cooled grapes (45-55 degrees) to ‘cold soak’ for a few days, warming slowly to 65-75 degrees, we watch for the signs that the native or ‘feral’ yeast have started the ferment. At this point we introduce a commercial yeast strain to take over and finish the ferment to dryness. This gives us a hint of native yeast complexity, but a consistent full fermentation.

FERMENTATION: After allowing the night-cooled grapes (45-55 degrees) to ‘cold soak’ for a few days, warming slowly to 65-75 degrees, we watch for the signs that the native or ‘feral’ yeast have started the ferment. At this point we introduce a commercial yeast strain to take over and finish the ferment to dryness. This gives us a hint of native yeast complexity, but a consistent full fermentation.

PRESSING: We press fresh, cold Chardonnay grapes at night after harvesting. Pinot Noir is crushed cold into 1.5 ton fermenters, stirred twice daily during ‘cold soak’, and is inoculated 3-4 days after harvest with RC-212, AMH and BRL 97 yeast strains. When the Pinot Noir ferments to negative hydrometer readings (dryness), the wine is pressed directly to barrel where it stays in contact with its original sediment (lees) for a full 11 months.

PRESSING: We press fresh, cold Chardonnay grapes at night after harvesting. Pinot Noir is crushed cold into 1.5 ton fermenters, stirred twice daily during ‘cold soak’, and is inoculated 3-4 days after harvest with RC-212, AMH and BRL 97 yeast strains. When the Pinot Noir ferments to negative hydrometer readings (dryness), the wine is pressed directly to barrel where it stays in contact with its original sediment (lees) for a full 11 months.

BARRELS: Pinot Noir is aged 11 months in 25%-35% new French Oak (only Troncais, Allier and Bertranges Forests), 30% 1-3 year old barrels, and 30% ‘neutral’ barrels of 4 fills (uses) or more. Barrels are stored filled with SO2/Citric holding solution to keep sanitation perfected. Barrels are rinsed and washed twice with ozonated water (chemical free sanitation!) before refilling with the next vintage. We also use 55 gallon stainless casks for our Chardonnay, which provide a more ‘reductive’ fermentation, as opposed to a small amount of oxygen ingress that occurs with oak aging.

BARRELS: Pinot Noir is aged 11 months in 25%-35% new French Oak (only Troncais, Allier and Bertranges Forests), 30% 1-3 year old barrels, and 30% ‘neutral’ barrels of 4 fills (uses) or more. Barrels are stored filled with SO2/Citric holding solution to keep sanitation perfected. Barrels are rinsed and washed twice with ozonated water (chemical free sanitation!) before refilling with the next vintage. We also use 55 gallon stainless casks for our Chardonnay, which provide a more ‘reductive’ fermentation, as opposed to a small amount of oxygen ingress that occurs with oak aging.

AGING & BOTTLING: Barrels are topped up to full every two weeks and tasted every month. After 11 months at rest, barrels are racked and blended to tank, whites are filtered, and the vintage is bottled by a mobile bottling truck.

AGING & BOTTLING: Barrels are topped up to full every two weeks and tasted every month. After 11 months at rest, barrels are racked and blended to tank, whites are filtered, and the vintage is bottled by a mobile bottling truck.

Clos Pepe Estate Pinot Noir