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Duckhorn Buys Central Coast Pinot Noir Pioneer Calera

Founder Josh Jensen steps back from the Mount Harlan winery he established in the 1970s
Josh Jensen spent decades establishing Pinot Noir at his remote California winery.
Josh Jensen spent decades establishing Pinot Noir at his remote California winery.

Augustus Weed
Posted: August 15, 2017

Napa Valley–based Merlot specialist Duckhorn Wine Company has purchased Calera, one of the Central Coast’s best-known Pinot Noir producers, from founder Josh Jensen. The deal includes the winery, its tasting room and 85 acres of estate vineyards planted in the Mount Harlan appellation. The sale price was not disclosed.

As part of the deal Jensen will join Duckhorn’s board of directors and will consult for Calera for the next four years. The winery’s current staff, including winemaker Mike Waller, will remain on board.

“Having started the winery on a hope and a prayer, this is a wonderful way to ensure the future of Calera,” Jensen told Wine Spectator. The 73-year-old vintner wanted to take some time off and was looking for a steward to take over the winery, since his three children had decided to pursue different careers. He considers Duckhorn an ideal fit, saying, “I was able to place my life’s work in the hands of true wine people that believe in quality.”

For their part, Duckhorn’s principals weren’t looking to buy a winery. But president and CEO Alex Ryan says the opportunity to acquire Calera was too good to pass up, noting that the iconic winery will give the company a strong presence in the Central Coast. “Josh and a very small handful of people paved the way for luxury Pinot Noir in California,” he said, calling Jensen a risk taker and pioneer.

It was a passion for Pinot Noir and the pursuit of limestone-laden soils that led Jensen to start Calera in the remote Gavilan Mountains, east of the city of Salinas. Convinced that limestone was essential to great Burgundy, he bought a secluded property in 1975, planting Pinot Noir on steep slopes rising to nearly 2,500 feet in elevation. He later expanded the estate to six vineyards, adding Viognier and Chardonnay, and was pivotal in the creation of the Mount Harlan AVA.

Calera’s six single-vineyard Pinot Noirs are notable for their minerality and are typically medium-weight and delicate in style with snappy acidity. The winery also produces three regional blends of Pinot, Chardonnay and Viognier from the Central Coast. Total production hovers around 35,000 cases of wine a year.

Calera joins Duckhorn’s already sizeable portfolio of Pinot Noirs. Founded by Dan and Margaret Duckhorn, the wine company now has six wineries, including Migration and Goldeneye, which focus on Pinot and Chardonnay from Sonoma and Anderson Valley, respectively.

The deal comes nearly a year to the date after San Francisco–based private-equity investment firm TSG Consumer Partners purchased Duckhorn from its former majority investors, GI Partners. Total production for its six current brands is approximately 900,000 cases annually.

Duckhorn’s executives are considering the next steps for Calera. They don’t plan to expand production of the estate wines but may grow the Central Coast line of wines. Jensen also says that there is more plantable land on Mount Harlan and in the limestone soils around Calera’s winemaking facility in the nearby Cienega Valley appellation. But he is comfortable that the style of the wines will not change: “[Duckhorn is] going to fully support [Waller’s] requests for new equipment and new opportunities while staying true to the good old pursuit of quality.”

David Lerer
Indialantic, FL —  August 20, 2017 8:37am ET
Hats off to Josh for making a tough decision, and to Duckhorn for the preservation and continuity of a Pinot legend like Calera within its more than noteworthy portfolio of wineries. As a longtime fan of many of their wines, I look forward to tasting their new vintages to come. Thanks for all the great wine Josh.

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