The Story of Clos Pegase
Now, if you were to ask the wise-acre, Bacchus, "how do you make a small fortune in the wine business?" chances are he'd reply: "start with a large fortune."
In the case of Clos Pegase, that large fortune came from -- of all places -- the Japanese publishing industry. In 1955, our founder, Jan Shrem, who was studying for his Master's degree at UCLA, took what he thought was going to be a little vacation in Japan. He fell in love with the place -- and with a woman named Mitsuko -- and he decided to stick around...for the next 13 years.
To support himself, Jan began importing English-language reference and technical books to a market hungry for all things Western. He was in the right place at the right time. Building on his success, he began translating and publishing books in Japan as well and, by the time he sold his company in 1968 to elope with Mitsuko to Europe, it had grown to some 50 offices and nearly 2,000 employees.
In 1980, after 25 years in the publishing business, Jan found himself at a crossroads. He had built a publishing empire. And in the meantime, Mitsuko had introduced him to the mysteries and pleasures of wine -- an interest that had quickly turned into a consuming passion. He decided the time had come to listen to his "inner Bacchus" and devote his life to winemaking.
Jan enrolled in the enology program at the University of Bordeaux, where he soon became fascinated with the idea of combining ancient winemaking practices with emerging technologies. Nowhere was this combination more vital and exciting than in California, so, armed with the Napa Valley address of the dean of American winemakers, Andre Tchelistcheff, Jan headed west.
With Tchelistcheff's help, Jan eventually created a unique wine estate -- and an equally distinctive style of winemaking. He began by purchasing a 50-acre vineyard in Calistoga in 1983. Later, he would add more than 400 additional acres in the northern and southern ends of the Napa Valley.
A Temple Among the Vines
By the mid-1980s, it became clear that Jan's new wine estate would need an anchor -- a building to serve as its base of operations. But Jan was thinking bigger than a mere roof and walls. He envisioned a place designed to showcase his extensive art collection in a way that made it accessible to everyone; a focal point that could match the majesty of the rocky knoll that rises above the valley from the center of the vineyard; a place of celebration, education and pleasure; and a visible, visit-able symbol of his winemaking philosophy.
Working with the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, Jan sponsored an architects' competition. From a field of 96 entrants, the judges selected renowned Princeton architect, Michael Graves. He was commissioned to build a "temple to wine and art" at the base of the knoll and a home for Jan and Mitsuko at its summit, with sweeping views of the Napa Valley below. Within the knoll itself, 20,000 feet of aging caves would be excavated, including the breathtaking Cave Theater, a dramatic setting for celebrations, presentations and special events.
Construction was completed in 1987. The spectacular structures Graves created -- and the surrounding sculpture garden that includes some of the world's greatest twentieth-century works of art -- have won international awards and generated great excitement in the wine industry. The national press has been generous in its praise as well, describing Clos Pegase as "a place of pilgrimage" and "America's first monument to wine and art."
And, just as Jan had hoped, the stately symmetry of the building reflects his own winemaking ethos. "In architecture, as in our wines," he says "I believe we have achieved balance, harmony and symmetry in the classical Greek sense, avoiding the baroque concepts of high oak, high alcohol and high extract to create food-friendly wines of quiet elegance. These are the hallmarks of what has come to be known as the 'Clos Pegase style'."
The Clos Pegase Style. It's there as you walk through the grounds. It's there in the cool stillness of the caves. You find it when you round a corner in the vineyard and come face to face with a sculpture that's both beautiful and as disarmingly irreverent as Bacchus himself. And it's there on our label, in Jan's favorite painting from his collection. There, depicted by the great 19th-Century French artist Odilon Redon, is the winged horse, Pegasus, his front hooves rearing toward the heavens, his back hooves firmly planted right here on earth.