Finding the American Dream through Wine
The American dream lives strong in the hearts of Mexican-American winemakers in California. Meet the industrious vintners pioneering a better tomorrow.
BY MATT KETTMANN
November 1, 2017
Miguel Lepe was one class shy of a degree in business administration from Hartnell College in his hometown of Salinas when he was pondering which elective he should take to finish. He liked gardening, and the vineyard/wine production class seemed interesting.
“I had never even tasted wine before,” says Lepe. His mom and dad, who entered the U.S. legally from Mexicali and Jalisco, respectively, in 1972, didn’t really drink alcohol. “But I just really loved that I could smell the wine fermenting.”
While his siblings pursued white-collar jobs, Lepe began to study wine at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo in 2009, and he served internships at Claiborne & Churchill, La Vigne and Justin.
After college, he worked at a winery north of Temecula for a year, then made his way back to Monterey County. He interviewed with vintner Peter Figge, who toured vineyards with Lepe and even took him out to lunch.
“I’d never had anyone do that for me during an interview,” says Lepe of Figge, who died suddenly in June at age 47. “By the end of it, he offered me a full-time position, even though I was just applying for the intern job. I don’t know if I would have found that anywhere else, and I wouldn’t have started my brand if it weren’t for him.”
With a focus on Monterey County, Lepe Cellars produces about 250 cases a year of Riesling, Chardonnay, Syrah rosé, Zinfandel and Petit Verdot, the latter of which will go into a new brand.
While his parents weren’t so sure about his career choice, they seem satisfied now. “They like that I started a brand and am working toward something that I can call my own,” he says. “They love that the family name is on the label. They’re very proud of that.”
June 24, 2017
July 02, 2016
April 8, 2016
There is hope for the future
By Aaron Hoops
Here’s the thing. No one wants to hear another article about ‘Millennials are doing this’ or ‘Millennials are changing the way we blah blah blah.’ And if I can slander my own generation for a moment, being born in 1985 myself, we are mostly the worst generation of people ever. As Louis CK said, “Everything is amazing and no one is happy.” He’s right. Life is incredible. I have a device in my pocket that weighs just a few ounces and can access the entirety of human knowledge. And what did my generation do with this great resource? We sent pictures of our junk to people. Well done, comrades.
But despite our shortcomings, us youngin’s do have tremendous influence on the world around us. Especially when it comes to wine. Like it or not, Millennials are changing the way wine is marketed, made, and consumed. The reason for this is largely that we are the largest generation yet. 75 million strong. Basically impossible to ignore, the wine industry has had to, at the very least, acknowledge our tastes and desires.
People can argue however they want about whether or not this generation is having a positive impact on the wine world, but the fact remains that there are lots of young people interested in wine and more and more of them are becoming of legal drinking age every day. I started to wonder if, by extension, there are a lot of young winemakers entering the field as well. Turns out there are. So then I started looking around here in Monterey County. And there was Miguel Lepe of Lepe Cellars, winning awards for his Chardonnay at the ripe old age of 28.
I caught up with Miguel and asked him a couple questions about wine and life and what he thought about being a young winemaker and how that influenced his wine making. He said he thought it mainly had advantages.
“I’ve completed 7 harvests and worked for 6 wineries and experienced various winemaking techniques, reflecting New and Old World style wines. With those techniques being fresh in my mind, it gives me the excitement and eagerness to implement both towards my own wines. Being new to the game benefits me in a way that eliminates the ‘been there, done that’ mentality and I’m still at an age where I haven’t been sucked into the routine of life.”
And it’s true. Globe-hopping can pack a ton of experience into a short time. If you really hustle, you can hit 3 harvests a year by bouncing between northern and southern hemispheres. I assumed that in his travels, Lepe had been a big wine taster as well. He admitted that he had drank some really fantastic wines but, “With the incredible number of countries producing wines, I would say I’ve tasted very little in comparison” he said. I don’t think this is a bad thing. We talked about how this can be an advantage, not being locked into a taste profile that you are a fan of. Lepe Cellars will be releasing his 2015 Riesling from the Arroyo Seco AVA soon and while this varietal comes with a lot of ideas from people about what it should taste like, it’s important for him not to get locked into any one profile.
“I seek to make wines that are approachable but still carry a complex character; that’s my way of utilizing the New and Old World techniques to try to bring the best of both worlds into your glass. Also, it’s in my nature to experiment and try something new with each vintage. So I’m not necessarily creating the same wines year after year, but as long as my wines are consistently well made, then I will feel a sense of accomplishment.”
That’s exactly my point. Millennials have an attitude that most 5 year olds have that we just forgot to grow out of. “Who says?!? You’re not the boss of me!!” But when it comes to wine, ‘Who says?’ is proving to be a nice attitude. Who says you can’t make wine that mixes Old World and New World? Who says you can’t use malolactic fermentation on your stainless steel aged Chardonnay? The SF Chronicle certainly didn’t seem to mind it when they awarded Lepe Cellars a Gold Medal for his unoaked 2014 Chardonnay.
Monterey County has great opportunity to change California wine more than it already has. It’s a huge county with all kinds of different microclimates and it produces very high quality fruit. Combine that with the fact that it is still a, for lack of a better term, ‘up-and-coming’ wine region, the rules governing what you have to do with our local fruit and local wine market are almost non-existent. The door is wide open for someone to bring a new brush to this canvas and Lepe Cellars is making itself a part of that conversation.
Look for Lepe Cellars on all the social media and order some wine on the website and if you are in Monterey County, you can find their wine in Star Market in Salinas and The Wharf Marketplace in Monterey.
To follow Aaron's blog, go to www.sybariteblog.com
March 29, 2016
February 25, 2016
Monterey County Weekly
a young star launches lepe cellars out of marina
By Mark Anderson
To read the article, click HERE
January 19, 2016
Edible Monterey Bay
A BIG LEAP FOR LEPE CELLARS
By Laura Ness
Click HERE to view Edible Monterey Bay's Newsletter about Lepe Cellars
November 24, 2015
Lepe Cellars - California Commercial
Here's a fun commercial created by the very talented Prema DiGrazia! And thanks Danes Drones for the drone footage. Cheers everyone!
My Kickstarter Campaign
Many of you have been following Lepe Cellars recently through Facebook and Instagram and have been witnessing the progress of my Kickstarter campaign. These past 30 days have been the most exciting period for my company so far! Just when I thought receiving my winery license from my lawyer was a thrill; my supporters blew everything else out of the water! So many people contributed in many ways to help me achieve my goal. I will forever be thankful to those who donated and everyone else who has been helping me build my brand. The innovative minds behind the scenes include my friend Prema DiGrazia who created my Kickstarter video. Her devotion and love for the film industry truly shows in her work. I'm excited to see what else she has planned for Lepe Cellars in the near future!
July 6, 2015
Most of you have been aware that I am starting up my wine brand or have recently been seeing my posts through social media. I can honestly say that my days are full to the max trying to obtain my licenses, focusing on marketing, and getting ready for the coming harvest and bottling the previous vintage. All this has been going on while still maintaining my day job as the assistant winemaker for Figge Cellars. I'm sure many of you can relate to having full schedules 24/7. It's not easy for anyone! I feel like I need to find a way to clone myself just to finish every task at hand. If only that were feasible. Someone once said, "where there's a will, there's a way". And being the business owner, someone is always asking you for something, whether it be the supplier of your packaging materials, your bank, or even worse...the feds. And yes, I try to juggle all this with my life outside of work. I run and hike on a regular basis. I love going for walks, going out for a good beer or coffee, and spending time with my family, friends and girlfriend. And despite all the work load associated with the startup, and knowing it doesn't get easier as I go, I've realized that I will only get better at what I do. I'm not just a winemaker anymore. Now I must improve my skills in website development, accounting, sales and marketing...oh and the scariest of all - public speaking! I am the face of Lepe Cellars and I not only represent my brand, but my family as well. I hope during the process and lifetime of my brand I will make all of my supporters proud and I encourage all of you to always follow your dreams. Remember, no matter how hard you fall, always get up and try again.