- We utilize non-interventionist winemaking techniques (with little to no pumping) allowing the wines to retain their purity and focus
- We use native yeasts rather than inoculating
- We prefer whole cluster fermentations whenever possible
- Our wines are aged with minimal racking
All of these techniques help to retain the sense of place and connection to the origin of the grapes - their true essence of terroir.
While there is no exact annual recipe for winemaking, grapes are harvested at their peak of ripeness and flavor. Pinot Noir is fermented in open-top fermenters, mostly whole cluster (uncrushed) at warm temperatures (90F). Punch downs aid in color extraction and lots are pressed after 14 days minimum. Single vineyard wines are aged in 60 gallon, 30% new French oak barrels for 16 months. Central Coast wines see a lower proportion (12-15%) of new oak for a shorter time (10-11 months).
White grapes arrive and are pressed whole cluster to remove skins and seeds. Viognier ferments in neutral oak barrels. After fermentation with native yeasts, barrels are stirred weekly until natural malolactic fermentation is complete. Viognier stays in neutral barrels for about eight months and Chardonnay aged 9-10 months on the lees, both in the same barrels in which they were fermented. For Mt. Harlan Chardonnay 25-30% of new oak is used each year, and for Central Coast Chardonnay it’s just 10-15%. The white wines are lightly fined with bentonite and given a light filtration. We feel that every time you touch the wine you take more away from the grape, so minimal handling is ideal.
What exactly is “gravity-flow” winemaking, and why do wine people talk about it? When you make wine you have to move first the grapes and then, after pressing, the wine through the steps of the winemaking process. In Calera’s case grape clusters are harvested from the vines always and only by hand, by human pickers, and never by machines known as mechanical harvesters. So far that’s pretty simple.
But once the grapes are trucked from the vineyards (where we grow the grapes) to the winery (where we make wine from the aforementioned grapes) it can get more complicated. Most wineries are built on a flat site, on just a single level. As a consequence, moving the grapes from a receiving area or hopper to a fermenting tank (for red wines) or to a press (for whites), requires that those wineries use some sort of conveyor – such as a screw conveyor, a cleat conveyer, a rubber conveyor belt, or large must pumps that whoosh the grape solids along with the grape juice – to get tons and tons of grapes from one place to the next.
By contrast, in a gravity-flow winery, of which Calera’s unique building is the world’s most complete example, moving grapes and then the resultant wine by gravity means moving it simply and naturally by letting first the grapes, then the wine, drop, slide, or flow downward (by gravity) rather than having to be moved or pumped mechanically (by force). To be able to do that you need several different levels, with the grape receiving level being the highest up the hill and the bottling line at the bottom, on the seventh level.
The desire for the highest quality, through gentle, natural handling, is the main reason many of us prefer simple gravity to move our grapes and wine. There are also other reasons that we can delve into at another time. But that’s why we built our winery in what looks at first glance to be a crazy place: a series of concrete walls and terraces where a limestone rock crushing plant operated in the 1950s. When Josh Jensen bought this property in 1977, the partially built structure had been abandoned for about 20 years. To everyone else it was an eyesore, overgrown with weeds. But when Josh saw it he said, “Aha! Here’s a gravity-flow winery already half-built!” and one thing led to the next…
Contributions to Winemaking
Viognier We worked tirelessly with FPMS (Foundation Plant Materials Service) to bring Viognier vines into California in 1973 despite the recommendation from UC Davis that the yields would be too low. It took us many years to get the vine cuttings to pass approval but it resulted in some of the first and best clonal material for Viognier to be planted in Calfornia.
Mt Harlan Ava Mt. Harlan is its own “American Viticultural Area (AVA),” which is a designated wine grape-growing region distinguishable by geographic features. For two years we labored to get the appellation passed as we felt the region was unique to the outlying regions. California’s Central Coast is a much larger area and as such much more diffuse, so we worked to get Mt. Harlan AVA finally approved in 1990. At 7400 acres large and1800 feet minimum elevation above sea level, Calera’s are the only vineyards in the AVA.