It takes great resolve to plant vineyards in Mount Harlan’s rugged terrain. Fortunately for the wine world, a ‘terroirist’ named Josh Jensen took on the challenge in search of California’s equivalent to Burgundy. Located in a remote high-altitude section of San Benito County’s Gabilan Mountains, the 7,400-acre appellation has less than 100 acres under vine. The vines all grow on limestone soil reminiscent of Burgundy, which is the area’s defining characteristic. The elevation of Mt. Harlan begins at 1,800 feet, although the vineyards are much higher, averaging closer to 2,200 feet. Their lofty perch allows a river of cool air currents to stream unencumbered into the region from Monterey Bay. The climate is cool and almost desert-like, keeping the vines stressed and yields low. This has made Mr. Jensen’s Calera Wine Company, the appellation’s only winery, justly famous. Calera also grows Chardonnay and Viognier, although it is Pinot Noir that keeps the winery on the elite list of great California producers.
Since Thomas Jefferson first tried to cultivate European vinifera in Virginia, the state has been a decided piece of American wine country. Over the years better knowledge, equipment and materials have all contributed to an advancing wine industry, but the more recent decade or two has brought out the real potential that can be found.
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