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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."
Responsible for the vast majority of American wine production, if California were a country, it would be the world’s fourth largest wine-producing nation. The state’s diverse terrain and microclimates allow for an incredibly wide-ranging selection of wine styles, and unlike tradition-bound Europe, experimentation is more than welcome here. Wineries range from boutique to massive corporations, and price and quality are equally varied—plenty of inexpensive bulk wine is made in the Central Coast area, while Napa is responsible for some of the world’s most prestigious and expensive “cult” wines.
Just about every style of wine you can imagine is made in California, from bone dry to unctuously sweet, still to sparkling, light and fresh to rich and full-bodied. Each AVA and sub-AVA has its own distinct personality. In the Napa Valley, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and other Bordeaux varieties dominate, as well as Sauvignon Blanc. Sonoma County is best known for Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, and Zinfandel. The Central Coast has carved out a niche with Rhône blends based on Grenache and Syrah, while Mendocino has found success with Alsatian varieties such as Riesling and Gewürztraminer. With all the diversity that California has to offer, it is certain that any wine lover will find something to get excited about.
Friendly, approachable, and full of juicy fruit flavor, Barbera produces wines in a wide range of styles, from young and fruity to serious, spicy, and age-worthy. Piedmont is the most famous source of Barbera, but is also planted in the Italian provinces of Lombardy and Emilia-Romagna. It is one of the most successful and lasting remnants of the Cal-Italian movement, grown throughout the state of California—particularly in the Sierra Foothills—and has also found a foothold in parts of Australia.
In the Glass
Barbera is typically marked by red cherry, raspberry, and blackberry flavors backed by a signature zingy acidity and smooth tannins. More complex examples can include notes of cocoa, savory spice, anise, and nutmeg. In warmer New World climates, Barbera is all about the fruit, sometimes leaning towards over-ripe or dried fruit flavors that can give an impression of sweetness to the wine. Old World Barbera can develop intriguing notes of graphite, smoke, lavender, and violet.
Barbera’s prominent acidity makes it a natural match with tomato-based dishes, therefore making it an easy pairing with a wide array of Italian cuisine. It works just as well with lighter red meat dishes, hamburgers, or barbecue.
Most Barbera wines come from one of two villages in Piemonte—Alba and Asti. Though it is difficult to generalize, typically Barbera d’Asti is softer and more elegant with bright, tangy acidity, while Barbera d’Alba tends to be fuller, rounder, and fleshier.