Five generations of hands have harvested the 15 hectares of Emidio Pepe vines, along with a sprinkling of hectares of olive trees, in Torano Nuovo, the northernmost part of Abruzzo’s northern province of Teramo. Chiara De Iulis Pepe, Emidio’s granddaughter and the family’s bright young star, recently joined the female forward crew alongside her sister, mother Daniela, and Aunt Sofia in guiding the ancestral estate’s cult like status to new heights. The vineyards and, more importantly, the wines have carved out a distinct niche amongst winemakers and vino aficionados, especially over the last three decades. In 2017, Eric Asimov wrote in the New York Times that Emidio Pepe “was beloved more for their rare and gloriously idiosyncratic wines,” an attribute which Chiara and her family are proud to uphold. Poised and alla mano (down to earth), Chiara is one to watch and primed to be the wine industry’s next trailblazer.
Unconventional techniques, artisanal methods and uber-natural processes are a mainstay of Emidio Pepe’s namesake wine. The master winemaker celebrated 50 years of fermentation in 2013, overseeing Montepulciano d’Abruzzo vintages since 1964 when he took over the estate. The vineyards have been producing vino since the late 19th century when Emidio learned winemaking from his grandfather. Since then, little has changed in the family’s wine-making process. In the mid-70’s, Chiara’s nonno (grandfather) was incredibly progressive in his style of vine cultivation, wine production and marketing.
“The oenological world saw a huge stream of modernization, together with a big injection of chemical products that, back then, had glorious promises which never got accomplished if not starting the decadence of biodiversity and the reduction of generation of microbiological population of our soils,” explains Chiara.
Pepe was steadfast in his desire to create an artisanal and natural vino, honouring a grape’s history and a vine’s sense of place. He thoughtfully tended to his vineyards just as one would take care of plants and flowers in a blooming, bountiful garden. His rejection of modern techniques and a less-is-more approach not only honed his deep understanding of how to optimize a soil’s vitality but ensured the vineyard’s long term health and flourishment.
“It is fascinating today to taste his wine testament, to be able to taste history of seasons immortalised in bottle, as every vintage carries the personality and unique characteristics of the season (and God, he never tried to adjust, or change, leaving the wine carry the quirks of certain vintages) so tasting each bottle is like reading pages of climate history and family history at Casa Pepe”, Chiara tells us. Today, the family estate produces roughly 70,000 bottles annually, of which 30% is Trebbiano and 70% Montepulciano d’Abruzzo.
The strength and grace of the legendary winery currently lies in the Pepe ladies’ love of their land, five women – including Chiara’s nonna– now work to continue Emidio’s legacy. Each one takes it in stride, whether tending to the vines, driving the tractors, or overseeing the creation of the wine. “I grew up not being afraid of getting dirty, I grew up with the idea that wine was a women’s affair, it all looked so normal. Only then I discovered how long it took to get there, to make it normal,” Chiara shares. “I understood that it would take longer to prove yourself as a woman in the agricultural world, everyone constantly making you prove your ‘farming knowledge.’ Hard work and high competence solve this naturally. As women, as human beings.”
Italy is becoming more and more open to the female persuasion when it comes to vino. And Chiara’s Nonno is used to being surrounded by energia femminile (female energy), having grown up with 4 sisters, then his wife, 3 daughters and now, 5 granddaughters out of 7 grandchildren. A matriarchy in process one might say.
The family’s in vino vitae (in wine is truth) ethos continues with their countryside agriturismo (bed & breakfast), once the birthplace of Emidio Pepe and his childhood home. Following the farming traditions instilled by Emidio himself from the very beginning, the vineyard and farm have been fully committed to biodynamic farming and agriculture since 2005 with the singular philosophy of absolutely no chemicals as “an alive and structured soil is the only way to guarantee alive wines” and subsequently all products.
“”Nonno always said that making wine in rhythm with Nature and accordingly to biodynamic principles was the best way to meet Nature’s perfection and precision, so the wines could reflect its harmony. We kept following his lead without considering the trend that he was anticipating. Today more then ever, as agriculturist and guardians of a place, we feel the responsibility of going further in this project with Nature, using biodiversity to give back to Mother Earth,” shares Chiara. In fact, the family acquired property surrounding the vineyards to protect their plots and implemented a 5 years rotation plan ensure biodynamic farming and also “to reinvigorate biodiversity and to increase yeasts population around our vines.”
Plantings include varietals that are nitrogen fixers like lava beans and peas to nourish the soil, as well spelt, wheat and alfalfa to improve structure and oxygenation. “This is clearly also to feed our family and our friends with nutritious food, a food that feeds and regenerates, food that has higher level of vitamins – it’s an energy giver, not just a filler. We saw day by day an improvement in terms of more bees flying around, more animals walking our lands, more spontaneous flowers. More happy people eating better food.”
A few years ago, the Pepe family renovated the family farmhouse and invite guests to revel in the Abruzzo countryside as well as take in the gorgeous surrounding landscape and scrumptious farm-to-table food. The “bio-resort”, as Chiara and her family like to call it, thoughtfully weaves eco-sustainable touches throughout a guest’s stay, whether it’s the property’s solar panelling system, seasonal dining with vegetables and fruits from the biodynamic garden, or a chance to relax and indulge in the bio-pool. A stay allows one to soak in the gracefulness of the Gran Sasso Apennini (Apennines) mountain range and sip on Trebbiano.
ISSIMO is proud to support donne (women) andchuffed to partner with Chiara and the Pepe family in the exclusive ISSIMO/Pepe Pasta e Ceci and Olive Oil box, a beautiful and delicious gastronomic gift, highlighting the abundant beauty of the Emidio Pepe estate and gardens and the incredibly rich culinary traditions of Abruzzo.