One of South Valley’s most interesting men

Josh Jensen, owner of Calera Winery in Hollister.

The most interesting man in the world of the beer has been upstaged by the most interesting man in the wine world – our very own Josh Jensen of Calera Winery in Hollister.

A partial look at Jensen’s resume reveals:

– He has degrees from Yale and Oxford.

– He is noted in the Guinness World Records as the heaviest man (212 pounds, more from height than girth) to ever row in the Oxford-Cambridge boat race, which his team won.

– He is the first-ever restaurant critic for the San Francisco Chronicle (1972).

– He brought the first Viognier vines to the United States from the Rhone Valley in France (1973). He was named Winemaker of the Year (2007) by the San Francisco Chronicle.

– His 2007 Selleck Vineyard Pinot was named Best American Pinot Noir by Wine and Spirits magazine. The Wine Advocate believes that his 2009 Pinot Noir Central Coast ($24) “may very well be the single finest value in American Pinot Noir.” And Robert Parker, the world’s most influential wine critic proclaimed, “Calera is one of the most compelling Pinot Noir specialists of not only the New World, but of Planet Earth.”

I met with Josh in his office above the winery, half expecting to see a pet mountain lion.

Josh experienced elaborate dinner parties at the home of his parent’s friends, Dr. George and Mrs. Helen Selleck. Guests included wine experts such as Ernest Gallo and Dr. Maynard Amarine from UC Davis. It was at these parties that Josh gained exposure to some of the greatest wines in the world. But it was Selleck, who had collected a cellar containing the great wines of France and California, that had the greatest impact on Josh’s budding interest in wine.

After earning his masters from Oxford, Josh went to France, where he spent two harvests picking grapes and learning about wine in Burgundy. He said “wine became a symbol of human civilization” for him. Josh also realized the unique business proposition of winemaking: the intertwining of agriculture and luxury goods.

“Wine is the only agricultural product that starts with farm produce and ends up being something you can sell for $100 a bottle,” he said. A wine career was born.

Josh returned to the United States and began looking for land to grow Pinot Noir grapes. And not just any land, but land rich in limestone deposits – similar to the soil of the best pinot noir vineyards in France. Josh found his land at the site of an old limekiln in the Gavilan Mountains near Hollister. In fact, “Calera,” is the Spanish word for “limekiln.”

Taking advantage of an abandoned multi-level rock crushing facility that had been intended for processing limestone, Josh employs a gravity-flow process that moves grapes and wine by the force of gravity, rather than pumps. This allows the gentlest possible handling of the grapes.

Josh follows the Burgundian methods of making wine. This means growing healthy grapes and using naturally occurring yeast. He never filters his Pinot Noirs because doing so would strip out too much of the flavor.

Calera is planted with six single vineyards of Pinot Noir grapes – each vineyard with its own flavor profile. Josh paid homage to his mentor by naming one of these vineyards “Selleck” and adding the Selleck label to his award-winning Pinot Noir.

Josh is a devotee of Pinot Noir because he feels it expresses the difference in the land more than any other varietal.

“Complexity is the sign of real greatness in wine – not power or color,” he said. “Complexity is a mark of all the great wines of the world.”

Calera also produces white wines including Chardonnay, Viognier and Aligote.

Calera continues to prosper even in our current recession – mainly because for the last 33 years, Josh has exported his wines around the world. Today, 44 percent of Calera’s wines are exported.

When you visit, bring a picnic and enjoy the spectacular views of the Diablo Mountains. Who knows – you just might see a mountain lion.

Kalamata Olive Cheese Spread
– 1 block cream cheese (8 oz)
– 1/2 cup Kalamata olives, chopped
– 1 teaspoon chopped garlic
– 1/2 tsp cracked black pepper
– 1/2 tsp kosher salt
– 1 tsp balsamic vinegar
– 1/4 cup toasted walnuts, chopped fine
In bowl, combine cream cheese, garlic, salt and pepper until lightly whipped. Add olives, vinegar and walnuts. Spread on toasted baguette.

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