Jensen studied at Yale then Oxford and travelled to Burgundy, where he fell in love with the wines – working first at Domaine de la Romanée-Conti then Domaine Dujac. Returning home, he decided to try and make fine Pinot Noir in California. He believed that limestone was key to Burgundy’s delicate wines, however he soon discovered that limestone soils were incredibly rare in the Golden State.
It took Jensen two years to find the site that would eventually become Calera – an old limestone quarry. No one else was making wine in the region at the time, a remote corner of San Benito County, 25 miles east of Monterey, near Mount Harlan and sitting at an altitude of 2,200 feet. At the time, the property had no electricity, telephone line or even a paved road.
Jensen planted the first vines at Calera (which means “limekiln” in Spanish) in 1975, with the first vintage produced in 1978. The wines soon earned him a reputation as “Mr Pinot”, and his adventures were chronicled by Marq de Villiers in The Heartbreak Grape, first published in 1993. He was named the San Francisco Chronicle’s winemaker of the year in 2007 and featured on the cover of Wine Spectator in 2013. Indeed, Robert Parker even described Calera as “California’s Romanée-Conti”.
Although Pinot Noir remains at the heart of the estate, Calera also produces Chardonnay, Viognier, Aligoté and Chenin Blanc. The Pinot Noir clone developed by Jensen is considered one of California’s heritage clones and is now planted in leading vineyards around the state. The Mount Harlan AVA was developed to acknowledge the unique microclimate on the estate, with the Calera vineyards the only ones within its boundaries.
Calera was sold to Duckhorn in 2017, and Jensen passed away five years later, in 2022. Today the wines are made by Mike Waller, who worked alongside Jensen for over a decade.