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Winemaker Rich Pepe falls into vat of zinfandel!

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Winemaker Rich Pepe falls into vat of zinfandel!

You’ve got some splainin to do!
By Kelly Nix

Pepe Falls in VatCARMEL RESTAURANTER Rich Pepe can chuckle now. But falling noggin-first, Buster Keaton-style into a 6-foot-by 6-foot vat of zinfandel isn’t so funny.

Well, maybe a little.

“I’m in this soup of juice and grapes and skins and I’m half dizzy,” said Pepe, owner/chef of Little Napoli restaurant in Carmel. “I hit my head and shoulder, and everybody is laughing, and I’m like, ‘Ouch!’” He also fractured his elbow.

Pepe’s tumble happened as he and 15 of his friends were in the process of making wine for “personal use” at a Carmel Valley home Oct. 6.

“As I was reaching into the vat to take the bucket full of skins and juice out,” he said, “I fell head first. Of course everybody was laughing, but it hurt like hell.”

While most of his buddies were in stitches, Pepe’s friend, Bill Patterson, realized the seriousness of the vat splat. “I was floundering around there like a kid in a pool,” said Pepe, 54. “Bill reached over quickly and said, ‘Whoa, let’s get him out of here.’ He knew it wasn’t a joke.”

After his friends doused Pepe with cold water from a garden hose and gave him a fresh change of clothes, they drove him to the emergency room at Community Hospital of Monterey Peninsula. His skin reeked of wine.

“Everyone said it was making them hungry and wondered if I had brought any food with me”, Pepe said. “I think half of the hospital staff wound eating up at Little Napoli that night!”

After being X-rayed, a physician determined Pepe had cracked his elbow and torn ligaments in his arm.

“I’m the guy who is supposed to know what I was doing,” Pepe said, “and I was the one who fell in.”

Pepe, who also owns a vineyard in Napa and a commercial wine business under his name, said he wasn’t sure exactly how the accident happened.

“We were tasting the wine, but I don’t think I can really blame it on that,” he said. “I don’t think that was a factor. I think I just slipped. It gets a little sloppy in there.”

Pepe said he and his buddies, the “bocce boys,” as they are known, have been making wine for a few years. The group, which also gets together to play bocce ball, includes retired Monterey County judge William Burleigh and Doyle Moses, owner of The Holly Farm in Carmel Valley.

It’s a little home thing, and everybody has started beefing it up a bit,” Pepe said of the wine operation. “ We bought five tons of grapes this year. Each guy gets about 20 cases of wine.”

Kidding aside, Pepe said he is lucky he got away with only minor injuries. Making wine is a risky business.

“We are all laughing about this,” he said. “But I could have easily gotten killed.”

The Carmel Pine Cone
October 13-19, 2006
By Kelly Nix