Saturday, July 29, 2023

Calera Ryan Vineyard Pinot Noir

Calera Mount Harlan Ryan Vineyard Pinot Noir with Cheese, Berries and Chocolates

Following our selection of Pinot Noirs tasted over the last week and a half, we continued the hit parade with another Pinot from another favorite producer and label from our cellar collection.

As featured in these pages, we had the Belle Glos Clark & Telephone Pinot Noir at the Beach Walk Café, Henderson Park Inn, in Destin FL, then the Belle Glos Las Alturas Pinot Noir at Firefly Grill Effingham, IL, then the Belle Glos RRV Dairyman Vineyard Pinot Noir upon our return home. 

So, tonight I was eager to try another Pinot from our cellar collection to continue the comparison tastings of select Pinot Noirs. As I wrote in the earlier posts, in the midst of summer, its was a nice departure from the big bold hearty Syrah's/Shiraz's we enjoy, and the robust Bordeaux varietals to the finer, more refined, less bold and burdensome Pinot Noirs. Each of these tastings were delightful and frankly, exceeded our expectations for a ideal accompaniment to our various entrees. 

 For casual sipping and pairing with food, we started with a cheese plate with assorted crackers, fresh berries, honey and chocolate. 

Linda then prepared an imaginative cheese bread baked with fresh berry compote and fresh blueberries. The combination with the paired Pinot Noir was spectacular for an extraordinary, fabulous food and wine tasting experience.

I write often in the pages about the importance of pairing the food and wine, and how it can often multiply the enjoyment of both when done properly. 

Calera Mt. Harlan Ryan Vineyard Pinot Noir 2013

With a single designated Vineyard bearing the name of our eldest son, we typically reserve this wine for a family gathering or tasting when he is with us. But, tonight's tasting was special considering the odyssey we've been on the last two weeks, with the multitude of wine and food pairings. And this is a special signature wine we collect in light it being our son's namesake vineyard.

I love telling the story about the discovery of this producer and wine. 

As featured in earlier posts in these pages:

The Calera story was chronicled in the book, "The Heart Break Grape" back in the early nineties, about the challenges and turmoils of growing the finicky grape varietal Pinot Noir. Producer Josh Jensen pioneered growing Pinot in the 'new world' starting with his search of the perfect place to grow his grapes. During college he took time off to work in the cellars in the great domaines of Burgundy and then came back to his home state California to apply what he had learned. At the time, prevailing view was that Pinot Noir could not be grown successfully in California. He set out to prove that notion wrong.

He started with the search for the perfect place starting with limestone soil, and other elements of terroir to produce wines in the style of the greatest Pinots, the Burgundy wines of France. Josh Jensen's winemaker mentors in Burgundy emphasized the importance of limestone-rich soils, as present in the Côtes d’Or, to make great Pinot Noir and Chardonnay based wines. 

He returned from France in 1971 and spent two years searching throughout California to find suitable limestone soils. He settled on the site of an old magnificently preserved 30 foot tall masonry limekiln in the Gavilan Mountains of Central California, purchasing the site in 1974, a high-elevation parcel with a limestone deposit of several million tons. Limestone had been commercially quarried there on the Jensen Mt. Harlan property a hundred years earlier. 

To this day, the kiln on the site is the centerpiece of Calera branding, featured prominently on the lables, the name “Calera” being the Spanish world for “limekiln,”

Mt Harlan is near the town of Hollister, about ninety miles south of San Fransisco, twenty five miles inland from Monterey Bay on the Pacific Coast. Mt Harlan gained the distinction of its own AVA (American Viticultural Area) in 1990, in response to the petition to the Department of the Treasury Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau by Josh Jensen and the Calera Wine Company, the only commercial winery in the appellation. The appellation, the legally defined and protected geographical boundaries, also stipulates what grapes may be grown, maximum grape yields, alcohol level, and other quality factors that apply before the appellation name may legally appear on a wine bottle label. The Mt Harlan AVA is 7700 acres of which just 100 are planted in vines.

Josh planted his first 24 acres of pinot noir in 1975 in three separate parcels. In the Burgundian tradition, he named each parcel individually to recognize the terroir of each, that each would produce a distinct wine. The original vineyard designations remain to this day, the Selleck Vineyard (5 acres), Reed Vineyard (5 acres), and Jensen Vineyard (14 acres). These vineyards produced their initial tiny crop in 1978. The Ryan Vineyards, named after Jim Ryan, longtime vineyard manager were added later.  (Upper - 9.4 acres and Lower – 3.7 acres)

 Josh made Calera's first wine in 1975, 1000 cases of zinfandel, produced from purchased grapes. During his first two years as a winemaker, he made the Calera wines in a rented space in a larger nearby winery.  

Josh purchased property to build the winery in 1977, a 100 acre site on Cienega Road halfway between the vineyard and the town of Hollister. Located 1000 feet lower in elevation than the vineyard, this property had the benefits of development improvements such as a paved road,  telephone and electrical service (services which still to this day are unavailable on Mt. Harlan).

Three decades later, Calera have earned the distinction of the pioneer of American Pinot Noir. The legendary wine critic Robert Parker  has stated that: "Calera is one of the most compelling Pinot Noir specialists of not only the New World, but of Planet Earth."  

We first discovered Calera in the eighties, exploring wines from those earliest vintages. Decades later, we enjoy collecting Calera wines from the Ryan and Reed vineyards, as somewhat namesake signature wines for Son Ryan and his Reid. 

The Calera vineyards are enumerated and featured on the rear bottle label of the bottles as shown here. They are perhaps the most comprehensive and informative labels one will find anywhere on a bottle of wine. They spell out the information on the vineyard, geography, altitude, plantings, vines, the vintage and the bottling. The rear label itself makes for interesting reading, and insightful comparisons across the vineyards or vintages if one happens to have such bottles.

The Calera branding features the historic massive 30 foot tall limestone kiln that sits on the property from earlier days quarrying and processing limestone. Noting limestone in the soils of the legendary French Burgundy region, Jenson scoured the US seeking similar terroir to site his vineyards to produce Pinot Noir. He found such terroir and thoughtfully chose the property in the Central Coast region of California. The name Calera translates to 'limekiln' in in Spanish.

 So it was that we pick up releases of Calera Ryan Vineyard Pinot Noir whenever we can, and selected one for our intimate tasting this evening. 

This may be the best release of this label I have tasted, being by far the most vibrant and expressive forward fruits I can remember.

This is not a wimpy wine but powerful, yet smooth and polished, a symphony of concentrated dark berry fruit flavors with layers of black raspberry, black cherry, hints of cranberry, graphite and tones of tobacco leaf, spices of thyme, bay leaf and floral violets with a long lingering tightly wound fine grained tannins on the finish.

RM 92 points

Robert Parker's Wine Advocate and Vinous both gave this 95 points Vinous; Wine Enthusiast gave it 92 points and a Cellar Selection

The Heartbreak Grape,  A California Winemakers Search for the Perfect Pinot Noir by Marc de Villiers, 1994, Harper Collins

Calera’s Mt. Harlan Vineyards are located in the Gavilan Mountains 25 miles east of the Monterey Bay. The site was chosen for its limestone soils and ideal climate. At an average elevation of 2,200 feet it is among the highest and coolest vineyard sites in California. 
Winemaker Notes -Wafting aromas of bright strawberry and blueberry interweave with a deep, intense, earthy, enchanting palate of black cherry, sassafras and limestone minerality. This wine is big and taut and begs for bold cuisine. The generous tannins are firm yet smooth and continue into a provocative and long finish.
Production Notes - In 2013 we saw decreasing yields due to the second year of a drought with only 6.5 inches of rain for the entire season. Warm spring temperatures brought on an early bud break, but fortunately remained warm with no threats of frost. The summer months were fairly mild with abundant sunshine allowing us to pick the grapes with high acid and mature flavors. We picked the Ryan vineyard in three separate passes from September 4th to September 21st. Each lot was pressed 14 days after harvest, racked by gravity to French oak barrels, then aged without racking in those barrels, 30% new, for nineteen months. The lots were then combined and the resultant wine was bottled without filtration, as always.