Lompoc, California is the flower seed capitol of the world. It is also home to Vandenberg Air Force base where government agencies launch various space vehicles into orbit. Since the release of the movie Sideways, it has also become known as a destination for wine tasting.
My wife and I recently ventured to Lompoc to learn about the wines of the region and, of course, to enjoy wine tasting experience.
If you happen to enjoy wine like I do, wine tasting can be a lot of fun. Since wines vary widely, I highly recommend doing research before you decide to take a wine tasting trip. Fortunately, friends of ours that have impeccable wine acumen did the research and so my wife and I had very little preparation to perform.
A winery builds tasting rooms for the public to sample their wines. However, I’ve come to realize that it can be more enjoyable if you find a quality winery that has tastings by appointment. This may mean that they don’t necessarily have a public tasting room. If you make an appointment, you end up receiving undivided attention and it’s usually hosted by the winemaker or principal of the winery.
After departing our house for our wine tasting vacation, our first stop was at Clos Pepe in Lompoc, Ca. Clos Pepe is a boutique winery owned by Steve and Cathy Pepe. We found it on Highway 246 midway between Buellton and Lompoc. Our appointment was at 10:30am.
Steve is responsible for growing the grapes and it was obvious how much passion and knowledge he had for his craft. We learned how the area was once under water and how a massive earthquake affected the tectonic plates. It surfaced a lot of limestone which affected the soil and thus the grapes used to make the wine.
For me, it was interesting to hear how grape vines are maintained. After pruning them, the shoots eventually appear and are carefully monitored. If they end up growing too close together, they are sometimes trimmed off so that each shoot can bear a sufficient amount of fruit. “Cover crop” is the vegetation that is grown in the middle of each row to provide nutrients to the soil.
For the remainder of the tour, Steve handed us over to Andrew Turner, National Sales Manager. We walked the grounds and marveled over the beautiful patio, lap pool, pizza oven and fountain. He mentioned that Steve and Kathy purchased an old horse stable and converted it to a beautiful Tuscan villa. Andrew added that it can also handle special events up to 80 people. After that, they require a special use permit. We entered into a huge kitchen with state of the art appliances and a sizable center island suitable for conducting cooking classes.
Andrew started us with their 2010 Estate “Barrel fermented” Chardonnay. Apples and pineapples came across in the tasting. Aging in French Oak barrels also gave it a nice balance. We appreciated that it did not have a strong oakiness about it. I was surprised to learn that this chardonnay could be enjoyed now, but is best consumed 2-3 years from now.
The second wine on the tasting seemed a bit unusual. It was a Grenache/Syrah blend named Axis Mundi and did not have their standard labeling. Andrew mentioned that the grapes were grown in Ballard Canyon which will be a future AVA (American Viticultural Area) or wine growing region. Ballard Canyon is just north of downtown Solvang.
Andrew gave some fresh glasses and offered us a side by side taste test between 2009 and 2010 Pinot Noir. The 2009 vintage was very ‘fruit forward’ and in my mind it was almost “jammy” like the Pinot Noirs you would find in Willamette Valley, Oregon. On the other hand, the 2010 Pinot was very “earthy” in taste.
While it wasn’t on the tasting list, we finished with “Homage to Chablis”. This was a clean, crisp chardonnay made in stainless steel. Unlike many that I’ve tasted, it did not come across as being sweet.
On Close Pepe’s website, Winemaker Wes Hagen is quoted saying “It’s a concept that fits my ideas of wine as craft as well: that every wine represents the Axis Mundi of its appellation: if carefully considered, a wine can take you to a time and a place, and center the drinker to consider the origin of the wine as his or her ‘center’ during the time that the bottle is enjoyed at table.”
Andrew’s favorite event is their release party in August. They typically roast a pig and owner, Steve, makes wood fire pizzas.
We ended up purchasing the 2009 Pinot, 2010 Pinot as well as their Estate Chardonnay. I look forward to the meals that my wife will pair with these wines.
Tastings at Clos Pepe are available by appointment only.
- Clos Pepe
4777 E Highway 246, Lompoc, CA 93436; (805) 735-2196