Steve Pepe ’65: A Journey from Corporate Lawyer to Vigneron

Photo: Mike Peters

Steve Pepe ’65

After 35 years as a partner at the international law firm of O’Melveny and Myers, Steve Pepe ’65 left that profession to pursue his dream of becoming a vigneron, a winegrower. He moved to California’s central coast, and in the Santa Rita Hills region of Santa Barbara County, he founded a winery, Clos Pepe Vineyards, and has steadily earned a name for himself for the high quality of his pinot noir and chardonnay wines.

Long interested in winemaking, Pepe was influenced by his Italian grandparents who made wine at their home in New Jersey. Even when he was living in Long Beach, California, he planted a vineyard in his backyard and made wine for his family and friends. He is certain that his was the only vineyard in Long Beach.

Clos Pepe Vineyards has been in business for 16 years and Pepe runs the operation with the help of his wife Catherine, stepson Wes Hagen, and Hagen’s wife Chanda. In addition to growing grapes and making wine, Pepe also now makes his own award-winning olive oil.

As someone who earns his livelihood from the earth, Pepe is a strong advocate of both environmental sustainability and social sustainability for his vineyard. His commitment to green practices has earned the vineyard recognition when, in 2007, Clos Pepe Vineyards received the Santa Barbara County Green Award.

“Fewer chemicals means a safer environment to work in,” says Pepe, “and we also offer and pay for our year-round field workers’ medical and dental benefits for them and their families. When we pour Clos Pepe wine, we can feel comfortable knowing that everyone who touched the vines, the fruit, and the wine was respected.”

During his college years, Pepe played football for Montclair State under legendary coach Jerry Edwards, and after graduation, has kept up his connections with the University, even serving for a time on the University Foundation Board. He recently published his first non-law book, Clos Pepe: A Vigneron’s Quest for Great Dirt, which chronicles his journey from corporate lawyer to his current profession and passion, being a vigneron.