We’ve written this book for wine lovers who haven’t had the chance to get to know Emidio Pepe and his wines, but also for wine aficionados who have tasted his wines but have never visited the winery in Torano Nuovo near Teramo. Thinking about the title of book and Emidio’s philosophy, it brings to mind Albert Bruce Sabin, the medical researcher best known for having developed an oral polio vaccine, who once said, “being young is not a question of age, but a state of mind.” There’s a plate with this sentence hanging over the fi- replace in Emidio’s living room. The meaning it has for him is clear: to be optimist enough to get what he wasn’t able to have as a child through hard work and dedication. Combined with his realistic approach to life, one that is closely linked to his farming roots, the outcome has been a winning philosophy that was especially useful during the harder moment of his life and career. His lively integrity, rising from his rigorous work ethic and lifestyle, both reflected in his physical well-being, has been transmitted into his wines as well. It’s impossible to imagine Emidio Pepe making Brunello or Barolo, or working with other so-called nobler varieties. Just think about what he says about the color wine should be. He says he looks for the blood hues of the Montepulciano, and it doesn’t matter if it’s been resting in the bottle for 4 or 40 years. According to Emidio, if the color is there, then so must the aromatic complexity. His wines are deep and dark-colored, with a dynamic bouquet full of wonder, and a long-breathing persistency.
After walking with him through the vineyard, watching him caress the leaves of the vines and gently pick a grape, tasting it to understand the consistency of the skin, and then bend the shoots to balance the light and air ratio on the leaves, it’s easy to understand that this is “his” wine.
He doesn’t pay the maniacal attention to the Trebbiano as he does the Montepulciano. These vines are lords of their own manors, silent like Emidio, with a tenacious backbone, and they create energetic and expressive whites, able to age and evolve incredibly. If the Montepulciano is Emidio’s conquest, obtained through unfathomed perseverance, the Trebbiano is a gift from above: he found it there, ready to come out of its commonly-believed mediocrity. In one of his notes from over thirty years ago, Emidio wrote about a client’s wonder and amazement at how the wine had refermented in the bottle. He explained the importance of the carbon dioxide as a natural conservator, and said, “it helps the digestive process….” It is the result of the vineyard’s natural expression, allowed to develop through traditional methods compatible with the natural cycle of life, set off through the spontaneous fermentation process in the cellar.
The winery also makes two other wines, the Cerasuolo and the Pecorino. Even though Emidio never speaks of the Cerasuolo, the quality and delicate personality is evident in some of the vintages we’ve tasted. The Pecorino, on the other hand, is all the fad at the moment, and Emidio wanted to understand what it could be. It seems, however, that it has gone beyond his control, as shown by its much higher price compared to the superior Trebbiano. Then again, new customers ask for it and are willing to pay for it. It will need more time, the vines need to age, as we can tell from the Trebbiano and Montepulciano vines, where there is a tangible relationship between persistency and complexity.
I asked Alice Colantonio and Matteo Gallello to write this book in order to give me the liberty to concentrate on Emidio and not worry about the nuts and bolts of the text. Emidio is an extremely reserved man, every once in a while his silence is broken, and tells us a story, an anecdote. I think it has to do with the fact that he’s always had to do everything by himself, he’s had to build everything from scratch. When I asked him how he’d done something, how he’d been able to accomplish a seemingly impossible feat, his answers were always brief. I imagine it must have been similar to the experience Peter Bogdanovich had when interviewing John Ford, one of the most important directors in the history of cinema. Peter had hoped to understand the artistic core and the director’s personal evolution while filming the classic masterpieces “Stagecoach”, “The Grapes of Wrath”, and “The Searchers.” John Ford’s answers were monosyllable at best. When he was asked how he had filmed an especially long horse chase, the director responds, exasperated, “with a film camera, what else should I have used?!” It was 1968, Ford was 74 years old and from the pictures taken during that interview, he looked tired, without any expectations. Emidio, on the other hand, is full of life. He loves listening to other people’s stories, and he’s enjoying the peace his life and vineyard have granted him.
There’s a picture of him under his tendone, holding basket he later filled with the figs picked from the trees surrounding the property. He looks serene, pleased with himself. Anyone who has met him in Verona, New York, Tokyo or his beloved Australia has seen the same expression.
We were able to tip-toe into Emidio’s mental retreat thanks to the help of his daughters Sofia and Daniela, and his granddaughter Chiara. They were essential to helping us delve into the search of anecdotes, documents and travel diaries. Determinant was their de- sire to put down into words the priceless experience accumulated during their father’s (and grandfather’s) sixty-year long career. Rose’s participation was also vital. We turned to her when we needed someone to untangle the web of memories. Their combined contributions helped us get the picture of the real person, whose positive qualities we have outlined together with the difficult and painful controversies that prove the multi-facetted reality of a life intensely lived. The shared reading of events has been translated with two narrative voices: Alice was in charge of Emidio’s biography, and Matteo dedicated his attention to the technical and production aspects, investigating from the very beginning the reasons behind his choice to become a wine maker. I treasured the stylistic diversity of the two young authors, who have successfully adapted it to their respective topics.
Giulia Cerro’s work was to magnify Emidio, immortalize him in powerful images which have been inserted in the Memories chap- ter. He reminds me of the Hollywood actor William Powell famous in the 1930s, known for his role, together with Myrna Loy, in the sophisticated comedies centered around Dashiell Hammett’s The Thin Man. Like Powell, Emidio is elegant and with has a charming smile, one that could be seen while he drives his tractor or out re- presenting his winery at public events. Our photographer did not Photoshop or retouch any of the pictures, allowing Pepe’s face to communicate all his words did not. She followed them in their day to day activities without intruding. She was also present during the interviews and the tastings, she followed them out in the vineyards and in the cellar. Her images tell the visual story written by Alice, “the family is the key to everything here, it’s what has made them successful, and they are convinced history will prove them right. The land, and what happens to it, often coincides with that of the family. Under the shadow of the mountain, this land of wine speaks a domestic language, a tradition that is rooted in the repetition of what has happened before.”
Marcello Spada loves the wines that come from the Emidio Pepe winery. He was part of the team that visited Emidio for an article written and published in the 20th volume of Porthos magazine, including a vertical tasting of thereds. His involvement was spontaneous. We asked him for some paintings to use as the cover of the book and also within its pages, where he brought to life the eloquence of the Montepulciano and the difficulty to decipher the more introvert Trebbiano. After taking note of the sensations and aromas the wines offered, it was necessary to let one self go, and to accept them for their peculiar beauty. Like Verlaine said in his “Symphony of Silence,” “I spoke of many things yesterday / And my eyes looked into yours. / With the feeling of banality / My love looked for your thoughts / And when you spoke, I was deliberately distracted, / I was paying attention to your secret.”