While there are a few surrounding wineries, none to date have come close to the recognition achieve by Josh Jenson’s Calera estate and his single vineyard Pinot Noirs.
Jensen’s love of wine came early, when he was a kid growing up in San Francisco, where he was mentored by amateur chef and wine expert Dr. Georges Selleck. Through his teenage years and college, he would routinely attend high end dinner parties, and by age 21, had tasted enough top Burgundy to make a Burgundy critic jealous. In 1970, at the age of 26, he set sail for France and worked a harvest at Domaine de la Romanee-Conti, followed by a stint at Dujac.
Jensen returned home in 1971 and set about searching for the elusive limestone soils which are so prominent in the slopes of the Cote d’Or. After three years of searching, Jensen found a 324-acre property for sale high up in the Gavilan Mountains. After closing on the estate early in 1974, Jensen began plantings in 1975, and further added onto the estate in 1982.
Today, the wines are made by Mike Waller, and the winemaking is staunchly traditional, with little destemming, native ferments, and the wines seeing roughly 16 months in barrel.
Located east of Monterey, in San Benito County, in the tiny Mount Harlan AVA – in the picturesque Gavilan Mountains – the estate covers just over 80 acres of vines on limestone soils, most of which are planted to Pinot Noir, with smaller amounts of Chardonnay, Viognier and Aligoté. The vineyards lie at roughly 2,200 feet above sea level (the Pacific Ocean is 37 miles to the west) and consist of six single vineyards, all between four and fifteen acres in size.
The Selleck Vineyard is named after Josh’s longtime friend and mentor Dr. George Selleck. Covering 4.8 acres of south facing limestone soils, this site produces some of the smallest yields, and along with the Jensen Vineyard, produces the largest scaled, most structured wine in the lineup.
Originally planted in 1975, the Reed Vineyard is named after Willian G. Reed, one of Josh’s close friends and original investors. This site is north facing and cooler, with lots of clay in the soil, which gives this cuvee slightly less power, yet a freshness and aromatic complexity different from the other vineyards.
Also originally planted in 1975, the Jensen Vineyard covers 13.8 acres of rolling hills and limestone dominated soils. Named after Josh’s father, Stephen Jenson, this site always yields one of the more structured, concentrated wines in the lineup.
The Mills Vineyard was planted in 1984 and consists of own-rooted vines selected from the original 1975 plantings. Named after friend and neighbor, Everett Mills, this south facing site yields a complex, elegant style of wine that always shows the classic sassafras and mint that’s common in all the Calera Wines.
One of the larger sites, the Ryan Vineyard covers 13.1 acres and is the highest elevation site, hitting 2,500 feet above sea-level. Named after Jim Ryan, who’s been the vineyard manager since 1979, this vineyard was planted between 1998 and 2001 and consists of primarily west facing slopes and higher density vines. This cuvee has come on like gangbusters over recent vintages and while it’s normally one of the more fruit forward, charming Pinot Noirs in the lineup, it still has ample structure.
The largest site is the De Villiers Vineyard and it covers 15.6 acres planted in 1997. This vineyard was named after Marq de Villiers, who wrote the “The Heartbreak Grape”, which is the story of Calera. This site is east facing and the De Villiers Pinot Noir is another, what I would call, classic Calera Pinot Noir that has terrific complexity and intensity, with solid underlying structure.