After tasting this exquisite Pinot Noir, you will realize why Calera is in a class of it's own.
Pinot Noir is certainly California's, and perhaps the world's most fickle grape. Winemakers will tell you of the great challenges they have faced, learning the secrets of this difficult but alluring grape. When made properly, Pinot Noir is rich, lush and complex. It's wide range of flavors waltz on the tongue, lending itself to a wide variety of complementary foods. To those intrepid winemakers who make a career from Pinot Noir, it's as wonderful as it is frustrating. Overfertilized and overcropped Pinot Noir vineyards will produce thin and uninviting flavors. Less than ideal climate conditions can cause Pinot to lose it's aroma and fruit characteristics. And it's extraordinarily thin skins, make the grape very susceptable to rot and mildew.
Over the past decade or so, it has been learned that Pinot Noir should be grown in cooler climates rather than the hotter areas of Napa and Sonoma counties. That is why we are beginning to see exceptional Pinot Noir producers coming out of the cooler Central Coast areas of Monterey, San Luis Obispo and Santa Barbara counties. And in the north, Mendocino county and Oregon state, are emerging areas as well.
Only a very small number of elite California wineries have risen to the challenge of producing consistently superb Pinot Noir. Perhaps none has been more acclaimed than Calera Winery in San Benito county. San Benito county is situated just east of Monterey county, along the central coast of California.
Calera was started in 1975, by Josh Jensen, a Californian who developed a keen interest in wines while studying at Oxford in the late 1960's. During his time at Oxford, he frequently traveled to France, acquiring a great love affair with Burgundies. He knew even before his schooling was completed that he wanted to someday start his own winery. With that goal in mind, Josh worked the Burgundy harvests for two years immediately after finishing school. "I thought there would be more to it than there was," Josh told us. "I expected that the French had some sort of mystical process of winemaking that had been secretly passed down through generations," he went on, "but it was actually quite straightforward."
Josh returned to California in 1972, armed with the knowledge and insight he had gained in France, anxious to transplant it, to his own endeavor. Perhaps his most significant insight was that the great Burgundy vineyards were grown in soil with underlying limestone rock. Limestone, he was convinced, was the principle ingredient in growing great Pinot Noir. The French knew it. Josh knew it. Other wineries either didn't know, or refused to believe it made a difference.
The great limestone quest took over two years of diligent research. Josh poured over mineral deposit maps acquired from the California Bureau of Mines, and overlaid them with topographical and climate maps. He soon discovered that California was not endowed with great amounts of limestone. Of the few areas that did have limestone, many were not particularly suited for viticulture.
The site he finally zeroed in on in 1975, was a remote 700 acre mountainside, roughly 30 miles due east of Monterey, on Mt. Harlan. Most of the property was unusable, largely comprised of canyons, steep hillsides and cliffs. But most importantly, the land was limestone-rich. In fact there was an old nineteenth century lime kiln still intact, which gave Josh a name for his new winery. Calera is Spanish for lime kiln.
Josh went to work clearing what usable land he could carve out of the mountainside. The first year he created three Pinot Noir vineyards totalling 24 acres. He named each of his vineyards after significant people in his life. Jensen is 14 acres named after his father; 5 acres he named Selleck, after a friend of his father's; and 5 more acres he called Reed, who was one of Calera's original investors. Nine years later he added the 12 acre Mills vineyard, named after a former winery neighbor and friend. He constructed his winery several years later, locating it a few miles away from the vineyards. Built on six different levels, utilizing the natural grade of the mountainside, it is billed as the world's first gravity-flow winery facility!
The wines Josh Jensen produces are available in extremely limited quantities. This is due to the uncharacteristically low yield he gets from his vineyards. On the average, California vineyards yield seven and one half tons per acre. In Napa, the average is four tons. At Calera's limestone vineyards, Josh has exceeded two tons per acre only once. In 1989, the vineyards yielded an incredibly low, one ton per acre! Even his Burgundian friends are astonished at how low the yield is.
In addition to his four estate Pinot Noirs, Calera also produces an estate Chardonnay from the Mt. Harlan site. Calera's two largest production wines are a Pinot Noir and a Chardonnay, both made from Central Coast grapes. These two wines represent about 70% of his total 20,000 case production. At his Mt. Harlan site, he has also recently planted 7 acres of another-difficult-to-grow grape, Viognier. The winery plans to continue specializing in only these three varietals for the foreseeable future. A Zinfandel was once made at the winery. In fact, it was the first wine ever produced by Calera in 1975, all from purchased grapes. No Zinfandel has been produced since 1985.
Calera's considerable claim to fame lies in their estate Pinot Noirs. Josh Jensen's sterling reputation has been rightfully earned for producing outstanding Pinot Noir. They are characteristically full of texture, with lots of cherry fruit and intense floral aroma. The Platinum Series featured 1989 Mills vineyard Pinot Noir is no exception. After tasting this exquisite Pinot Noir, you will realize why Calera is in a class of it's own.