This hit home with me. Why? Josh Jensen, the Founder of Calera, is a legend and he was actually the first Winemaker I ever worked with when starting out as a rep with a Wine Distributor. I was beyond nervous because of what I knew about the world class quality of his wines, and his story.
Josh founded Calera in the mid-70’s after spending time studying in Burgundy. While in Burgundy, he learned the secrets in terroir. What makes fantastic Pinot and Chardonnay? LIMESTONE SOIL. After returning, he went on a quest throughout California in search of a perfect site full of limestone to plant his vineyards. That search took him two years and led him to a remote area in the Gavilan Mountains along the Central Coast.
I’ll be the first to admit, there are few California Chardonnays and Pinots I can enjoy. I find them to be over manipulated, high in sugar (which then causes a high alcohol content), and a departure from how they used to be produced. The wines of Calera though? Breathtaking. Josh focused on single vineyards, he was a man dedicated to sense of place. His wines always breathed terroir and had acidity I could rarely find in other California producers. Truly wines that were made for the dinner table as well as to lay down and enjoy years later.
Jensen produced wines for 42 years and at the age of 73, he felt it was time for him to retire. Although, people in the wine industry never do actually fully retire. None of Josh’s children wanted to continue the winery, so he was in a position to sell. This is where things can drastically change a brand. Josh didn’t sell to Constellation or Gallo, but to Duckhorn. The original founders of Duckhorn also sold their brand and they are no longer family owned. Having represented the Duckhorn brands in the past and having been around them my entire career, they have certainly gone in a much less compelling style. When a family sells to a company, prices eventually go up, quantity increases, and quality goes down. Duckhorn may have a better “image” in the marketplace to consumers, but I can only say from experience that the quality of Josh’s wines are going to change, and not in a positive way. Regardless if the incoming winemaker learns his recipe, that winemaker will have to answer to TSG Consumer Partners (not such a name that stirs up fuzzy feelings when thinking about wine) at the end of the day.
It’s sad when I see brilliant, family owned wineries changing course. I guess all things do come to an end. I also guess it’s time to go buy up some of Josh’s wines before Duckhorn takes on the next vintage. If I was you, I’d do the same. They are seriously bottles of wine you make memories with.
And in case you were wondering about my experience working with Josh, it was great. I’m analytical and love to learn. He is an eccentric man one can learn a lot from. After moving to San Francisco, he actually used to frequent a wine bar I did (he had a second home there) and it was always a pleasure running into him. Could talk wine all night.
I wish Josh a happy retirement – well deserved for a pioneer like himself.