Calera Wine Company is named after a calera, or limekiln, that is located on the property from the time when it was a limestone mining operation. The book “The Heartbreak Grape,” about owner Josh Jensen’s drive to create the perfect Pinot Noir, was written in the early 1990s, showing just how inspirational their wines can be. And the views? They’re pretty inspirational, too.
Notably for our project, Calera Wine Company is the only area winery currently producing wines from the Mt. Harlan AVA. It’s fascinating to me that micro-appellations like this exist, especially when I visit other wine regions and find what seems like hundreds of wineries all clustered in one appellation. Two other single-winery appellations in the area are Chalone (in the Chalone AVA in Monterey County) and Lime Kiln Valley (owned by Enz Winery, which according to the folks at DeRose has ceased producing wines for the time being).
When we rolled into Calera, we discovered that we’d already shared a tasting with most of the people in the tasting room. Some had been at Pietra Santa, others at DeRose. I guess that’s what happens when there are four wineries in town and three of them are located within a three mile radius of each other. As we moved forward with our tasting, even more people we’d seen on our journey arrived, making it feel like old home week.
The tasting room is located in a very industrial space, although Calera has added unique decorating touches that give the area a flavor all its own. Proprietor Josh Jensen himself, as well as a very friendly female tasting associate we sadly did not get the name of, poured this great tasting for us.
2009 Chardonnay (Central Coast): I tasted hits of soda pop and saffron, while Mike tasted toasted marshmallow and vanilla. We both agreed: yummy! Then the woman tasting right next to us said she thought it tasted like Two-Buck Chuck, which just goes to show – everyone’s palate is different.
2009 Viognier (Mt. Harlan): Mike smelled Froot Loops and noted its fruity sweetness, which we agreed were well mediated by a hint of bitterness and dry tannins.
2002 Viognier (Mt. Harlan): Now this wine is what I expect from a Viognier! The smell reminded me of paella, with a strong hint of saffron. It tasted of saffron, oak, a hint of vanilla and blackened toast. I actually burn my toast on purpose because I like the taste, so this was a flavor combo that really worked for me.
2010 Vin Gris of Pinot Noir (Central Coast): This is Calera’s take on a Rosé, made with Pinot Noir grapes. It smelled like sugar and tangerines to me, but was dryer when I tasted it, although there was still that hint of tart tangerines. If I’d had my eyes closed, I would have been sure it was a red. Mike tasted ruby red grapefruit and toasted sugar.
2008 Pinot Noir (Central Coast): This smelled of sugared plums and had a rich, savory taste. It reminded Mike strongly of a German raspberry syrup that his mother used to buy to make soda out of, with a hint of tannins and just a touch of bell pepper.
2001 Pinot Noir, Mills Vineyard (Mt. Harlan): It smelled like tart raisins, and both of us could taste an edge of alcohol in this wine.
2007 Pinot Noir, Ryan Vineyard (Mt. Harlan): I still got that alcohol edge on this one, with a taste and texture on my tongue like powdered grape skins. Mike described it as “more stately than the 2001.”
2008 Pinot Noir, Mills Vineyard (Mt. Harlan): Both of us found the flavor profile on this to be very similar to the other two, with perhaps a few more tannins. This could be a sign that Calera has a wine groove, or a sign that our palates were getting burnt out.