A Visit with Renaissance Wine Maker Wes Hagen

As you know from my first post about my Santa Barbara County adventure we began our day at Rusack Winery in Ballard Canyon. From there we traveled to the legendary Santa Rita Hills to meet the Renaissance wine maker and vineyard manager of Clos Pepe Estate, Wes Hagen.

Clos Pepe Wes Hagen

Spending a Saturday morning with Wes Hagen is both educational and entertaining. The man is literally a walking quote because of his unique way of expressing himself. Wes is both a legendary wine maker and a great ambassador for Santa Barbara County. Clos Pepe Winery is located in the Santa Rita Hills; which Wes said produces the “Biggest Baddest Pinots on the planet.” Santa Rita Hills is such a unique growing region there is no place else like it on earth. I encourage you to spend some time with Wes on a Saturday morning to learn the history and science lesson of the unique terroir of Santa Rita Hills. According to Wes “Pinot Noir expresses terroir more than anything other than white truffles.” The Pinot Noir produced by Santa Rita Hills results in the smallest vines and berries with the thickest skin. Pinot Noir grapes are a real life manifestation of the “Princess and the Pea;” the bed could be perfect but if there is one small pea under 20 fluffy mattresses the princess will feel it – and so will Pinot Noir. If you have ever had a St Rita Hills Pinot Noir you know exactly what I am talking about; if not jump over to the Clos Pepe web site and order some now!

Clos Pepe St Rita Hills

While with Wes we walked some of the vineyard and learned a lot about beer (yes, beer which Wes will tell you saved the world in many ways, especially through Louis Pasteur’s discover of microbial fermentation; not for milk but for beer), the history of the grape vine in under 10 minutes, cloning (he told me he read and enjoyed my article “It’s All In the Clone,” but feels cloning is crap. Moreover, he feels our labeling of clones  is Americans way of justifying that we are “arrogant thieves;” and once a vine is cloned onto another vine the DNA changes from its original clone so according to Wes there is no such thing as a clone anyway – Let the Clone Wars Begin!) After our outdoor education was complete we headed inside to taste some wine.

Clos Pepe Wines

Clos Pepe Brut Rose2012 Clos Pepe Estate Brut Rose Sparkling Wine: We began our tasting with this beautiful crisp sparkling wine. It poured a soft strawberry red into the glass; flavors of cherries, strawberries and crisp apples danced across the spin of this very dry sparkler that was round on the palate with crisp acidity and a touch of minerality on the finish. Refreshing and delicious. SRP $65

Clos Pepe Axis Mundi rose2013 Axis Mundi Rose of Mouvedre, Santa Ynez Valley: The Axis Mundi line represents the second line of wines from Clos Pepe; grown from non-estate grapes yet crafted with the same excellence by the Clos Pepe team; this wine was a delicate salmon color with floral notes and strawberries; fresh and crisp with ripe acidity and a clean finish; perfect for spring and summer sipping! $20

Clos Pepe Chablis Chardonnay2012 Clos Pepe Estate Chardonnay ‘Homage to Chablis’: Wes Hagen called this the “Geekiest wine I make;” soft yellow with green highlights in color; with a great minerality backbone under flavors of fresh cut grass, soft orchard fruit, and a touch of citrus; 100% stainless steel and crafted with a Chablis style; absolutely lovely. SRP $45


Clos Pepe 2012 Chardonnay2012 Chardonnay ‘Barrel Fermented’: Same grapes as previous Chard but with 11 months of oak aging; golden yellow in color; clean flavors of orchard fruit with citrus zest and a touch of crème brulee because it was slightly creamier in texture than its stainless steel counterpart; clean and bright in structure; an excellent Chardonnay. SRP $34


Clos Pepe 2000 Chardonnay2000 Chardonnay Santa Rita Hills: This was a very special treat; this wine represents Wes Hagen’s first ever vintage of wine AND it was in a half bottle so it was as if it was twice its age; it had aged beautifully; had great structure, this no oak Chard offered flavors of apples and pears with hazelnuts, honey and lemon curd; it was a treat to taste it and it was outstanding


Clos Pepe32011 Axis Mundi Grenache Syrah: This wine was crafted from 67% Grenache and 33% Syrah from Ballard Canyon in the Santa Ynez Valley; it was a crisp red wine that really split the difference between a red and rose; perfect chilled in the spring and summer with flavors of ripe red fruit, pepper and a touch of Asian spice; well-structured with round acidity and a clean finish. SRP $25

Clos Pepe 2012 Pinot Noir2012 Clos Pepe Estate Pinot Noir: This is what a well-crafted Pinot Noir should taste like; dazzling ruby in color; with soft flavors of red berries, rose petals and a touch of pepper and spice; round concentrated fruit with a earthiness foundation; this wine was soft, elegant and clean. Though it was delicious at the tasting this wine will only get better with time; age 3-5 years. $59

Clos Pepe 2013 Pinot Noir2013 Clos Pepe Estate Pinot Noir: This wine is not yet available on the Clos Pepe web site but keep your eyes open because you are going to want some; deep ruby in color with rich ripe fruit, violets and a touch of spice; layered and complex flavors continued to develop over time; complex yet elegant with a well-balance structure and delicate full mouth feel. YUM!

Clos Pepe Olin Cab2007 Olin Cabernet Sauvignon Alexander Valley: This wine was crafted by Wes Hagen’s friend Olin Schultz from Alexander Valley; though it was lighter than a Napa Cab it was inviting and round on the palate with concentrated fruit, spice and black pepper; it was well-balanced, even jazzy on the palate with a lingering finish. It was aged for 3 years in 100% new French oak but was not over powering; rather, it partnered beautifully with the palate and would pair well with food. SRP $35/ a great value for the California Cab!

From the Clos Pepe web site:

clos pepe logo

Wes Hagan, I “believ[e] the greatest wines show the work and craft of the grower, and that winemaking is a simple, organic culmination of the grower’s craft.”

Clos Pepe Pinot vines

The Italians say, ‘Il vino e’ la Poesia della Terra.’  Wine is the poetry of the earth.  There is nothing that can obfuscate Pinot Noir’s ability to speak of a time and place.  Of every plant on earth, Pinot Noir is unique in its ability to show every angle of a vintage, every silt particle in the soil, and every drop of morning dew that wet its leaves. Tea, coffee, white truffles—these can tell a story and confound us with their deliciousness, but the uncontested Queen of Natural Complexity must be Pinot Noir. We anticipate each vintage with a proper mix of anxiety and hope, knowing Mother Nature and the Sta. Rita Hills have a plan that will allow time and effort to fill a glass.

Clos Pepe Sheep2








‘Every wine deserves an hour, a table with delicious things, and two people in love.’ — Wes Hagen

I strongly encourage you to visit the Clos Pepe web site to learn more about the winery, view their entire portfolio of wines and order some for yourself. You can thank me later!

My Song Selection: The song I have chosen to pair with the wonderful tasting at Clos Pepe and our educational and entertaining time with Wes Hagen is in honor of his understanding that Pinot Noir is not noisy like rock n’roll; rather Pinot Noir is like a cool jazz song. Therefore, to honor Clos Pepe Pinot Noir my song selection is Alleria by Rocco Ventrella. This song blends Rocco’s signature style of jazz saxophone with a touch of smooth funk. Similarly, this blend crafts a beautiful glass of wine; particularly Pinot Noir. Don’t be afraid to add a touch of funk to your smooth style and be sure to order your own Clos Pepe wines.

Get your own bottles of Clos Pepe wines and let me know what song you would pair with them. Cheers!

15 responses to “A Visit with Renaissance Wine Maker Wes Hagen”

  1. Great article. Wes is one of our favorite winemakers. A couple months ago we did a Clos Pepe vineyard wine tasting with several friends in Texas. We had Wes’s chardonnay and pinot plus a Liquid Farm “Four” (mostly from Clos Pepe) and Clos Pepe pinots from Loring, Siduri, Ken Brown, and Walt. Wonderful vineyard, amazing wines. Mike

    • Thank you. I love SBC wines; esp SRH and all from Clos Pepe vineyard. Wes is awesome! Your tasting sounds awesome too. I would have loved that! I live in TX too; Dallas. Thank you for stopping by. Cheers!

  2. I really enjoyed reading this review. I am “so on the edge” of getting my husband to start visiting some Oregon vineyards and actually “tasting” wine as opposed to drinking “whatever is at the party” we go to. Between you and your cohort Drunken Cyclist, y’all will make me a wine convert soon!

    • Thank you. Don’t mean to peer pressure you but if you live near the wonderful Oregon vineyards then you should get tasting. Plus, with your headache issue you are in premier Chardonnay country! We are pulling you into the dark side! 😉

  3. A wonderful post, Michelle, a great visit and an interesting account of Wes’s philosophy, beside a nice review of his lineup. I enjoyed the read immensely! 🙂

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