A winding path through the world of wine brought Johnson in January 2001 to Pepi (owned by Kendall-Jackson Wine Estates in Napa Valley). Chris went to work in 1996 for Kendall-Jackson Wine Estates. Less than two years later he took on the job of winemaker at the original Kendall-Jackson winery in Lake County.
Pepi is something different, however, Chris said he loves its spontaneous, risk-taking approach to wine. He favors the crisp, unfettered and natural character of those varietals in his Pepi bottlings. And his experience with Pinot Grigio in New York and Sauvignon Blanc in Lake County prepared him to master two of Pepi's leading wines. It's all part of forming a closer kinship with the creative magic/science of winemaking. "The natural cycles, the creatively, skill, great people, beautiful land - all the connections come together in wine," Chris said. "Just punching down, you see the skins, the red juice bubbling away. There's something about that whole transformation. It's cool." View all Pepi Wines
About Napa ValleyView a map of Napa Valley wineries
It's hard not to think of Napa Valley when thinking of California wines. The region is, after all, the one that brought world recognition to California wine making. The area was settled by a few choice wine families in the 1960's who bet that the wines of the area would grow and flourish. They were right. The Napa wine industry really took off in the 1980's, when vineyard lands were scooped up and vines were planted throughout the county. A number of wineries emerged, from large conglomerates to small boutiques to cult classics. Cabernet Sauvignon is definitely the grape of choice here, with many winemakers also focusing on Bordeaux Blends. Whites are usually Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc.
Notable FactsWithin the Napa Valley lie smaller sub-AVAs that lend even more character specifics to the wines. Furthest south is Carneros, followed by Yountville, Oakville & Rutherford. Above those two is St.-Helena and finally, just grated an AVA, Calistoga. These areas are situated on the valley floor and are known for creating rich, smooth Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Chardonnay. There are a few mountain regions as well, nestled on the slopes overlooking the valley AVAs. Those include Howell Mountain, Stags Leap and Mount Veeder. Wines from the mountain regions are often more structured and firm, benefiting from more time in the bottle to evolve and soften.
The most famous of the California wine regions is Napa Valley, and these wines are certainly outstanding – but it's not as broad and diverse as its larger neighbor, Sonoma County. Down south, Santa Barbara's Santa Maria Valley is well-known for its Rhône blends, as well as cool-climate varieties like Pinot and Chardonnay. The Central Coast, the largest California AVA, has many different microclimates that lead to a wide range of wines with many sub-AVAs.