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Robert Pepi Makes New Waves Under the Eponymous Label

by Mort Hochstein
January 22, 2006

What’s in a name? For winemakers, getting it right can be a headache, and for lawyers, naming issues can be a bonanza. Winemakers who sell their businesses usually agree to a non-competitive clause that bars them from using their own name for several years, often for life.

Lawyers feasted on a name dispute in the late seventies after Coca-Cola bought Taylor Wine Company in Hammondsport, New York, and slapped an injunction on Walter Stephen Taylor, forbidding him to use the family name on wine from his Bully Hill Vineyards. However, in the end, it was as if Coke had fallen into a trap set by the canny winemaker. A savvy, flamboyant promoter, Walter Taylor milked the David and Goliath angle — giant Coke persecuting little Walter Taylor — for millions of dollars in free publicity, meanwhile putting “Walter S.” on labels.

The Bob Pepi story has been a lot more peaceful. When in the early nineties, Kendall-Jackson acquired the Pepi family vineyards, winery and name, Napa Valley winemaker and consultant Robert L. Pepi transitioned to making wine for others, including Bodega Valentin Bianchi in Argentina. While working at Stimson Lane Vineyards & Estates, he and his winemaking partner Jeff Booth created the ’91 Conn Creek Anthology, a legendary, highly honored bottling.

Pepi and Booth may have done it again with their ’03 Eponymous Red Wine, MacAllister Vineyard ($45). It is the first Bordeaux blend by the partners since the ’91 Conn Creek and unlike their previous three Napa vintages, this blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc and Merlot, comes from Sonoma. These three varietals are from a vineyard just the other side of Napa, a sloped, hilltop site on the Sonoma side of the Mayacamas Mountains that separates the two regions.

The first Eponymous vintages — 2000 ($50), 2001 ($50) and 2002 ($58) — are forward and highly concentrated, each displaying deep, dark color and promising aromas and delivering lush, black cherry, plum and chocolate flavors on the palate. The Pepi-Booth style is bold yet elegant and consistent over their first three bottlings. All are keepers yet satisfying even in their precocious youth.

Unlike the three dark, brooding previous Eponymous vintages, the ’03 MacAllister is a bright scarlet wine with a nose offering cassis, spicy oak and dark berry aromas. Elegant and well structured, these flavors repeat on the palate along with hints of rhubarb and chocolate. It’s a lush but refined sip, with a memorable finish, and even at this young stage, the wine is remarkable.

And about that title Eponymous. Stuck for a name, Pepi seized on the word when he overheard his then college-age daughter using the term. Coincidentally, there seems to be a slight touch of Walter Taylor on the label in the diminutive shadowy figure walking toward the edge of the label. It’s Pepi’s reference to leaving his family name behind and, just possibly, creating a few more legends.

Mort Hochstein, a former writer and producer with NBC News, writes frequently for major wine and food publications. His articles have appeared in Saveur, Wine Spectator, Wine Enthusiast, Wine Business Monthly and other leading trade journals.

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