by The Wine Guys, Tom Marquardt and Patrick Darr
Bob Pepi has seen just about everything in the world of wine. A man who joined his father in 1960 to launch a winery under the family name in Oakville, Pepi has seen viticulture and winemaking progress during the 62 harvests he experienced. Now 70, he’s using his years of knowledge to help other aspiring wineries.
“When we started the biggest change was in the vineyards, especially in distancing (between rows). You made it wide because, of course, a tractor had to fit in between,” he said. Harvesting equipment is different today and the grapes are often hand-picked to avoid damage to them.
“The other difference was the soil. People didn’t even look at soils when they planted vineyards. We had (lousy) soil for cabernet sauvignon in the valley, but that turned out to be good for sauvignon blanc,” he added.
He left the family winery in 1991 and became general manager for the California operations of Stimson Lane. His family sold Robert Pepi label to Kendall-Jackson in 1994.
Pepi also cited global warming and biodynamic farming as major vineyard changes.
“There is less diurnal fluctuation from day to night,” he said. “We are looking to plant in cooler places. Merlot is now being grown in Carneros. And no one thought of cabernet sauvignon in Coombsville.”
Pepi began consulting in 1996 and has a number of clients, including Geyser Peak, Two Angels, Samuel Charles, Atlas Peak, Argentina’s Bodega Valentin Bianchi and Chile’s TerraPura. In 2000, Pepi entered an agreement with a prestigious vineyard to make great cabernet sauvignon under the Eponymous label. He added to his iimpressive portfolio a meritage wine named after the MacAllister Vineyard, a cabernet franc, syrah and a proprietary white blend.
The role of the consultant has been a mystery to us. What role does he or she play? Is there another winemaker involved? Whose wine is it?
“For small clients I am the only winemaker,” he said. “At other places I’m sitting in with the winemaker while I sometimes make the picking calls.”
Winemakers, he said, can develop a “home palate,” which means they tend to taste the same thing every year and not identify the flaws. His review gives winemakers a fresh and honest perspective.
Geyser Peak, in particular, is a winery that has had its up and downs. When former owner Accolade got the property we praised Daryl Groom for elevating its quality. When he left, the brand went back into a funk. But what we recently tasted under Pepi’s guidance was much better than what we remember.
Here’s a sampling of wines from producers he has helped:
Geyser Peak Chardonnay 2018 ($14). A great value in the chardonnay field, this creamy chardonnay with oak influences has white peach flavors.
Geyser Peak Walking Tree Cabernet Sauvignon 2017 ($25). A good value in medium-body cabernet, this wine offered forward, juicy blueberry and blackberry flavors. It would be a good match to barbecued meat.
Two Angels Red Hills Petite Sirah 2019 ($27). This exuberant wine has excellent depth and quaffable character. Classic inky color with ripe black cherry and plum flavors and a hint of mocha.
Eponymous Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon 2018 ($60). Ripe plums and cassis flavors dominate the palate of this complex and rich cabernet. Mt. Veeder grapes comprise half of the blend with Coombsville, Howell Mountain and Atlas Peak sourcing the rest of the delicious blend. It has a long finish.
Samuel Charles Oak Knoll District Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon 2019 ($80). This single-vineyard wine – the third release -- shows off copious aromatics and forward, bright raspberry and plum flavors with a hint of black pepper and vanilla.
Atlas Peak Vineyards AVA Napa Cabernet Sauvignon 2018 ($50). Forward in style, this delicious cabernet sauvignon has a bit of merlot to amp up the richness. Ripe blackberry and dark cherry flavors with a hint of cocoa powder.
We recently tasted several wines produced at Mascota Vineyard in Argentina and was so thrilled we bought several more. They are among the best from a country known for its bargain malbecs but not for the complexity we saw in these wines.
Winemaker Rodolfo “Opi” Sadler has been making wines for more than 30 years and first focused on cabernet sauvignon. Only recently did he turn to malbec, the grape variety that put Argentina on the map. By and large, his wines range from a stunning $25 malbec to a $40 cabernet sauvignon that would blow away many Napa Valley competitors. Many have received high scores from critics.
The high altitude and abundant sunshine and diverse soils in the Uco Valley give these wines a profile of ripe tannins and concentrated flavors.
These wines, sold primarily at Total Wine, are worth seeking:
Mascota Vineyard Unanime Malbec 2017 ($20). Rich, concentrated plum aromas with ripe dark fruit flavors, generous but soft tannins and a long finish. It’s the best malbec at this price we have tasted in years if not ever.
Mascota Vineyard Unanime Signature Cabernet Sauvignon 2017 ($40). Big, gnarly tannins give backbone to this serious wine with rich and ripe dark fruit flavors.
Mascota Vineyards Unanime Chardonnay 2016 ($20). If you like your chardonnay with oak, this is a beauty. Generous tropical fruit and citrus notes with a creamy texture and hints of spice and vanilla.
Migration Sta. Rita Hills Drum Canyon Pinot Noir 2018 ($70). Duckhorn’s Migration line of pinot noirs are stellar, but we most enjoyed the velvet texture, black fruit character and forest floor notes of this one. We also enjoyed the 2018 Migration Bien Nacido Vineyard pinot noir from a legendary vineyard. Full in the mouth and nose, it has great character. For a better value, try the Migration Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir ($42).
Tenuta di Capezzana Barco Reale di Carmignano 2018 ($18). This estate’s entry-level wine is a delicious blend of sangiovese, cabernet sauvignon, canaiolo and cabernet franc. Fermented in stainless steel and aged in large Slavonia oak barrels, it has lots of fresh red berry fruit. For a step up in quality, however, the 2013 Ghiale della Furba IGT ($51) shows off a lot of mature and complex fruit. Made only in good vintages, it is a blend of cabernet sauvignon, syrah and merlot.
The Pale Rosé by Sacha Lichine 2020 ($17). From the producer behind the popular Whispering Angel, this rosé uses grapes from Vin de Pays du Var region of Provence. Light in color with citrus and melon notes. Very good.