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Emidio Pepe in Paris

Updated: Apr 22

Serendipity colludes with great good fortune

Just minutes after making reservations to dine with my daughter (back in Paris briefly between travels in the US, Canada, and Mexico) on Saturday evening, I received a call from a very generous friend asking if I would be able to take the two seats he had reserved for a fully paid pop-up dinner featuring wines from Emidio Pepe, with dishes prepared by their own chef, Pietro La Rosa. I accepted immediately, without actually having put two and two together to realise how entirely extraordinary the invitation was. Once I had come to my senses, I realised this was going to be an exceptional evening.

The pop-up was organised to celebrate the 60th anniversary of the domain; sixty years of great wines and a philosophy that, at its core, has not changed since Emidio Pepe planted his vineyard in 1964. He was an original thinker who “strongly believed in the great ageing potential of Trebbiano and Montepulciano d’Abruzzo and he dedicated all his energies to those two indigenous grape varietals, proving their incredible potential and showing it to the entire world”.

The natural wine world, which in my determination includes those truly working organically and biodynamically, with or without sulphur, is a broad and multi-faceted community. But what binds everyone is an appreciation for authenticity, a profound respect for the earth and the forces in nature. It is a world of eco-conscious beings who are also respectful of the health of the earth as the main support for their own health. Ultimately, this can all be summed up by taste because the living is full of energy and a reflection of terroir. That energy and terroir are what produce taste and what excites us so when tasting living wines from living vines.

I met Chiara de Iulis Pepe, a philosopher and wine-maker practitioner of incomparable insight, at the Renaissance des Appellations (biodynamic) tasting at the Grenier Saint-Jean in Angers two years ago, and was thrilled by their wines then. But it’s hard to really focus in tastings where you’re surrounded by hundreds of wine enthusiasts swirling, spitting and speaking all at once. The intimacy of a pop-up dinner, that was limited to about 20 people, offered the perfect balance of conviviality and calm for really ‘being’ with the wines.

And what wines!! We were greeted with a glass of 2021 Trebbiano d’Abruzzo in Magnum that was a presage of things to come. Like all their wines, dancing feet crushed the grapes, and though it’s a stretch to say so, the human energy used to release the juice may have a part in the energy you can feel in the wine. Just thinking about them awakens organoleptic souvenirs that place me firmly at my seat at the table. And the food, prepared by chef Pietro la Rosa was masterful, beautifully orchestrated by Chiara’s sister Elisa, always meeting and sometimes (almost) surpassing the pleasure of the wines. 

It was undoubtedly one of the best meals in quite some time with wines that fill you with joy. And the company was also interesting as we had a couple from Holland to our right (a Neapolitan pizza restaurant owner and his nutritionist wife), a Russian insurance salesman and a French tech guy across from us, and two Chinese women wine journalists to our left.

What a fabulous evening! Chiara is also one of the most eloquent winemaker philosophers I’ve ever met and has a truly original approach to sustainability, the issues of climate change, forestry, polycultures, ‘surface area’ (which she prefers to think about as volume) and what it means to be ‘natural’. 

The video below, filmed on the fly (I apologise for the quality), is but an excerpt of Chiara’s approach to maintaining what her grandfather had already put in place. Ranging from ‘picturing a season’ to capture the essence of what nature offers in order to bring that forward, ten, twenty, thirty or forty years later, to the importance of shade in creating good quality tannins, protecting soil as well as vines by building pergolas and planting trees, and their work in agriculture – which has lead them to polyculture and much of what we found on our plates – her discourse was inspirational.

This profound connection with the earth and the forces of nature is the inspiration for all great wines (and all great agriculture), but it is rare and reassuring to hear such eloquent and coherent explanations of what ‘real’ wines are and how they are made. Being able to taste vegetables and grains from the property where the vines grow and the wine is made, also offered us a real sensation of ‘spirit of place’, allowing us to sense the terroir in its myriad forms.

In the intimate setting of the pop-up dinner, surrounded by like-minded individuals from diverse corners of the world, we were transported not only to the vineyards of Abruzzo, but to the spirit of what comprises natural wines – a realm where authenticity, eco-consciousness, and a deep reverence for terroir converge. The soil shared by vine and polyculture illuminated the intricacies of sustainability and the profound interconnectedness between vineyard and table. It was a privilege to be part of this unforgettable soirée, where the essence of terroir reaffirmed the importance of preserving our agricultural heritage for generations to come. It was truly a moment when ‘Santé!’ takes on its full meaning.


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