Eat, drink, savor: the five novelties of Calera Wine Company

Winemaker Mike Waller offers his knowledge of the vineyards, the process and the wines.

Calera Wine Company Mike Waller was the first winemaker interviewed for the Eat, Drink, Savor series and his first question was memorable: “You like wine, don’t you? We had a journalist here before who didn’t like wine.

It’s hard to imagine anyone not taking full advantage of the wines Calera produces from their Mount Harlan vineyards above the Cienega Valley. Founder Josh Jensen researched and found the perfect combination of limestone, climate and grape varieties to produce wines that have made Calera regularly mentioned as one of 100 best wineries in the worldmost recently in August 2021.

Waller was appointed winemaker at Calera by Jensen in 2009 and has assumed responsibility for maintaining the winery’s reputation since Jensen’s retirement in 2017.

“At the start of the pandemic,” Waller said, “we closed the doors for a few weeks because we didn’t know what to expect. But you can’t do that because you have to keep making wine and making sure they’re up to snuff. It was hard to predict demand at first, but since people were staying home and not spending money in restaurants, many of them were going out and buying wine to drink at home.

As with all the wines we tasted, with the exception of the Vin Gris, Calera uses only 100% estate-grown grapes. Waller said the wildfires in 2020 raised concerns because of the potential impact of smoke on grapes.

“We had no idea what we were going to get out of the vineyards or if we were going to have to buy grapes to maintain production,” Waller said. “We were very careful and sent a lot of grapes, juices and wines for analysis that year, but the numbers came back good with no trace of smoke.”

Still, Waller proceeded with caution that year.

“We were careful because we just didn’t know,” he said. “We did things a little differently. I brought the pinot and washed the grapes in case there was any ash. But all you do is wash out the native yeast, so I’ll never do that again. We found that the smell of smoke affects the grapes at some point in their growth, but we were so close to picking and had so little smoke that it determined me to make wine the way I know how.

When tasting wines with Waller, he is more interested in describing complex structures than comparing them with exotic tastes and smells.

“I don’t dig deep into wine like that,” he said. “I only have about eight descriptors in my head and I use them over and over and over again. I see wine more as a vehicle. I want to see some tension in the middle of the wine, whether it’s like tannin or acid. I want fruit characteristics on the front of the nose that will carry over. I want to see a wine stretch, I want to see the finish last a long time.

Jensen’s death on June 11 has refocused the wine world on Calera’s remarkable accomplishments in both Jensen’s vision and style of winemaking and Waller’s interpretation of the Mount Harlan vineyards.

As the toughest days of the pandemic fade and wine lovers return to Calera to pay their respects in Jensen’s memory, Waller is still busy but content.

“I can say my crew are happy,” he said. “We produce very good wines. And things are going very, very well. »

Calera Wine Company Wines

2020 Mont Harlan Chardonnay ($60 – 14.5%) – Aged for 15 months in French oak barrels, the floral aroma leads to understated fruitiness and crisp mineral intensity. The wine leans towards more acidity than butter and lemon zest than tropical fruit, which is Waller’s goal. “It’s still one of my favorite wines,” Waller said. “It’s not the prototypical chardonnay you see all over California. We’re not looking to make a great, buttery flabby wine; we want a wine that stands the test of time. Ah, but there’s no better time than the present for this smooth, relaxed chardonnay; it’s accommodating enough to be an excellent table wine and complex enough to be enjoyed on its own.

2021 Central Coast Pinot Noir Vin Gris ($26 – 13.5%) – The grapes for this wine come, according to Calera’s website, “from a prized single vineyard in the Cienega Valley on the Central Coast AVA,” or, as Waller put it, “I bought the fruit from my brother” – who is Cory Waller, winemaker for Eden Rift Vineyards. “For this wine, I only take real free run juice and don’t squeeze it very hard,” Waller said. “Then I put it in a tank and let it ferment at very cold temperatures. This makes for a tangy white wine with characteristics of pinot noir, as well as red fruits and strawberry. The wine is pleasant, light and not too sweet, with an aroma of apple blossom and a delicate rosy color A beautifully sweet wine, it drifts cleanly as you drink it and should be served very cold like an refreshing summer.

2019 Mt. Harlan de Villiers Vineyard Pinot Noir ($85 – 14.5%) – It is rated 93 by Wine Spectator. “We have six pinots from one vineyard and Josh wanted to prove that they are all very unique,” ​​Waller said. “De Villiers is one of the youngest vineyards here and sits on a rolling hillside, so it’s hard to predict maturity. When we harvest it, we do it in four or five different pickings. Each choice is ground and then ferments on its own. The aroma bursts from the glass and the wine is rich with dark berry tones and light, understated tannins that give it fine structure and just enough backbone. Waller said de Villiers produces the most fruit from their pinots and that adds to a youthful feel in the wine’s brilliance and drinkability “Our longtime Calera fans could put that away for about 15 years. “, Waller said, “but I think wine should always be accessible now.”

2019 Mt. Harlan Reed Vineyard Pinot Noir ($85 – 14.5%) – It is rated 93 by Wine Spectator.

“Pinot Noir is the hardest variety to grow,” Waller said, “but the easiest variety to make wine. Reed was planted in 1975 and we get a decent harvest from it. For most vineyards , you’re looking at three or four tons per acre, but with Reed it’s closer to a ton to a ton and a half. The quality that comes from the maturity of the vines, compared to de Villiers, is very noticeable. The aroma is more subdued and subtle and the wine is less fruity, but there is a burst of acid followed by a slow, clean finish.The tannins are slightly more pronounced and the wine tones are more plum than dark cherry. It is a seductive and thoughtful wine, to drink while admiring a sunset and contemplating infinity.

2018 Mt. Harlan Jensen Vineyard Pinot Noir ($100 – 14.7%) – It is rated 95 by Wine Enthusiast and 94 by Wine & Spirits. “The Jensen vineyard is shaped like an amphitheater,” Waller said, “so it has all four sun exposures. That makes a huge difference when you go to choose this wine – it can last six weeks. fruity that has a very simple aroma that belies the explosion of flavor on your palate, which Waller describes as “surrounding your palate with raspberries, blackberries and blueberries”.This is a phenomenal wine, a wine to be experienced as much as you drink it. I found myself closing my eyes as I drank so I could focus on the swirling tones of this wine playing with my taste buds. This wine pays homage to Josh Jensen, more than any what commemorative notice could; this is Calera at its best, produced from one of the greatest vineyards in the world by a master winemaker.

BenitoLink thanks our subscribers, Hollister Super and Windmill Market, for helping to expand the Eat, Drink, Savor series and provide our readers with the stories that matter to them. Hollister Super (two stores in Hollister) and Windmill Market (in San Juan Bautista) support stories about the inspired and creative people behind the many delicious food and beverage products made in San Benito County. All editorial decisions are made by BenitoLink.

Shirley M. Pinder