In 1971 Josh Jensen found an old limestone quarry high in the Gavilan Mountains on the side of a peak named Mount Harlan, about 30 miles south of the town of Hollister. He bought 324 acres, and planted a few acres of Pinot Noir, before he had electricity, running water, or even a proper road to the property. He named his winery Calera, Spanish for lime kiln, the remains of which he found on the property, and eventually restored. The first few years were hard going, but eventually, in 1978, Jensen harvested his first couple of barrels of Pinot Noir and has never looked back.
Over the past three decades, few winemakers in California could possibly compete with Jensen for fidelity to an original vision of what kind of wine they wanted to make. In those three decades, the only concession to modernity that Jensen has allowed is the addition of a mechanical crusher-destemmer to his operation. Apart from that he continues to make Pinot Noir the way he learned to in Burgundy: perfectly ripe, meticulously farmed grapes; whole cluster fermentation with native yeasts in small vats, punched down by hand; aging for at least 16 months, in French oak (of which only about 30% is new) and then bottling without any filtration.
In 1990 Jensen’s patch of limestone (and about 7000 acres surrounding it) were granted the status of being an American Viticultural Area, but by then most people who cared about California Pinot Noir already had heard of the winemaker up on the mountain who was making some of the best Pinot Noir to be found outside of Burgundy.
Remarkably, that is still true today. Calera’s single vineyard Pinot Noirs are some of the best around, yet more so than any other wine of their caliber, they are reasonably easy to find, and priced within the reach of mere mortals — something to do with the fact that they don’t have the words Sonoma or Napa anywhere on the label.
Before the 2007’s arrive and are gobbled up based on the press here are two 2006’s that will please you in the short term or for the cellar. Both the wines received great praise from Allen Medows 92pts.
Calera Mills 2006-An ultra pure, airy and cool nose of extract of red pinot fruit trimmed in overt floral nuances a hint of vegetal that, like the Ryan, adds depth rather than any sense of greenness. The purity of the nose continues onto the detailed, intense and delicious yet entirely serious medium-bodied flavors that possess fine depth and excellent length. This is an impeccably balanced wine of elegance and understatement that is classically styled.
Calera Jensen 2006-This required several hours of aeration to reluctantly emerge from its youthful shell but when it did the elegant and very pure aromas of floral, red berry and spice hints formed the perfect complement to the intense, detailed, complex and refined medium-bodied flavors that possess lovely precision and excellent inner mouth perfume that lingers and lingers. Moreover, this appears to be allowing only glimpses as to the ultimate quality as this is very much a baby. Great potential