Steve Pepe on Frost, Farming and Running a Small Vineyard

Steve Pepe, owner of Clos Pepe Vineyards in the Sta. Rita Hills AVA of Santa Barbara County, talks about transitioning into life as a wine farmer.

A lesson I had to learn, because in my prior life I was an attorney for 35 years and when you’re in that business you spend most of your time defeating geography and time through emails and overnights and federal expresses and things of that nature and if you’ve got a problem, you just put more people on the problem and you take care of it.When you become a farmer you have to have patience, because you’re governed by Mother Nature and she can be very kind and also very difficult at times. You just can’t solve it by throwing more people at it or more money at it. It has a system to it, it has a sequence to it, then you have to follow it in order and sometimes you just have to wait and there’s nothing you can do.

In 2008, we lost two-thirds of our crop to frost and there was nothing we could have done about it in terms of adding machinery or anything else, because it got down to about 26 degrees and when it’s down there, it’s going to burn all the green growth, so you have to start thinking out three and five and eight years of where you’re going and what your plans are and you have to wait. You can’t speed it along, which is contrary to the way most businesses are run. There’s very little that we can do with Mother Nature in terms of speeding the process along and it is time-consuming and it is also financially expensive at times.

So in most of the these things you do in life, you diversify and if you’re a small vineyard you really can’t have a vineyard here and have one in Paso and have one up in Oregon and have some place else so that you can balance out what Mother Nature’s doing to you at various and different places. So you really do have all of your eggs in one basket and there’s not much you can do about it.

When you get hit with frost here, we get hit with frost then there’s nothing we can do to stop it.