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Remembering pinot noir pioneer Josh Jensen

The wine world mourns the loss of Josh Jensen of Calera Wine Company, legendary producer of pinot noir from Mt. Harlan in San Benito, who passed away June 13 at age 78. Jensen inspired many careers in the wine biz, including mine. I met him back in 1987 when the Silicon Valley firm I was working for failed to register its name before another company in Texas did so.

Frustrated at attempts to come up with a new one by committee vote, our investment company, Sevin Rosen, asked me to come up with a name that started with C and had multiple syllables. I asked the lead investor, Steve Dow, who was a wine collector, to go into his cellar and pull out all the C’s. There was Caymus, Cakebread and Chalk Hill, along with one I didn’t know: Calera.

“Is it any good?” I asked. “Great pinot noir,” was the reply.

I immediately went to BevMo looking for some, finding a couple of zinfandels and one bottle of 1985 Bien Nacido Vineyard pinot noir in the clearance bin. I have saved it all these years, planning to share it with Jensen someday. After his funeral at a desolate cemetery in Hollister, a small group gathered at a local watering hole called Tres Pinos Inn, where magnums of Calera pinot noir, dating back to 1988, were opened to toast the man.

The Jensen Vineyard wines seem to have stood the test of time really well, as did the 1987 chardonnay, the first vintage he made from his Mt. Harlan estate. When Calera winemaker Mike Waller opened the 1985 I brought, the cork was in great shape and the wine was lively, spicy, complex and feisty, just like Jensen. Seeing the original price tag, Waller exclaimed, “$11.98?”

Best wine investment I ever made. Godspeed, Josh.

Speaking of legends, if you haven’t watched the “Wine With Bill” podcast interview with winemaker Jeffrey Patterson on YouTube, he shared a fun story that ties in nicely with the current royal obsession over the Queen’s Jubilee.  When Megan and Harry were planning their wedding, they decided to serve one Old World and one New World wine. Apparently, they chose Mount Eden as the latter because their London-based importer suddenly put in a 10-case order for the 2014 Domaine Eden pinot noir. Patterson says the to delivery address didn’t even raise eyebrows, as it was certainly not Windsor castle.

 

 

 

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