California Wine: Terroir of the Crowd

Here in California, we have a broad diversity of grapes grown in a wide variety of locations. A grapevine will, when planted in the soil and given water, grow and produce grapes. Therein lies the problem.

We can plant almost anything we want, almost anywhere we want. It's like our idea of seasonal produce, which to most people here means that everything is in season, almost all of the time. But just because we can plant grapevines wherever we want, does not mean we should.

Often times, we plant grapes that grow but suffer in the tremendous amount of heat that we have here. They will produce fruit, and it can be made into wine, but it will have suffered, and you will while drinking it. One grape that has been given this unjust treatment is Pinot Noir.

This grape may have the greatest ability to express terroir (an expression of where it is grown), but it is often left in the sun to ripen well past the point of profundity. A wine that when grown in the right area tells elaborate stories about where it grew up, and its struggle to become an adult, now becomes a drunken frat boy boasting and blathering on all night. This is not how it has to be -- fortunately we have winemakers like Josh Jensen of The Calera Wine Company.

Josh has taken his inspiration from the transcendent Pinot Noirs grown in the limestone rich soils of Burgundy. Years ago after immersing himself in a geological study of California, Jensen found an old limekiln atop Mt. Harlan, and planted vines there. This soil choice coupled with the cool 2500-foot elevation make this the ideal place in California to plant Pinot Noir. And that is exactly what Mr. Jensen has done.

The 2009 Calera Central Coast Pinot Noir is an absolute joy to drink. The nose is full of fresh cut violets muddled with ripe raspberries. On the palate, bright bursting cherry with a zing of acidity and crisp minerality. Taste this wine blind against its California brethren you may believe someone snuck in a bottle of Chambolle Musigny.

The 2009 Calera Central Coast Pinot Noir retails at about $20.

[Photo of pinot noir grapes by Ethan Prater/Flickr.]

Los Angeles resident Michael Newsome, a wine buyer for Whole Foods and a Certified Italian Wine Specialist, joins us every Tuesday for an exploration of California wine. See his previous posts here.


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I spend my life eating, drinking, cooking, brewing and traveling.
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