' Pech Merle - Winemaker


"What winemakers want most is to be set free, doing what they love most: making great wine from their favorite grape varieties unfettered by owner’s 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!"

As a professional with over 33 vintages, John Pepe has held winemaking and management positions in a collection of California’s largest and most successful wineries including Kendall-Jackson and Beringer Vineyards, as well as small ultra-premium boutique 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 old friend and beer buddy (Yes! It takes a lot of beer to make great wine) architect Dick Osborn, my 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”.

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, “You’re the man for the job!”  I will be the winemaker for Pech Merle Winery.  Say Hallelujah brother!

That was over five years ago, and things have only gotten better since.  The winery building 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 Pech Merle winemaker, I am now in the position I had once only fantasized about – I have been set free!"

John received his viticultural, 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.  It’s no surprise John is a stalwart member of the Vintage Hills Tasting Group, a dedicated band of 40 winemaking professionals who critically taste and assess commercially produced wines of current interest twice monthly. Go figure!