Wine Ink: Duckhorn buys Calera
August 26, 2017
Every once in a while, things just go the way they are supposed to. Such was the case last week when a marriage between the Duckhorn Wine Co. (DWC) and Calera Wine Co. was announced.
OK, so it was a purchase, a business transaction, rather than a marriage. But still, the simpatico that has long existed between these two entities ensures good things in the future for both sides, as well as for those who love great wines. That sounds like the basis for a good marriage.
For Josh Jensen, who founded Calera in 1975, it delivers a considerable and well-deserved chunk of change at the end of a long, well-trod road. Though a price was not disclosed, it can be assumed that a brand as respected as Calera, and the hard assets that come with it, drew top dollar in what is currently a white-hot market for premium wine brands.
But more significantly, for those who know Jensen, it provides the opportunity for him to pass on his legacy to people who understand his devotion to, and obsession with, quality. DWC can offer both the necessary resources and the stewardship to continue the dream that became a reality for one of California's most driven wine makers.
"Calera is my life's work," said Jensen about the sale. "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."
For DWC and its owners, TSG Consumer Partners, the purchase is outside the aviary of Duckhorn's growing flock of what is now seven brands. To date, the company has internally hatched all of its associated "birds" (Duckhorn/Golden Eye/Paraduxx/Migration/Decoy/Canvasback/Calera) and this is the first time they have flown beyond their own nest to feather someone else's. Sorry. I couldn't help it.
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And what an acquisition it is. In addition to Calera's winery, stock, staff (including Calera winemaker Mike Waller, who will be staying on) and tasting room, the DWC gets Calera's exceptional vineyards that have long been the source of single vineyard pinot noirs that wine lovers have come to relish. The Selleck, Jensen, Reed, Mills, Ryan, and de Villiers estate vineyards are some of the world's most renowned pinot noir sites. Totaling 85 planted acres, these rugged vineyards in the Mount Harlan AVA rise between 2,200 and 2,500 feet in the sky, and are loaded with limestone.
But perhaps most significantly, this marriage unites two of the great success stories of the California wine revolution of the last century.
In the mid-1970s, American wine was dominated by mass-produced brands like Gallo and Paul Masson. But among a new generation of winemakers, the idea that California could make quality wines that would rival those of the French was just starting to germinate.
In 1975, Jensen, who had developed a passion for pinot noir while working a pair of harvests at Domaine de la Romanée-Conti in Burgundy fresh out of college at Oxford, planted his first vines. He had found a parcel of land rich in the limestone soils he believed would be the key to his wines in the Gavilan Mountains, 100 miles or so south of San Francisco. Jensen staked a claim, and set about making his single vineyard pinot noir. This was a hard and forsaken place, but Jensen knew its potential.
The next year, right around the time of the famed 1976 "Judgment of Paris," which deemed a pair of California wines as worthy of global respect, Dan and Margaret Duckhorn began their quest for wine excellence, giving birth to their eponymous brand. Duckhorn would set a standard for merlot, especially from the Three Palms Vineyard. In 1978, Calera released its first vintage of pinot noir and Duckhorn released its first 800 cases of Merlot.
Over the next four decades, Jensen and the Duckhorns would become both friends and admirers of each other's wines. Jensen's road would be more singularly focused and solitary, while the Duckhorns would branch into other regions and varieties including pinot noir, which was always Dan Duckhorn's first love. DWC's production is now approaching a million cases from its myriad of wine entities, while Calera weighs in at 35,000 cases annually.
Now, both Dan Duckhorn and Josh Jensen, will sit on the board of the DWC and, no doubt, toast to their mutual success.
Sometimes things just turn out the way they are supposed to turn out.
Kelly J. Hayes lives in the soon-to-be-designated appellation of Old Snowmass. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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