15 Jun Please The Palate Wine of the Week: Calera 2018 Mt. Harlan Pinot Noir Ryan Vineyard in honor of Josh Jensen
This week the wine industry lost another legend, Josh Jensen. Visionary, legend, iconic….these are just some of the words used for a man like Josh Jensen. A pioneer of Pinot Noir, he contributed vastly to the understanding and production of the grape. So to honor him and his legacy, I opened a bottle of Calera 2018 Mt. Harlan Pinot Noir Ryan Vineyard this week and obviously, it is the Please The Palate wine of the week.
After studying at Yale and later at Oxford, Josh Jensen first fell in love with Burgundy after meeting Aubert de Villaine, proprietor of Domaine de la Romanée-Conti, one of France’s most celebrated vineyards. Subsequently, Jensen spent the early 1970s on a hunt for limestone soils. He traveled all over California, venturing off of the grid on a quest to find the perfect site. Located 90 miles south of San Francisco and 25 miles inland from the Pacific Ocean, Jensen ultimately found an old limekiln in the Gabilan Mountains.
In 1974 he purchased what is now Mt. Harlan. Located 2,200 feet above sea level, Mt. Harlan is one of the highest and coolest vineyard properties in California and the home of Calera Winery, which is the Spanish word for “limekiln.” In 1975, using cuttings that came from Burgundy, Jensen planted the first 24 acres of Pinot Noir in three vineyards – Selleck Vineyard, Reed Vineyard and Jensen Vineyard. In 1977, Jensen purchased an old rock crushing quarry down the road from the vineyards and built a gravity fed winery. He was also one of the first to plant Viognier and Aligoté in California. The 20,000-acre Mt. Harlan was established as an AVA in 1991. As a monopole, Calera is the only commercial winery in the appellation.
I had the honor to briefly meet Josh Jensen at World of Pinot Noir in 2016 when he was recognized as a “Rock Star of Wine.” Jensen sold Calera to the Duckhorn Wine Company in 2017 but his name is still synonymous with the brand. In 2021, I then had the privilege to travel to the Cienega Valley and to visit the Calera winery where winemaker Mike Waller, who began working for Josh Jensen in 2007, continues to make elegant, age-worthy wines recognized for their cool-climate purity. During this visit, Mike shared old vintages of Calera wines.
The Calera 2018 Mt. Harlan Pinot Noir Ryan Vineyard ($80), which I drank this week, comes from the Ryan Vineyard. Planted in 1998, the Ryan Vineyard is named after Jim Ryan, Calera’s vineyard manager since 1979. The wine has enticing aromas of cherry, black raspberry, blackberry, violets, dried herbs, and pepper. The fruit aromas continue on the palate and there is a lovely touch of savory sage. The wine has grippy tannins, lively acidity, and beautiful minerality.
While a legend in the wine industry is now gone, he will forever live on. Josh Jensen’s impact on Pinot Noir will be remembered forever and will be reflected in every bottle of Calera enjoyed.