My history with Calera goes back to the very beginning in the early 1970s. More recently, I visited the winery again in 2011 and wrote an article entitled Kudos For Calera. And now I have just tasted the current releases (including the stunning 2010 Mt. Harlan Pinot Noirs) and revisited the winery to taste the 2011 and 2012 Pinot Noirs from barrel.
Below is an introduction to Calera which is followed by current tasting notes on recently released wines (and 2 to be released later this year) and the 2011 and 2012 Pinot Noirs tasted from barrel.
Calera is one of the pioneer producers of Pinot Noir in California. Founded by Josh Jensen in 1974, Calera has established a stellar record for producing wonderful Pinot Noir in the Gavilan Mountains west of Chalone in what is now know as the Mt. Harlan AVA (American Viticultural Area). I first visited there in the late 1970s and the wines showed great promise from the outset. The wines age beautifully and have a wonderful and balanced expression of the fruit. Later in the 1980s Calera was one of the first wineries in California to plant Viognier. In the 1980s Chardonnay was also added. And, more recently Calera was one of the first wineries in California to plant Aligoté This is a great California winery with a proven track record of making consistently excellent wines and age worthy Pinot Noir and Chardonnay.
After a long hiatus, I paid a visit to Calera in 2011. The facility has been continually improved over the years and now has barrel cellars carved into the hillside, an underground wine library, offices and a wine laboratory, and state of the art equipment. It is most impressive and quite different than what I remembered from the last visit over 30 years ago.
And, for decades Calera has been producing consistently excellent wines. On this visit I tasted a range of the 2010s from Calera’s 35th anniversary year. I commented that The 2010s look to be some of the best wines yet produced. I also tasted a variety of wines from 2009 and 2008 as well as a few older wines, including two of the inaugural 1978 vintage bottlings. (To read that article click here ). Below is the introduction from my last Calera article:
Owner Josh Jensen, an Oxford graduate, became interested in wine at an early age. And after graduation his interest led him to Burgundy where in 1970 and 1971 he apprenticed at Domaine de la Romanée Conti and Domaine Dujac. Domaine de la Romanée-Conti is the greatest Domaine in Burgundy and has a history dating back hundreds of years. Domaine Dujac was founded in 1968 and produced fabulous wines in 1969 just before Josh arrived. Domaine Dujac’s founder, Jacques Seysses, set up his Domaine with Domaine Romanée- Conti as a role model – good choice! And over the years Jacques has achieved some remarkable successes. So from that beginning you had to know that Josh was serious. He started at the top.
Josh was told by the Burgundians that in order to make seriously great Pinot Noir that you had to have limestone soil. So with that in mind he came back to California searching for a site with limestone soil. After 2 years of searching, he finally found the spot. Located about 90 miles south of San Francisco and some 25 miles inland from the Pacific Ocean, near Mt. Harlan, was a large parcel of land with a limestone deposit of several million tons. In early 1974 he purchased the site. Situated at 2200 feet above sea level, it is one of the highest and coolest vineyard properties in California.
The property had been the site of a commercial limestone quarry in the 1800s. A very well preserved 30 foot tall masonry limekiln still stands near what is now a Viognier vineyard. The name Calera is the Spanish word for limekiln. And, the limekiln is the symbol of Calera which appears on every bottle of wine. This dedication to the limestone site for his vineyards is once again an indication of Josh’s seriousness and his respect for the advice he was given in Burgundy.
In 1975 he planted the first 24 Pinot Noir vineyards in three separate parcels. They are Selleck (5 acres), Reed (5 acres), and Jensen (14 acres). These vineyards produced their first crop in 1978 which totaled a whopping 65 cases (15 Selleck and 25 each Reed and Jensen). Today those original vineyards are mature, but production is small with only about 2000 cases in total produced in an average year.
In 1977 Josh purchased the land to build the winery. It was a very fortunate purchase. Located on Cienega Road about half way between the vineyards and the town of Hollister, there was a multi-level rock crushing facility on the property that was built into the steep hillside in the 1950s. It was abandoned and never used, but was accessible via a paved road and had telephone and electrical service which to this day are unavailable on Mt. Harlan. The infrastructure of the facility became the basis for Calera’s gravity flow winery where the wine moves through the winemaking process without the use of pumps.
And, after the completion of the winery Josh set out on expanding the vineyards. In 1982 Josh purchased an adjacent 300 acres of limestone laden mountain land. In 1983, he planted 2 acres of Viognier on the site becoming one of the first in California to plant that varietal.
On the same slopes in 1984 Josh planted 6 acres of Chardonnay and 14.4 acres of Pinot Noir (the Mills Vineyard). In 1997 a 15.6 acre parcel of Pinot Noir was planted between the Jensen and Mills Vineyards. In 2007 that vineyard was named de Villiers and for the first time produced a single vineyard Pinot Noir. In 1998 five acres of Chardonnay and 10 acres of Pinot Noir were planted. The Pinot Noir vineyard was named Ryan. And, Calera is also one of the original producers of Aligoté in California. The first wines were grafted in 2004 and more in 2008 and 2009. Today there is a small ½ acre parcel in production.
In 1990 the Mt. Harlan AVA (American Viticultural Area) was approved. This AVA covers 7400 acres high in the Gavilan Mountains. Today the only vineyards in this AVA are those belonging to Calera.
My history with Calera goes back to the very beginning. My friends (the late Greg Doerschlag, one of the original contributing editors to the old Underground, and a few others) and I were early visitors. Josh still remembers us roaring up the mountain in our Porsches as do I (we were coming from a dinner at the late Richard Wing’s great Imperial Dynasty Restaurant in Hanford.) (To see my article honoring my great friend and chef, Richard Wing, click here. ). After that visit, I reviewed the 1978 and 1979 Calera Pinot Noirs in The Underground Wineletter, Volume II, Number 2  in the fall of 1980. I believe this was the first ever review of Calera wines. Here is my introduction:
‘Owner Josh Jensen is dedicated to making great Pinot Noir in California. As such, he joins the growing band of fanatics who demand an ultimate challenge, for making good Pinot Noir in California is by means easy (see Volume I Number1). However, in the mountainous terrain of the Gavilan Mountains west of Chalone…, Josh found the rocky, limestone soil that closely approximates that of Burgundy. Here he planted 24 acres of Pinot Noir in three separate vineyards. … Each vineyard has a separate character and the wines will be bottled under separate vineyard designations. The first crop from vines in their 4th leaf was in 1978. The quantities produced were minute, but the wines show promise. As the vines mature, production should reach 2-3,000 cases. Calera is a winery to watch.” And then I went on to comment on the wines. In speaking of the 1978s I said this about the 1978 Calera Pinot Noir Selleck Vineyard: “…this wine seems to be somewhat better than the other two…” And, in speaking about the 1979 Calera Pinot Noir Jensen Vineyard I had this to say: “…fruity/spicy Burgundian nose, it is not unlike a Dujac Burgundy…’” (To read my entire commentary click here. ).
CURRENT TASTING NOTES
Recently I tasted some of the newly released wines and a few wines that will be released later this year, including the range of 2010 Mt. Harlan Pinot Noirs tasted from barrel earlier. Also, I visited the winery and met with winemaker, Mike Waller, to taste 2012 and 2011 Pinot Noirs from barrel. Below are the notes.
Wines Tasted From Bottle
Central Coast Wines
Each year Calera makes a Chardonnay and Pinot Noir from grapes purchased from a variety of Central Coast vineyards. Over theyears the vineyard sources have remained fairly consistent. However, with a goal of making the best possible quality, new or newly available vineyards are added almost every year. Detailed information for each bottling is shown on the back label. These wines are consistently very fine and represent very good value. The current 2011 releases are really lovely.
2011 Calera Chardonnay Central Coast.
This wine was made from grapes sourced from 7 different vineyards in Monterey, San Luis Obispo, and Monterey counties. It is quite a rich Chardonnay. Light golden yellow in color the wine has a nice floral perfume with a kiss of vanilla and a tinge of apricot. It is supple and lush with floral tinged fruit showing hints of apricot and a faint spiciness and has early appeal – Highly Recommended.  $18
2011 Calera Pinot Noir Central Coast.
This wine was made from grapes sourced from 7 different vineyards in Santa Clara, San Luis Obispo, Monterey, and San Benito counties. It is a nicely balanced Pinot Noir with lots of appeal. With a very nice color the wine has a lovely floral perfume with berry fruit and a tinge of green olive. The flavors show a very pure fruit with a spice tinge and the wine is finesseful with a nice underlying crispness – Highly Recommended.  $24
Mt. Harlan Wines
The Mt. Harlan wines are made from estate grown fruit. Since 2008 all the vineyards have been certified organically farmed. There are three white wines produced: Chardonnay, Aligoté, and Viognier. There are 6.1 acres of Chardonnay, 5.3 acres of Viognier, and less than ½ acre of Aligoté. Pinot Noir is made from six different vineyards: Selleck (5 acres), Reed (5 acres), Jensen (14 acres), Mills (14.4 acres), de Villiers (15.6 acres), and Ryan (10 acres). The production of the Pinot Noir vines is very low. Yields rarely exceed 2 tons per acre with an average closer to 1 ½ tons per acre. Meticulous care of the vineyards and traditional winemaking with minimal intervention results in consistently high quality wines. These wines are very special and are available from the winery and in limited distribution across the country.
2011 White Wine
2011 Calera Chardonnay Mt. Harlan.
The yield in 2011 was 1.4 tons per acre and 888 cases of this wine were produced. This is a rich Chardonnay with lots of flavor, yet it also retains a nice underlying crispness. The color is light yellow gold and the wine has a deep perfume of vanilla tinged tropical fruit with floral, citrus, and spice nuances. On the palate the wine is rich and supple with vanilla tinged tropical fruit accented by floral nuances, a tinge of spice, and a faint honeyed quality. This is a Chardonnay that can be enjoyed now for its intensity and fruit, but as is typical for Mt. Harlan Chardonnay, it will age gracefully and become more integrated over time – Outstanding.  $30
Aligoté is a rather obscure grape variety. Aligoté was the original white grape of Burgundy. But, after Burgundy was ravaged by disease in the late 1800s, Aligoté was replaced with Chardonnay. Today only a little Aligoté is grown in Burgundy. In the Côte d’Or there are a few small plantings with producers such as Ponsot, Ramonet, and Roulot making particularly fine Aligoté. But, plantings in Burgundy are now largely confined to the Maconnais and Côte Chalonnaise. In these latter areas, the village of Bouzeron produces the finest Aligoté. Here Aubert de Villaine, the co-proprietor of Domaine de la Romanée Conti, and his wife Pamela consistently produce one of the best from their Domaine A. et P. de Villane. (To read about their wines click here ).
Aligoté is even rarer in California and Calera’s production is very small. The first vines were grafted to Aligoté in 2004 and more vines were added later. Still, today there are less than ½ acre of vines in production. It is a shame that there is not more Aligoté since the wine has a lot of character and a bright crispness that makes it very appealing. The Aligoté from Calera is consistently very fine and this 2011 may be the best yet.
2011 Calera Aligoté Mt. Harlan.
This wine was made from just 330 vines planted in 2004 and 2007. The production totaled just 140 cases. The wine has a wonderful crispness and is beautifully balanced with a low 12.5% alcohol. It is light yellow in color and has a gorgeous mineral tinged perfume with floral, peach, and citrus nuances. Very pure, with lovely melon and citrus fruit, the wine is bright and crisp with a faint underlying minerality. This is a Aligoté with a lot of character and appeal – Outstanding.  $21 Best Buy
2011 Calera Viognier Mt. Harlan.
The yields here in 2011 were 1.57 tons per acre and 630 cases of this wine were produced. It is a lovely Viognier that really benefits from aeration. Initially the wine is a bit closed, but opens to reveal true Viognier character. The wine is light yellow in color with a lovely floral spice perfume accented by a faint tropical note. It is rich, flavorful, and supple with lots of fruit and a distinct floral undertone, yet it retains a distinct zestiness that provides a nice balance – Highly Recommended Plus.  $30
2010 Pinot Noir
2010 was Calera’s 35th anniversary vintage. It was a year characterized by a cool summer and a long growing season with most of the Pinot Noir harvested from mid-October through early November. As a result the wines have bright acidity and lower alcohols in a range of 13.6% to 14.1%. Each day’s picking was kept separately up until shortly before bottling.
I tasted the wines from barrel about a year after harvest. They were most impressive. Here is what I said then: “The single vineyard bottlings have exceptional fruit and balance. They should be among the best all time Calera Pinot Noirs.” Now that they are bottled they certainly live up to that early assessment.
2010 Calera Pinot Noir de Villiers Vineyard Mt. Harlan.
The yield here was 1.99 tons per acre and 2,009 cases were produced. The color is deep and the wine has a lovely perfume of boysenberry and blackberry with floral spice nuances. An abundance of very pure berry fruit is very expressive and tinged with touch of minerality and a faint floral spiciness. This is a Pinot Noir with great purity, balance, and structure that will age beautifully – Outstanding.  $42
2010 Calera Pinot Noir Ryan Vineyard Mt. Harlan.
The yield here was 1.95 tons per acre and 1,681 cases were produced. The wine has a deep color and a lovely blackberry and cherry perfume with a faint underlying spiciness. On the palate there is bright berry fruit with floral spice notes and a tinge of minerality. Well structured with good backbone the wine has depth and lots of flavor with a nice crispness on the finish – Outstanding.  $42
2010 Calera Pinot Noir Jensen Vineyard Mt. Harlan.
The yield here was 1.22 tons per acre and 1,072 cases were produced. The wine has a gorgeous spice tinged perfume showing berry fruit with floral hints and an intriguing exotic nuance. Structured with depth and richness this is a Pinot Noir that is loaded with very pure fruit that shows a floral spice complexity, a touch of minerality, and a bit of an exotic undertone. Balanced and very approachable now, the wine will be even more spectacular with time – Outstanding Plus.  $75
2010 Calera Pinot Noir Reed Vineyard Mt. Harlan.
The yield here was 1.67 tons per acre and 398 cases were produced. The wine has a very nice color and an intriguing perfume of spice tinged cherries with a faintly smoky and exotic undertone. It is elegant and finesseful with a myriad of fruit flavors and spicy, exotic, floral tinges. This is s gorgeous balanced Pinot Noir with purity and complexity. Time should only add to its charm – Outstanding Plus.  $55
2010 Calera Pinot Noir Selleck Vineyard Mt. Harlan.
The yield here was 1.21 tons per acre and 381 cases were produced. As was mentioned in the introduction, when I first tasted the 1978 and 1979 Calera Pinot Noirs in 1980 the Selleck seemed to stand out. And, over the years, it does seem that Selleck usually has an extra dimension of richness. This can be attributed to the exposure, soil, and low yields (1.34 tons per acre average yield for the 29 year period 1982-2010). This 2010 is absolutely gorgeous and it really begins to shine with some air. With a deep color the wine has a stunning perfume of berries and plums with a floral undertone and very faint hints of smokiness and spice. On the palate, the wine has richness and depth with a seamless structure and a nice underlying crispness. Loaded with fruit there is also a tinge of spice and minerality with a floral, faintly exotic nuance. This is an amazing Pinot Noir – Extraordinary.  $80 September Release
2010 Calera Pinot Noir Mills Vineyard Mt. Harlan.
The yield here was 1.48 tons per acre and 1,543 cases were produced. With a deep color this Pinot Noir has a gorgeous perfume that radiates with floral, berry, spice and exotic nuances. It has great floral tinged fruit with faint exotic nuances and is supple, rounded and lush. Balanced with great elegance and flavor, this is a stunning Pinot Noir that should age beautifully – Outstanding Plus.  $48 September Release
I tasted most of these wines over a period of 10-14 days. They held up beautifully. The 2010 Calera Mt. Harlan Pinot Noirs are classic wines across the board. They have the fruit, balance, and structure to evolve and develop into something very special over a period of 10-20 years and keep well beyond. These are wines to buy!
2012 and 2011 Pinot Noirs Tasted From Barrel
This was my first visit tasting with Mike Waller, the winemaker. Josh is still very much involved, but there seems no question that Mike is the perfect complement. Mike is a very affable young man and is very serious about the job to which he has been entrusted. He is totally committed in the vineyard and the winery to make sure the legacy of Calera is maintained. Balanced and harmonious wines that are made with minimal intervention continue to be the hallmark of Calera. Taken from the Calera website, here is Mike’s biography:
“A Hollister native Mike grew up just ten miles from Calera. As a homebrewer he discovered a passion for fermentations, and caught the wine bug on a visit to Napa Valley. He was so serious that he attended UC Davis to study Viticulture and Enology. A first harvest at Saintsbury and a subsequent short stint at Beringer were followed by a move to the Central Coast in 2004 to work at Chalone Vineyard. He was hired at Calera in 2007, a great opportunity to make wine close to his roots.”
There are normally several pickings of each vineyard due to the climate and exposure which results in different blocks ripening at different times. The yields in 2012 were about average. The 2012s were not blended at the time of my tasting. And, while Mike made a representative blend of some of the wines that should approximate the final blend it is really too early to make an accurate assessment. But, the wines have a lot of fruit and richness. Mike thinks they resemble the 2007s. This was a vintage of concentrated wines with lots of fruit and 2012 should certainly be in that league.
2012 Calera Pinot Noir Jensen Vineyard Mt. Harlan.
Dark in color this wine has a deep perfume and lots of very rich blackberry fruit. It is concentrated and balanced with impressive length. This is a real tour-de-force.
2012 Calera Pinot Noir Mills Vineyard Mt. Harlan.
Mike commented that the early vintages of Mills showed a lot of tannin, but that since 2005 the tannins have been much lower. This wine is very lush and expressive with beautiful balance. The color is dark and there is a deep perfume with loads of supple fruit on the palate. This is very impressive.
2012 Calera Pinot Noir Reed Vineyard Mt. Harlan.
Dark in color this wine exhibits a lovely perfume and is flavorful and very expressive. With loads of well defined fruit the wine is finesseful with a nice underlying crispness. Just a bit restrained just now, but harmonious with great potential.
The 2011s are more like the 2010s. Mike thinks that 2011 is one of the best vintages since he arrived in 2007. Certainly it is a vintage with a lot of finesse and purity of fruit. The wines should evolve beautifully. At the time of my visit one wine was in tank and the rest of the wines were to go into tank one week later. The wines in barrel were from grapes picked at different times. Before going into tank they will be blended and go into tank where they were scheduled to be bottled in a month. I tasted representative samples of the wines in barrel and offer only general notes for those wines. One characteristic of all the wines was that they are very expressive, finesseful, and balanced, yet with intensity and lovely flavors. They will be a wonderful follow up to the 2010s. The comparison of the two vintages after the 2011s are bottled should be very interesting.
2011 Calera Pinot Noir de Villiers Vineyard Mt. Harlan.
In 2011 there were 4 different picks of this vineyard from October 3 to October 16. The production is about 1375 cases. Mike pointed out that the wine from de Villiers was very tannic early on. The vines were planted in 1997 and the first vineyard designated wine was not made until 2007. De-stemming has contributed to the balance in the wine and this 2011 is lovely. With a very nice color it is a wine of elegance and finesse and exhibits very pure fruit with structure and depth.
2011 Calera Pinot Noir Mills Vineyard Mt. Harlan.
There were 3 picks of the Mills Vineyard in 2011. The production is about 1000 cases. The wine has a very nice color and a lovely floral perfume. It exhibits very pure fruit with hints of raspberry and cherry and is balanced and very elegant.
2011 Calera Pinot Noir Reed Vineyard Mt. Harlan.
There were 2 picks of the Reed Vineyard in 2011. The production is 225 cases. This wine has a very nice color and a stunning floral perfume. It is elegant and finesseful with a myriad of very pure fruit showing a faint exotic tinge. This is really lovely.
2011 Calera Pinot Noir Jensen Vineyard Mt. Harlan.
There were 3 picks of the Jensen vineyard in 2011. The production is 1075 cases. The wine has a very nice color and a gorgeous perfume with floral berry nuances. The wine has very pure fruit and expressive and bright with lovely flavors and a lot of finesse.
2011 Calera Pinot Noir Selleck Vineyard Mt. Harlan.
There were 2 picks of the Selleck vineyard in 2011. The production is 225 cases. The southern exposure and soil in this vineyard account for the richness that this wine exhibits. This 2011 has a very nice color and a lovely floral spice tinged perfume. It is very flavorful with lots of fruit and has depth and richness with balanced underlying tannins. The wine is just a bit restrained just now, but shows all the components of making a great bottle.
2011 Calera Pinot Noir Ryan Vineyard Mt. Harlan.
This wine was blended and tasted from tank just prior to bottling. It has a deep color and a stunning floral perfume with hints of blackberries. The wine exhibits lovely very pure fruit with hints of blackberry and a faint floral note. It is bright and finesseful with balance and a nice underlying crispness. All in all, this is a gorgeous wine of great style and finesse – Outstanding Potential. 
Kudos For Calera!
Calera wines have a long track record of excellence. The Pinot Noirs are stellar examples of what can be accomplished with this variety in California. They are balanced wines with a great ability to improve and age over a long period of time (the notes on the 2 half bottles of 1978 mentioned earlier are prime evidence). And the amount of consumer information available on each of the wines is something that every winery should follow. Not only do the back labels have a lot of information, there is even more detail available on the web site. If you are not familiar with the Calera wines, I strongly encourage you to try them. And, be sure to visit the website for more information, including the wine club, direct purchases, and the availability of the wines in your area (To visit the Calera website click here ).