As we learned, Calera’s vineyards are atop Mt. Harlan, a designated American Viticultural Area. And Calera is the sole winery in this AVA. That gives them quite a marketing edge. If you like grapes from Mt. Harlan, Calera is the only game in town. According to Marta Rich, National Sales Manager, the Mt. Harlan AVA was designated in 1990. And Calera still owns and manages the only vineyards in the AVA. Marta assures me that Calera does not sell any Mt. Harlan fruit. As an economist and small business owner, I appreciate the benefits of market power like this!
The tasting opened with two chardonnays. The Central Coast blend ($20) opens with aromas of oak and Meyer lemon. The palate that tension between pineapple and green apple with a hint of caramel. Thoroughly satisfying and fairly priced.
Kudos to Calera for truth in labeling. The back labels of the Central Coast blends give the percentages from each vineyard. The Mt. Harlan varietals include vast amounts of technical information.
The Mt. Harlan ($36) had too much oak for our taste. With age it may come around. We detected some lime and almonds that make it worthwhile to age a couple of bottles for several years.
And then there were two 2013 viogniers, also from the Central Coast and Mt. Harlan. The Central Coast blend ($18) opens with aromas of honeysuckle followed by lime and bosc pears. The finish is lemon custard. This is a relatively austere viognier with outstanding scents.
The Mt. Harlan ($32) is very austere. Hints of pear and honeysuckle on the nose followed by a mineral palate with a touch of green mango. The best way to describe the finish is juicy and long.
On to the Pinots
Like the chardonnay and viognier blends, Calera also offers a 2013 Central Coast pinot noir ($28). Starting with aromas of rose petals and black cherries, the palate is predominately black cherries with a hints of spice and butterscotch.
The first single-vineyard pinot was the 2012 de Villiers ($48). Wet slate and dark fruit aromas are followed by more minerality on the palate. The technical notes on the website say this wine was not racked and is unfiltered. The chewy texture fits that perfectly.
The Ryan 2011 ($48) has a gritty, dark, earthy profile. Herbs and pepper on the nose lead to more earth and a hint of spice.
The 2012 edition of Ryan ($50) is much better. Aromas of black cherry and herbs are followed by more black cherry and blackberry on the palate. Nice structure and a long, delightful finish.
Calera’s Mills 2011 ($54) is lighter than the Ryans. Aromas of red raspberries and bing cherries lead to darker cherries and spice on the palate.
The tasting closed with the Jensen 2012 ($85). Like a number of high-end pinots, this one is beyond the scope of our taste buds. We did recognize aromas of cherries and leather followed by complexity and depth that we could detect (if not fully appreciate).
Calera is sited near an old lime kiln in the Gavilan Mountains. The vineyard is atop a mountain of limestone, just like Calcareous in Paso Robles.
As we’ve learned, limestone is part of the classic terroir for pinot noir. Here’s the Calera vineyard map:
Owner Josh Jensen studied winemaking in Burgundy and searched for two years before finding the ideal location. Despite being 25 miles from the ocean, the vineyard’s 2,200 foot elevation yields the cool nights pinot noir and chardonnay need. It happens that “calera” is Spanish for limekiln, serving as both the basis for great wine and the winery’s logo.
Compare with the original:
Josh planted his first pinot noir grapes in 1975. That same year he released his first wine. Clearly it wasn’t from those grapevines. In fact, it was a zinfandel made from purchased grapes. From the Calera website:
In 1977 Josh purchased property on which to build the winery. He chose a 100 acre site on Cienega Road halfway between the vineyard and the town of Hollister. Located 1000 feet lower in elevation than the vineyard, this property was blessed with the all-important attributes of a paved road, and both telephone and electrical service (services which to this day are unavailable on Mt. Harlan).
On the Cienega Road property. a multi-level rock crushing facility had been built into the steep hillside in the 1950s. The facility was abandoned before it was ever used for crushing rock, but 20 years later the walls and terraces, with some substantial seismic retro-fitting, (the San Andreas fault lies just 100 yards away) became the heart of Calera’s gravity-flow winery. The multi-layered hillside construction has allowed for the gentlest possible handling of the Calera wines. Wines move through the winemaking process by the mere force of gravity, rather than by the use of pumps.
We’ve encountered Calera many times over the years. It was a pleasure to experience a focused tasting of their wines.