Josh Jensen: The Beacon of Cienega Valley

Josh Jensen

Photo from Calera Wine Company

Josh Jensen was an explorer. An adventurer. In the 1970’s, he established his winery, Calera, out in the middle of the remote, inhospitable wilds of Cienega Valley. While his contemporaries were exploring the possibilities for Pinot Noir and other grape varieties in more accessible, and attractive regions—Richard Sanford in the coastal Santa Barbara County wine country, for example—Josh was establishing vineyards in a treacherous landscape, where the population of mountain lions exceeded that of humans.

Cory Waller, who grew up a stone’s throw from Calera, and who worked for Josh Jensen, says, “Josh gave me the courage to go bold in wine because Josh favored defiant moves. I’ve grown to really appreciate the confidence Josh inspired in me. He taught me to shut out all the noise and to stick to one’s gut; to make the wines you believe in, rather than chase ephemeral trends. In an odd way, Josh also brought our family closer together. My brother, Mike, is the winemaker at Calera, and I used to work there, too. If it weren’t for Calera and Josh’s influence on both my brother and I, I’d still be making wine in Oregon and not nearly as tied to my roots, my hometown, and my family as I am now. I give thanks to Josh for that.”

Christian Pillsbury, owner of Eden Rift, located down the road from Calera, remains indebted to Josh for his undaunting pioneering spirit. “I first met Josh when I was about 22 years old in San Francisco.  I was working my first job as a floor sommelier and was quite starstruck when that instantly recognizable Versace jacket rolled into the restaurant. He was among a rare handful of enological pioneers at that time: Josh, Jim Clendenen, Randall Graham, Chester Osbourne; these were men who transcended appellation or wine style. Josh was the quiet one, like Randall, an academic.”

“In Cienega Valley, the little area east of Monterey, we owe Josh a deep and lasting debt,” Christian says.  “Though the area has an amazing history back to Theophile Vaché first planting grapes in 1849, by the mid ‘70’s that narrative had been lost.  Josh was not chasing the legacy of Cienega Valley, he was chasing limestone.  He was in love with Pinot Noir, and had decided that this soil, not to be found up North, was the answer.  He was irrational, clearing scrub brush on never-planted slopes in hopes of finding the answer to a years-long search.  His years of living in the hills with a young family paid off.  His lunacy paid off.  His bullheadedness paid off.  He found his Pinot Noir.”

– Eden Rift Vineyards

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