Meet the Maker

For the love of the grape: Meet Miguel of Lepe Cellars

Miguel didn’t try his first sip of wine until he’d already uprooted his life to pursue a degree in Viticulture at Cal Poly. Um, pardon?

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By Maker Wine

February 29, 2024

three cans of white blend on a yellow background with wine glass


Miguel, the son of migrant workers in Salinas, California didn’t grow up around alcohol. His parents didn’t drink, his friends didn’t drink, and while a lot of college students may drink, Miguel wasn’t one of them. 

Attending the local community college in Salinas, California, Miguel wasn’t quite sure what degree to pursue. Being logical and pragmatic, he landed on Business. But in his final semester, he signed up for a wine-producing elective class on a whim. “I thought, ‘Gardening is cool and I like to be outside,’’” he reflects back on the seemingly random choice. 

Miguel quickly learned that viticulture isn’t quite that simple. His professor, a plant geneticist, was scientific, thorough, and intense; and Miguel realized he may be in over his head. While he barely passed the class, he was also completely hooked. With his newfound love for grapes, Miguel decided to transfer to Cal Poly to major in Viticulture.

There he tasted wine for the very first time. Obsessed with the dynamic intricacies between the grapes, the land, the weather, and the impact of human hands, Miguel dove headfirst into every class, tasting, and opportunity. To finish his major, Miguel had to complete a harvest. That’s when he knew this is how he wanted to spend his life. He even did a second harvest—although he didn’t get any school credit for it.

After college, Miguel signed up for harvests wherever he could and started calling around to see if he could get work in any local wineries.

Peter Figge, from a small boutique winery Figge Family Vineyards, answered the call. Miguel went in for an interview for a part-time position during harvest season. But after a 5-hour conversation, Peter offered Miguel a full-time job. Miguel had already committed to a harvest in Chile that summer, but Peter said, “Well, you’ve got a job here whenever you get back.”

Peter became a mentor to Miguel, helping the 22-year-old novice navigate the complex world and business of wine. He even helped Miguel land a job at a bigger winery, Justin Vineyards in Paso Robles, to round out his experience. In 2013, Peter asked Miguel if he wanted to make wine for himself. At this point in his young career, Miguel wasn’t really thinking about his trajectory; he was just saying yes to every opportunity. “Why not?” Miguel said, and proceeded to make a few barrels of Gewürztraminer.

Time to make his own wine

The next year, Peter asked Miguel again if he wanted to make his own wine. “Sure,” Miguel answered, crafting a Chardonnay.  Peter encouraged Miguel to get licensed so he could actually make and sell his product locally. So he did. 

And that 2014 Chardonnay? It won a gold medal in the 2016 SF Chronicle Wine Competition up against other major winemakers. While Peter had always believed in Miguel’s talents, Miguel was still kind of surprised by himself. “That’s when I realized, huh, I guess I actually can make wine,” Miguel recalls. Miguel continued making a few more barrels every year. Today, he’s made well over 100 and been in business for 8 years. 

winemaker miguel lepe in the vines with wine glass in hand

The Lepe Cellars difference

So what’s different about Miguel’s winemaking approach? “I’m really hands off,” Miguel says. “I’ve worked at large and small wineries and seen a lot. I know what can go into it and I know what doesn’t need to go into wine. My job is to guide the grapes from one phase to the next. Minimal intervention. Native yeast. I focus more on the vineyard — really where it starts—and let the wine be the star, not the winemaker. 

Miguel specifically wants to showcase different grapes in the Monterey region. “People hear Monterey and think of Pinot and Chardonnay. What they don’t realize is that Monterey is a huge region and there are so many AVAs. I work with so many different vineyards, which all have their unique differences. At Lepe Cellars, we product about 800 cases a year of Riesling, Chardonnay, Syrah Rosé, Zinfandel and Petit Verdot.”

About the White Blend

Miguel wanted to highlight the Spanish varietals that thrive in Monterey. This specific blend is a mix of 46% Albariño, 36% Verdelho, and 18% Grenache Blanc. Bright, fresh, but still smooth, the blend has notes of white blossom, apples, lemon, and honeysuckle with a touch of minerality on the palate. And it smells “like walking on the pavement after a summer sun shower.”

Shop Spanish White Blend

Spanish White Blend Can and Glass
Miguel Lepe with 6-pack of Spanish White Blend
  • New Wine

Spanish White Blend

Lepe Cellars, Monterey, CA

White wine with notes of green apples, lemon, honeysuckle, and a touch of minerality.

Thanks to the abundant rains and cooler temperatures during the spring and summer, the grapes ripened gradually, resulting in these expressive, intense flavors. Each variety was hand-picked early in the morning to keep the fruit cold and then pressed separately. The juice cold settled in the tanks for two days before being racked down to neutral French barrels where the native yeast soon began the fermentation, lasting between 10-14 days. Once complete, the wines remained in the barrel for further aging on the lees to enhance the complexity.

Miguel recommends enjoying this refreshing blend on a sunny day dining al fresco. “It pairs perfectly with fish tacos and mango salsa, cilantro-lime chicken, or seafood linguine.” 

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