There are Italian winemakers, and then there’s Emidio Pepe. Since 1964, in the hands of the legendary 85-year-old winemaker and resident genius of the Abruzzo region, wines made from montepulciano and trebbiano grapes reached stunning, compelling, energetic and unprecedented glory.
With balanced values and calculated ideas, Pepe is a pioneer who always has made his wines based on traditional and ancient gestures, resisting the seduction of modern techniques. By carefully observing and interpreting the signs that nature gives, he has developed a sensitivity to assist,without ever interfering. Defending his vines and wines from chemistry, all his empirical work is based on respecting the genuine expression of the terroir.
“The beauty of these wines is that they themselves are allowed to become what they decide to be,” said Kirk Peterson, beverage director of Batali & Bastianich Hospitality Group in Las Vegas, and an Italian Wine Ambassador (Vinitaly International Academy).
“Emidio’s style is very elemental at its core. He is more of a wine enabler than winemaker. The wine is more fostered than manufactured. And most of all, they offer the true wine lover one of the most fascinating, beguiling and hauntingly beautiful experiences possible.”
Pepe’s wines evoke intimacy, emotion and a connection to a place. And like all wines, they are best celebrated around a table. But, these wines can live for decades in a cellar and develop tremendous complexity.
On an early November evening inside Carbone’s private dining room at Aria Las Vegas, vintages from Pepe’s cellar were shared among some of the city’s most powerful wine influencers. His granddaughter and fifth-generation brand ambassador, Chiara Pepe, revealed the most current development with which her family was about to embark.
For the very first time, Emidio Pepe will partake in Zachys’ Holiday Fine & Rare Wine Auction, Dec. 1-2, live from Smith & Wollensky in New York City. The domaine-direct offering from the private cellars of the Pepe family (Lots 2066-2130) will showcase iconic and rare limited-distribution bottles from as far back as 1967. Bidders can join in the auction room at Smith & Wollensky, or watch live and bid in in real-time at auction.zachys.com.
“It’s an important event, as it states the foresight of grandfather in aging them and strongly believing in their capacities,” said Chiara Pepe. “It is the ultimate recognition for our wines to be the dream for collectors, and it proves their notable aging potential.”
By their own admission, this auction is a once-in-a-lifetime occasion. For any true wine enthusiast, however, their wines are a critical addition to the cellar, as they represent some of the most passion-driven and detail-focused wines, which are not available in the retail market, being made in the world today.
Included in the release are distinctive bottlings of montepulciano that the family has not released for a long time due to the minuscule quantities that remain. Such is the 1967 bottle, which originally was labeled under the name “Aurora.”
According to Emidio Pepe, “Aurora” means the moment right before the sun rises. If you wake up early enough to see it, it means you are early and ready to work for something you love.”
This passion for winemaking takes place just 10 kilometers from the Adriatic Sea, in a perfectly situated spot that harnesses the beauty of nature’s gifts. These have resulted in the most organic, unforced, artisanal wines that celebrate the purest expression of Abruzzese terroir.
“In the age of ‘craft’ everything, I think we sometimes forget what this connotes,” said Henry Davar, a V.I.A. Certified Italian Wine Expert and the business development manager at Breakthru Beverage Nevada.
Davar explained how Pepe’s grapes are grown without pesticides, and they are harvested by hand. Fermentation begins spontaneously through the action of native yeasts, and bottle aging develops complexity. Prior to release — and sometimes this may be 20-plus years when the winemaker decides it’s ready — the individual bottles are hand-decanted, then closed with corks that are marked with the year it was released. Hand-labeling is part of the authenticity, craftsmanship and eccentric brilliance of Pepe’s wines.
“We honor this artisanship with rituals of our own when enjoying the wines,” said Davar. “Moreover, drinking an Emidio Pepe wine is always a memorable experience that connects you to the soul of the visionary winemaker and to a family that takes care to make the wines naturally, in an artisanal manner, expressive of their particular place and time in the world.”
Take for example, Pepe’s 1983 vintage, which the winemaker described as “an incredibly warm and torrid” year. He recalled when it was first bottled, it was concentrated, tight and difficult to understand. Knowing that this represented the true personality of how a young Montepulciano can often be, he decided not to sell it; he chose to wait for the balance and delicacy to develop.
“It took 15 years to reach that stage,” said Pepe. “I always knew that the horse that is the most difficult to domesticate is the one who wins the race.”
“The wines of Emidio Pepe are like drinking pure emotion,” said Peterson. “They belong in any serious wine collector’s cellar because his wines rank amongst some of the greatest wines in the world … and, clearly, because of their artisanal craftsmanship, absolute devotion to quality and precious scarcity.”
Finally, once inside a private cellar, they will remain highly coveted gems that continue to pursue unimaginable glory. That is, until the right table of friends and family gather to celebrate the emotion-provoking liquid art form from Abruzzo called Emidio Pepe.