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edible Monterey Bay Summer 2015

www.ediblemontereybay.com 45 turning to California, he searched out and found limestone soils atop Mount Harlan in the desolate Gavilan Range that closely resembled those he’d seen in Burgundy. And that’s how Calera winery began. It’s a story that’s been told many times over in the adoring wine trade press and in between sips of wine in the tasting room. There’s even a book written about Jensen’s struggles to get his vineyards going on the steep, arid slopes, called The Heartbreak Grape by South African writer, Marq De Villiers. “I’m absolutely still in love with Pinot,” says Jensen, now 71 and celebrating Calera’s 40th anniversary. “What I love about Pinot Noir is that the greatest examples are elegant, subtle and incredibly complex, with three or four different levels of aroma and of flavor. The most complex wines are the greatest.” Calera, which means limekiln in Spanish, produces Pinots, Chardonnay and Viognier in a winery fashioned from a former rock crushing plant that’s something to see. It’s a unique seven-level, gravity-flow system that allows for minimal handling and maximum efficiency. Jensen’s winemaking techniques are also minimalist, giving the limestone minerality a chance to sing. “Grapevine roots can go down 80 feet, interpreting if they find granite down there or schist or igneous rock and sending that input back to the grapes,” he explains, adding that other environmental factors like temperature, elevation, native grasses and chaparral plants also play a role. “We have chemise brush, manzanita, scrub oak and ceanothus, which is wild lilac, and one of my favorite aromas that exists,” says Jensen, who tends 83.6 acres of grapes on Mount Harlan and buys from neighboring Central Coast growers. Surprising success Despite a rock star reputation in the wine world, Jensen and Calera remain relatively obscure here at home. “We sell tiny amounts of wine in our backyard,” he admits. “Our wines are not rip-off high priced, but they are higher priced than anybody else is making in this county.” Pinots retail for $28–85 online and Chardonnays for $20–36. “I never wanted to just sell our wines in Hollister and San Benito County or Monterey County. Right from day one I started selling Japan to meet his fans. This spring, a nineday tour took him up and down the country speaking at sold-out seminars and tastings in Tokyo, Hokkaido, Nagoya and Osaka. Back here in California, Calera is one of the founding wineries of the San Franciscobased group, In Pursuit of Balance, formed to promote more nuanced, subtle wines than are common in California. “The idea was that there are too many Pinot Noirs being made that are overdone, over-ripe, over-heavy,” he says. “We don’t want any flame throwers.” Daughter Silvie—one of Jensen’s three children and an aspiring singer with the San Francisco Opera—has begun helping out with the twice-yearly IPoB tastings. “The idea is to get back to wines that are meant to accompany meals, and it’s been a very good thing,” he says. in 10 other states,” he says. “I had gone to grad school in England and lived in France, so I thought it shouldn’t just be people in California who get to drink Calera; it should be people all across the country and in wine markets in different parts of the world.” Surprisingly, Japan has turned out to be Calera’s biggest market, accounting for 37% of sales. “Twenty years ago we had this serendipitous bit of good luck,” he explains. “One of the main wine columns gave us a massive compliment and the next morning there was a line around the block outside the one wine shop in Tokyo that carried our wines.” It was a popular Japanese manga or cartoon strip column that people read on the subway on the way to work and it compared Calera to the wines of Jensen’s mentors at Domaine de la Romanée-Conti. Sales skyrocketed and Jensen began making annual trips to Here, Josh Jensen is dressed casually for a day at the vineyard, but he’s known as one of the best-dressed men in the wine business. His closet is filled with flashy vintage jackets, belts, ties and shirts, picked up over the years at the now-defunct Versace boutique at the Gilroy outlet mall. “There will never be another Gianni Versace,” he says with a sigh.


edible Monterey Bay Summer 2015
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