California’s Best Take on Burgundy

Today’s Story: Calera Wine Company

Calera Wine Company is a very highly regarded wine estate established in 1975 by Josh Jensen. Located in the Mt. Harlan AVA in San Benito County on California’s Central Coast, Calera consists of several single-vineyard holdings known for their Pinot Noir. Josh picked up a passion for winemaking and Pinot Noir working harvests in Burgundy, first with Domaine de la Romanée-Conti and then with Jacques Seyesses at Domaine Dujac. His mentors taught him that Pinot Noir and Chardonnay are best planted in limestone soils, so when he returned to the US Josh searched for land with excellent vineyard potential and, most importantly, limestone. Josh purchased his ideal property in 1974, later planting 24 acres of Pinot Noir in 1975 and producing his first vintage in 1978.

Today Calera produces six single-vineyard Pinot Noirs from Selleck Vineyard (4.8 acres), Reed Vineyard (6.04 acres), Jensen Vineyard (13.8 acres), Mills Vineyard (14.4 acres), Ryan Vineyard (13.1 acres), and de Villiers Vineyard (15.6 acres). They also produce Chardonnay (10.4 total acres), Viognier (2.2 total acres), and Aligoté (0.2 total acres). With an average elevation of 2,200 feet above sea level and coastal influences from the Monterey Bay, Calera’s vineyards are some of the coolest climate sites in the entire state of California. These vineyards are certified organic, and much of the work (including harvest) is done entirely by hand.

Minimal intervention winemaking is the name of the game at Calera, as both Josh and his winemaker Mike Waller share a philosophy of producing terroir-driven wines that are both elegant and incredibly age-worthy. This begins with the structure of the winery itself, which is designed to be entirely gravity-flow and is set across seven distinct levels built into the mountainside. There’s a great schematic of the winery here, as you can clearly tell minimal handling of the fruit and wines is of utmost importance. Calera also utilizes high percentages of whole-cluster fermentation with only native yeasts, and the wines experience little to no pumping to preserve purity and focus. The wines are not racked while they age, which is done using modest percentages of new oak (around 30%) to preserve the variety’s characteristics and wine’s sense of place. The wines are bottled unfiltered but lightly fined after 16 months of aging for the single-vineyard Pinot Noir.

Today’s Wine: 2010 Jensen Vineyard Pinot Noir

100% Pinot Noir; 14.1% ABV

The 2010 Jensen Vineyard Pinot Noir is deep garnet in color and opaque. I let this open up in the glass for 30-45 minutes, which helped to bring out the more nuanced aroma characteristics. The aromas are of medium intensity, but the nose is rather complex and showcases aromas of black cherry, plum, licorice, dried violets, cigar box, forest floor, truffle, garden herbs, and a hint of baking spice. The flavors are also of medium intensity, and the palate displays notes of black raspberry, muddled strawberry, fig, black cherry, tobacco, leather, mild mushroom, and green herbs. Dry and medium-bodied with medium (+) acidity, medium (-) tannins, high alcohol, and a long finish. This is in a great spot right now, but certainly has the legs to go another 3-5 years.

Price: $75. While this is on the pricier end for California Pinot Noir, I believe it’s worth every penny and I’d even argue it offers solid value. This is a wine that frequently stands up to the great wines of Burgundy, and its balance, complexity, length, and age-worthiness are profound.

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