Josh Jensen worked two harvests in Burgundy — at Domaine Dujac and Domaine de la Romanee-Conti — and became convinced that he could make great pinot noir wines in California if he could find the right limestone-based terroir. After a couple years search, he found what he wanted in the Gavilan Mountains, high on Mt. Harlan above the city of Hollister, in San Benito County. He planted four vineyards and founded Calera Wine Company, named for an old limestone kiln on the property, in 1976. His intuition was correct. The pinot noirs that issue from Calera’s original vineyards and several planted subsequently are not only among the best in California but among the best in the world. Jensen utilizes natural yeasts and doesn’t overwhelm the wines with new oak. He pushes for vibrant acidity and fairly rigorous structure, with the result that Calera pinot noirs deliver plenty of character but exhibit long aging potential. The wines under review today I purchased locally, paying about $4 or $5 above the suggested retail prices, which I list with the individual reviews. I received samples from Calera only once, four bottles from the 1995 vintage that I wrote about in my weekly syndicated wine column on June 30, 1999. I thought that it would be interesting to read these reviews from 15 years ago and see how consistent the wines are over time:
It was not merely a pleasure, it was an epiphany to taste the 1995 pinot noirs from Calera Wine Co., whose four pinot vineyards are perched in the Gavilan Mountains in San Benito County. Owner Josh Jensen, dedicated to a Burgundian vision, has been a pioneer of great pinot in California since 1972. The wines carry a Mt. Harlan appellation.
The gorgeous Calera Jensen Pinot Noir 1995 smells like old English churches – rich, dusty, floral, imbued with incense – and brandishes an extraordinary scent of baked plums and black cherries combined with sweet oak and a meaty, animal quality; it offers incredible weight and density, luscious cherry-cranberry flavors that pull up leather and dried herbs and a dim circumference of brown sugar. Exceptional. About $38.
Where the Jensen is warm, the Calera Reed 1995 is cooler, more minerally but also funkier, more “barnyardy”; it brims with cranberry and cola flavors rimmed with brown sugar and trimmed with deft, spicy oak. Excellent. About $35.
If garnets had a flavor, it would be embodied by the Calera Mills 1995, a pinot noir more reticent, more intense and concentrated than its cousins. Provocative smoke curls at the core, while at the top of its range shimmers a floral scent almost like camillas; currants and plums, wheatmeal and beet-root, thyme and lavender teem in the mouth. Exceptional. About $35.
Finally, the Calera Selleck 1995 is an example of utter purity and richness, seamless balance and integration; its hallmark is not intensity but completeness and generosity. Excellent. About $38.
Winemaker at Calera is Mike Waller, who has been at the winery since 2007. Image of Josh Jensen from The Underground Wineletter.
Calera “Ryan” Pinot Noir 2009, Mt. Harlan, San Benito County. The Ryan Vineyard consists of an upper portion of 9.4 acres, planted in 1998, and a lower portion of 3.7 acres planted in 2001. The wine aged 18 months in 30 percent new French oak barrels. The color is medium ruby with a slightly lighter rim; the bouquet burgeons with exotic spice, fresh and dried red currants and raspberries with a hint of blueberry and a note of violets; the texture is spare and lithe, and acidity cuts a swathe on the palate; more than an any other of this quartet, the influence of fine-grained tannins and oak and graphite minerality is apparent, creating a slight rasp or sense of resistance in the wine’s flow. 14.1 percent alcohol. Drink now or wait until 2015 and consume through 2019 to ’21. Production was 2,218 cases. Very Good+. About $42.
Calera “Mills” Pinot Noir 2009, Mt. Harlan, San Benito County. The 14.4-acre Mills Vineyard was planted in 1984; an additional acre was planted in 1998. The wine aged 18 months in 30 percent new French oak barrels. The color is medium ruby with a mulberry tinge; this is a subtle and supple pinot noir, highly structured but displaying plenty of spicy fruit scents and flavors in the range of red currants, red cherries and plums; the mode of the wine, however, is earthy and lithic, cool and minerally; it’s half juicy, half rigorous. The Calera “Mills” 09 offers great depth of character and dense, almost chewy tannins that feel legitimately hard-earned. Delicious stuff, but demanding too. 14.9 percent alcohol. Production was 1,599 cases. Now through 2020 to ’22. Excellent. About $48.
Calera “Reed” Pinot Noir 2010, Mt. Harlan, San Benito County. The 4.4-acre Reed vineyard was planted in 1975. The wine aged 16 months in 30 percent new French oak barrels. The entrancing color is limpid medium ruby; aromas of cloves, cola, rhubarb and cranberry feel slightly macerated and roasted. This is a delicate, elusive and haunting pinot noir with a supremely satiny texture and keen acidity that combs the palate; a few minutes in the glass bring in elements of briars and brambles and forest floor, with notes of graphite and loam, every quality combined with elegance, tensile strength and inevitability. 13.6 percent alcohol. 398 cases. Drink now through 2020 to ’22. Exceptional. About $55.
Calera “Jensen” Pinot Noir 2010, Mt. Harlen, San Benito County. Jensen, 13.8 acres, was planted in 1975. The wine spent 16 months in French oak, 30 percent new barrels. The color is medium ruby-garnet; aromas of dark plums, red currents and potpourri are wreathed with notes of old leather, lavender, potpourri and a trace of pomegranate and cola; the real thing, heady yet subtle, nuanced and balanced. Matters become a bit more structured in the mouth, where acidity plows a straight furrow and elements of leather and spicy oak emerge more prominently; the texture is satiny smooth, supernally so, but lithe and sinewy, so you feel the bones and muscles of its essence as well as the supple smoothness. 14.1 percent alcohol. Production was 1,072 cases. Drink now through 2020 to ’22. Excellent. About $75.