Pepi Winery is well-known for crafting the quintessential California Sangiovese, stellar Sauvignon Blanc, and crisp Pinot Grigio, and winemaker Chris Johnson is committed to using environmentally sound vineyard practices along with an unpretentious style of winemaking to create everyday wines with intensity and focus.
A winding path through the world of wine brought Johnson in January 2001 to Pepi (owned by Kendall-Jackson Wine Estates in Napa Valley). Chris went to work in 1996 for Kendall-Jackson Wine Estates. Less than two years later he took on the job of winemaker at the original Kendall-Jackson winery in Lake County.
Pepi is something different, however, Chris said he loves its spontaneous, risk-taking approach to wine. He favors the crisp, unfettered and natural character of those varietals in his Pepi bottlings. And his experience with Pinot Grigio in New York and Sauvignon Blanc in Lake County prepared him to master two of Pepi's leading wines. It's all part of forming a closer kinship with the creative magic/science of winemaking. "The natural cycles, the creatively, skill, great people, beautiful land - all the connections come together in wine," Chris said. "Just punching down, you see the skins, the red juice bubbling away. There's something about that whole transformation. It's cool."
Learn More About Pinot Gris/Grigio
Pinot Gris/Grigio (PEE-noh gree/GREE-jee-oh) While Pinot Grigio is in fact the same grape as Pinot Gris (just the Italian take on it), the differences of wine they create can be immense. Pinot Gris' most popular and successful region is Alsace, France, an area of the country that actually puts the name of the grape on the label. Pinot Grigio is the Italian version of the grape, known for its light, crisp acidity. But wines from other regions usually term their wine Pinot Gris or Grigio based on the wine's flavor profile.
Notable Facts Pinot Gris from Alsace creates rich, stone fruit-laden wines. They are perfumed and aromatic, and typically dry. It has round body and medium acidity. Take the grape a bit south to Italy, and it creates a very crisp, high-acid, citrus noted wine. Both are flavorful, but wine named Pinot Gris typically provides more body and rounder fruits while Pinot Grigio gives lighter-bodied, citrus fruits. Oregon and California are also growing the grape, Oregon having success with a more Alsacian style and California producing both. Winemakers often call the wine by the style they wish to replicate - for Italian style, look for Pinot Grigio, for the Alsacian style, look for Pinot Gris. In Alsace, Pinot Gris can also makes wine with some residual sugar. It's capable of creating delicious dessert wines in the region.
Summing it up Successful Sites: Alsace, Italy, Oregon, California
Common Descriptors: peach, pear, floral, citrus
Learn More About Willamette Valley, Oregon
Named for the river that runs through the valley from Portland to Eugene, Willamette Valley is home to some of the best Pinot Noir vineyards in the Northwest. While along the same north/south line as Seattle, the Willamette Valley is protected from Pacific rains by the Coast Range on the western border and the Cascade Ranges to the east. Though sunshine is typically plentiful, rainfall can occasionally be tricky, and the wines here vary vintage to vintage. Within the Willamette Valley are are number of sub-regions, including McMinnville, Dundee and Yamhill.
The valley is known for its Pinots – Pinot Noir and Pinot Gris. With a climate similar to Burgundy – in rainfall, sunlight hours and other climate factors – Pinot Noir has flourished here. Pinot Noir in Oregon produces wines that are fruit forward, yet complex, some with good agebility.
Other than Pinot Noir, many wineries grow Pinot Gris and Chardonnay. Pinot Gris from Oregon is delightful in its texture and food friendliness. Chardonnay in the valley adapts well to the cool climate and produces lean, elegant wines.