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 is actually 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 an, 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.