Duckhorn Acquires Calera

Duckhorn Wine Co. announced today its acquisition of Calera Wine Co. from California Pinot Noir pioneer Josh Jensen.

DWC, which includes Duckhorn Vineyards, Goldeneye, Paraduxx, Migration, Decoy and Canvasback, continues its growth, this time in Hollister, in San Benito County. It purchased lock, stock and barrel.

“Like our own founders, Dan and Margaret Duckhorn, Josh is a visionary and pioneer who has spent more than four decades shaping the modern American palate for luxury wines. What he has achieved at Calera has been nothing short of remarkable,” said Alex Ryan, president and CEO of DWC. “Calera is one of the world’s great wineries, and we will ensure that Josh’s legacy of quality and excellence will continue to flourish for decades to come. For us, this is a fantastic opportunity to establish a presence on the Central Coast with one of the region’s most iconic wineries.”

A press release reported that all key personnel, including winemaker Mike Waller, will remain with the winery. Jensen, 73, will remain involved at Calera and will join the DWC board.

“Calera is my life’s work,” Jensen said. “In this era of industry consolidation, it was vital to me that I choose a partner that not only shares the values that have always defined Calera, but that also has the market presence to provide our wines a continued strong and secure route to market. I’m proud to be entrusting Calera to (DWC’s) expert hands.”




oday that it has acquired Calera Wine Company (“Calera”). Founded by Josh Jensen in 1975, Calera played a pivotal role in establishing Pinot Noir as one of North America’s great varietal wines, and helped to establish the Central Coast as one of the New World’s most exciting wine regions. Hailed as a “Pinot Pioneer” on the cover of Wine Spectator, and referred to as “California’s Romanée-Conti” in another premier wine publication, Calera is one of California’s most acclaimed Pinot Noir producers, and has been named a “Top 100 Winery” by Wine & Spirits four times in the past decade. The sale includes the Calera winery, time-honored brand, tasting room, estate vineyards, and all inventory and assets.


“Like our own founders, Dan and Margaret Duckhorn, Josh is a visionary and pioneer who has spent more than four decades shaping the modern American palate for luxury wines. What he has achieved at Calera has been nothing short of remarkable,” said Alex Ryan, president and CEO of DWC. “Calera is one of the world’s great wineries, and we will ensure that Josh’s legacy of quality and excellence will continue to flourish for decades to come. For us, this is a fantastic opportunity to establish a presence on the Central Coast with one of the region’s most iconic wineries.”



Farewell, Dennis Martin

Longtime Fetzer Vineyards winemaker Dennis Martin died Aug. 13, and I miss him already.

Denny, who succumbed to cancer at age 69, was a key cog in Fetzer’s winemaking machine for more than three decades, retiring in 2015 as vice president of winemaking. Remarkably delicious wines at prices most could afford … introducing Americans to the joys of off-dry Riesling and Gewurztraminer … organic grapegrowing … Dennis was at the center of it all. In later years of his Fetzer career, he produced lovely Pinot Noirs and Chardonnays for the higher-end Sanctuary label.

Denny and I grew up in California’s Central Valley, though we didn’t meet until years later. My sister worked with him at United Vintners in Madera, though it would take some 15 years for me to cross paths with Dennis, in Healdsburg, where his family and I live.

In addition to his winemaking expertise and achievements, I loved Denny for his gregarious nature, zero ego evident, and quiet patience. I never worked with him, though we judged competitions together many times and I learned so much from his palate interpretations. He was always the same: real, fun and funny (he and wife Carla named their kids Astin and Remy).

The last time I saw Dennis was a few months ago. He wore a broad smile and ballcap with a Fog Line Brewing logo, a dad very proud of Remy’s Santa Rosa beer business. Denny is probably still grinning now.

NZ Geographic Indications

Kia Ora, Kiwi GIs

New Zealand wine producers just got the news they’ve been longing to hear for 11 years: The Geographical Indications Registration Act 2006 has gone into effect, giving wineries in 18 viticultural regions the opportunity to register for GI certification, and thus protect the use of their appellational names on the international market.

Just as the Napa Valley Vintners Association has ferociously fought wine producers who don’t use Napa Valley-grown grapes yet use “Napa” in their branding, Kiwi wineries — once they earn GI certification – will be able to pursue – in court, if cease-and-desist threats are ignored – others that use New Zealand GI names on products that don’t come from those regions.

Parliament’s enactment of the GI scheme last week not only discourages producers worldwide from misusing NZ regional names, it also underscores, in bold black marker, the fact wine that wine is a crucial export product for this country of just 4 million people. New Zealand wine exports were valued at whopping $1.66 billion for the reporting year ending June 2017 (the US is its largest wine market), and the government is keen on protecting the authenticity of its exports to continue its success.

The 18 GI regions:

  • Northland
  • Auckland
  • Matakana
  • Kumeu
  • Waiheke Island
  • Gisborne
  • Hawke’s Bay
  • Central Hawke’s Bay
  • Wairarapa
  • Gladstone
  • Martinborough
  • Nelson
  • Marlborough
  • Canterbury
  • North Canterbury
  • Waipara Valley
  • Waitaki Valley North Otago
  • Central Otago


Why my interest in this evolution of the New Zealand wine industry? Because I’ve been keen on the country’s wines for 20 years and marvel at the quality strides made in a mere three decades or so of modern viticulture. NZ’s move to protect its vinous intellectual property is vital to the survival of its industry, and other emerging wine regions of the world would be wise to pay attention.

Disclosure: I’m a consultant to Air New Zealand, recommending wines for its flights based on blind tastings with three other consultants. Anything I write here on NZ is unaffiliated with Air New Zealand’s wine program … er, programme.

Read This Book Now

It was January 2006, in the wine and food department at The San Francisco Chronicle. I picked up my ringing phone and it was a representative of now-famous Napa Valley grapegrower Andy Beckstoffer. And boy, was she mad.

“How could you do this?” she fumed. “This” was a story published in that morning’s wine section, written by W. Blake Gray, on consolidation trends in the California wine industry. Gray retold, briefly, a story of Beckstoffer advising Beaulieu Vineyard winemaster Richard G. Peterson to use cheap Thompson seedless table grapes in BV sparkling wines, rather than the more serious Chenin Blanc Peterson preferred. He and Beckstoffer were employed by Heublein Corp. at the time, 1969.

Peterson told the Thompson seedless story to James Conaway, who published it in his book, “Napa: The Story of an American Eden,” in 2002. So it was out there long before the Chronicle retold it in 2006. The recount added context to Gray’s story.

“Is the story inaccurate?” I asked the rep. “Are you calling Dick Peterson a liar? If so, we’ll investigate and print a retraction if necessary.”

Not a peep was heard thereafter.

So why bring up a decade-old anecdote and perhaps upset Beckstoffer once again? Because Peterson did, in his 2015 book, “The Winemaker” (Meadowlark Publishing, $29.95). I’m late in reading it, but no matter, it’s a fascinating look at the evolution of the modern California wine industry, warts and all. A lot of things were done wrong before they were done right, and Peterson was at the center of many innovations that helped make California the great wine producer it is today.

Beckstoffer comes out on top, as well.

Anyone intrigued by the nuances of growing grapes and converting them to fine wine, and understanding how the business operates, will be enlightened by “The Winemaker.” Peterson’s groundbreaking achievements at E. & J. Gallo, Beaulieu Vineyard, The Monterey Vineyard, Atlas Peak Vineyards and eventually, his own Wrotham Vineyard Pinot Noir in Napa Valley, are all outlined here, with anecdotes that add depth and authenticity.

While Dr. Dick has a Ph.D. in Agricultural Chemistry, and science plays a major role in the book, his explanations are easy to understand, even by chemistry and math dummies like me. Thank goodness eye kan spel.

Better known by some as the father of former Screaming Eagle winemaker Heidi Peterson Barrett (now with her own La Sirena brand), Dick – who worked on this book with his second wife, Sandra Archer — makes few references to his family. It’s a story all his own, about his winemaking experience.

He recounts his 10 years at Gallo in Modesto, where innovation was encouraged and Peterson earned a deep respect from brothers Ernest and Julio Gallo for his scientific work and wine quality improvements.

Peterson describes his years as winemaster at Beaulieu Vineyard in Rutherford, working alongside the legendary Andre Tchelistcheff. Their shared frustrations with Madame Helene des Pins, daughter of BV founder Georges de Latour (she took over after Georges’ death in 1940), are both fascinating and depressing. She saw no need to replant aging and diseased vines, nor to replace antiquated equipment, not even for the hallowed BV Private Reserve. To her, as Peterson tells it, a penny saved was a penny spent on her lifestyle.

Madame sold BV to Heublein in 1969, and its liquor-sales mentality took over. Run out? Just make more. The Gamay grape produces a drinkable red wine, so why use the more expensive Cabernet Sauvignon? Thompson seedless? Well, you get the picture.

It was Beckstoffer’s job at the time to source low-cost grapes to ensure the highest Heublein profit. Peterson and Tchelistcheff sought quality. Eventually, all parted ways, with Beckstoffer acquiring prized BV vineyard blocks.

To demonstrate how tangled the wine biz can be, Heublein was later acquired by RJR Nabisco, which sold to Grand Metropolitan, which became Diageo through a merger with Guinness. Diageo sold Beaulieu Vineyard to Treasury Wine Estates in 2016. Whew.

Beckstoffer now owns some of the best vineyard blocks in Napa Valley, including a portion of the To Kalon Vineyard in Oakville. His grapes command the highest prices for Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon, so he has not suffered from any tangible backlash from his Heublein days.

And neither has Dick Peterson. He moved on to The Monterey Vineyard in Salinas, a start-up with business partners who had little understanding of the wine business. He cautioned them that the only things that happen fast with winegrowing and winemaking are mistakes. Many were made, despite Peterson’s counsel, and Seagram eventually took control

Peterson also became involved with Coca-Cola, at Taylor California Cellars, and with UK brewer Whitbread at Atlas Peak Vineyards in Napa Valley. Every turn in his tale is fascinating, unless one believes the wine business is romantic.

The happy finish is that Peterson, the designer of the steel barrel pallet that allows wine barrels to be handled mechanically instead of by hand, and innovator of many other winemaking techniques, has his own gig. In “retirement,” he’s the winemaker for his own Richard G. Peterson wines, with a Napa Valley brut rosé sparkler and a still Santa Lucia Highlands Pinot Noir, made from cuttings Peterson acquired from wild Wrotham vines grown near Kent, England.

This relatively humble man has not received the accolades he so richly deserves. Read this book and find out why.