1999 Calera Wine Company “Jensen” Pinot Noir, Mt. Harlan, CA

Something special, in my opinion is going on in the hills to the east of Salinas. Calera Wine Company sits atop Mount Harlan on the east side of Highway 101 about halfway between Salinas and Soledad in the Central Coast appellation of California. Formerly the site of an ancient limestone quarry (hence the name Calera, which means “lime kiln” in Spanish) the winery was established in 1974 by Josh Jensen with the intent to make primarily Pinot Noir in the classic Burgundian style. Having worked more than a few harvests for producers like Domaine de la Romanée-Conti and Domain Dujac, Josh both cemented his love for Pinot Noir at the same time developing his knowledge of the conditions and methods required for making great Burgundy.

Specifically with regards to the conditions for growing, Jensen returned to California with a single word on the brain: limestone. This had been drummed into him by his mentors and colleagues in Burgundy — Pinot Noir and Chardonnay need limestone, and lots of it, to really flourish. So Josh returned and began his search for a high altitude plot rich in limestone. When he found an old limestone quarry up in the hills in the middle of Nowhere-Northern-California, he immediately snapped up the surrounding property and set about creating a winery where no one had ever even considered it.

Flash forward 25 years and that small plot of land has its own AVA designation, Mt. Harlan, and the Calera Wine Company has the distinction (and luck) to be the only established winery there, to my knowledge.

The winery’s first vintage was 1975, made with Zinfandel grapes purchased on the open market. Calera’s primary focus, though, is making single vineyard designate Pinot Noirs and Chardonnays from the 63 acres of plantings on the property. Now they produce nearly 30,000 cases of single vineyard Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, and Viognier from both estate grown fruit as well as fruit from other vineyards in the Central Coast appellation.

The Jensen vineyard was one of the first planted on the Mt. Harlan site, and dates to 1975. It contains nearly 14 acres of Pinot Noir.

This wine is made in Calera’s one-of-a-kind, seven-level tiered gravity flow winery facility. Like most of the wines Josh makes, whole clusters are lightly pressed and then fermented with native yeasts and long soak times, with frequent punch downs. As a single vineyard wine, the Jensen Pinot ages for 16 months in French oak barrels, of which only 30% are new. After racking and fining with egg whites, the wine is bottled unfiltered.

Tasting Notes:
A medium ruby color in the glass, with hints of brick at the edges, this wine has a gorgeous nose of stewed prunes, fresh figs, cranberries, and leather. In the mouth it is perfectly balanced, with great acid for its age, very light velvet tannins that mesh well with the primary flavors of leather, pomegranate, sour cherry, and spices. This is a wine that continues to swirl in flavor even after swallowed, with a finish that goes on and on. I wish all California Pinot Noir was this good.

Food Pairing:
Frankly, I’d be happy with a bottle of this, some goat cheese and fresh bread in the shade, but if I were cooking, I’d shoot for something more like roast quail with grapes and chestnuts.

Overall Score: 9.5

How Much?: $50 on release, sells for about $80 now.

This wine is occasionally available for purchase online.