"What any winemaker wants most is to be set free doing what they love most – making great wine from their favorite grape varieties unfettered by owners egos and the paparazzi. Ah, wouldn’t it be nice to live in such a perfect world. And the cherry on top of that delicious wine-hot-fudge-Sunday would be to work with people who actually let you, no, want you to do such a thing. Go figure!?"
John Pepe is the principal of John Pepe Winery Consultant, a firm offering Winery and Winemaking expertise as well as management, training and development services to wineries throughout Sonoma, Napa, and Mendocino counties.
As a professional with over twenty years experience, John has held winemaking and management positions in some of California’s largest and most successful wineries including Kendall-Jackson and Beringer Vineyards, as well as small ultra-premium boutique wine producers Stonestreet, Pat Paulson Vineyards and The Lyeth Estate.
"It has been a long road working as a winemaking consultant, waiting to meet just such people, just the right people. Ten years working with winery folk, old and new, the elusive match-made-in-heaven had not materialized at my doorstep. Then one day while I was having lunch with my old friend and beer buddy (yes, it takes a lot of beer to make great wine) architect Dick Osborn the universe began to shift. Dick was being considered for a new winery project in Dry Creek Valley that was destined to be innovative in design and establish a reputation for superior Zinfandel and Cabernet Sauvignon, two of my favorite varietals. As Dick continued to talk in his excited and animated manner, I start getting distracted by the possibility that there could be an opportunity for me in this story. Hooray! Dick finally said the magic words to me – “they are looking for a winemaker”.
“John is probably not aware that we spent a significant effort to find the best of the best for our project," Bruce chimes in. "It wasn't our dream to make good wine, it was to make delicious wine. Great wine is made in great vineyards. John has the ability to pick the best vineyards and strictly uses the best viticulture practices- this was our number one priority. John knows the land, the growers and the fruit. Number two of importance to us, is the winemaking style. Every one of John’s wines shows elegance and a true expression of the fruit; never any heavy handed over extracted wines. The third on our list was personality. John is passionate and knows what he wants but he is always asking questions and learning. This openness only comes from a personality that puts results first, never ego. Finding these three main attributes was our goal, how lucky we are to have found them all in such a good guy. Every one of John’s clients has positive remarks and most call him a friend. We now do too, and in today’s world…what more could you ask for.”
Little did he know, he was about to meet a couple who would perfectly fit the description of all that great stuff up in paragraph one above. "Bruce and Cheryl Lawton are these people. Serious business people, entrepreneurs, fun, energetic wine lovers, and boomer-peers to boot; we hit it off right from the start. Our chemistry was so good; it became immediately obvious to me, that my background in winemaking, winery management and winery design was a perfect match for the needs of their project. Then I got the good news – I am the man for the job. I will be the winemaker for Pech Merle Winery. Say hallelujah brother!
That was over two years ago, and things have only gotten better since. The winery project is on track, we are making wines that all of us can be proud of, and we have strong goals for success that can only be described as motivational. As the winemaker for Pech Merle, I am now in the position I had once only fantasized about – I have been set free!"
John’s winemaking and production experience has focused on the intricate details and finer points of producing exceptional luxury class wines. Specific points of interest are vineyard and clonal selection, viticultural practices, fermentation techniques, barrel selection and oak flavor profiles, and blending strategies.
As part of his business practice John maintains a network of winemakers, vineyard managers, industry suppliers, bottling services, architects, engineers, and industry groups. The goal is to stay abreast of current issues and trends in winemaking, viticulture and other areas of the wine industry that may affect the industry by changing practices, products or laws.
Some of John’s current and former clients include Pech Merle Winery, Shandel’s Oppenlander Vineyard, Phillips Hill Estates, Deer Ridge Vineyards, Ketelsen Vineyard and Winery, Manzanita Creek Winery, Chiarito Vineyard and Winery, Jacona Valley Vineyard, Jacaman Estate Wines, D’Argenzio Winery, and Voigt Family Vineyards.
John received his viticultural training and management and supervision training at Santa Rosa Junior College and Sonoma State University. He has attended leadership development workshops at the Center for Creative Leadership. He is an active member of the Vintage Hills Tasting Group, a dedicated group of 40 winemaking professionals who critically taste and assess commercially produced wines of current interest twice monthly.