Calluna Estate at Chalk Hill
David Jeffrey of Calluna Vineyards with JC & Irene of Bar American
When David Jeffrey, winegrower, vintner and proprietor at Calluna Estate, heard that the Lurton family of Château Cheval Blanc and Château d’Yquem had purchased the neighboring farm on Chalk Hill, he wasn’t surprised. “They were advised [by Pierre Seillan of Verite Wines] that if they wanted Bordeaux growing soil,” said Jeffrey at Tuesday’s Lafayette luncheon, then they “must choose Chalk Hill.” After all, it’s what brought Jeffrey to the AVA himself. Striving to “make wines which have the strength of great Bordeaux, but with the attributes of Sonoma terroir,” Jeffrey founded Calluna Estate in 2004 and planted 12 acres at the very top of Chalk Hill, when it was just a barren landscape of tumbleweed and brush.
Possessing a moderate climate, Chalk Hill is situated between the cool climate Russian River Valley, and the warmer regions of Alexander, Knights and Napa Valleys, which is what makes it optimal for the growing of Bordeaux varietals. With vineyards that reside at the AVA’s highest elevation, Calluna’s site experiences cool afternoons and warm nights. “So much of California’s viticulture equals extended hang times,” said Jeffrey. “I’m against that, so I selected a cooler area to grow so that I could make wine in a straightforward way.” And so, following his three and a half years at Frenso State’s Enology Program, Jeffrey worked at Château Quinault with Dr. Alain Raynaud, which he says is what, “led me to select the Chalk Hill Appellation. It allows me good California fruit, but I [also] want to respect the thousands of years of winemaking [before me] with good fruit and acidity.”
Beginning with a host of soil tests, Jeffery said that he conducted “a lot of soil pit work before planting to determine which root stock to use,” leaving the climate to determine which varietals he should plant. In addition, he also had to identify the slopes beneath the wild grass to discover where he could draw the lines and make the vineyards work. With 100 acres at the top of Chalk Hill, Jeffrey planted 12 acres to vine in soils of shale and sandstone, with the Cabernet Sauvignon facing southwest and the Merlot facing north because it “needs less sun”.
“I wanted to do it in a way that I was directly involved,” he added. “I planted the vineyards. I live in the vineyard with my family and I make the wine.”
Maintaining small vines that are densely planted (3 x 7), Jeffrey had to space the vines to allow for a tractor to pass through on hillsides with steep slopes, ensuring that it wouldn’t hit the tops of the trellises when it passed through at an angle. Harvesting earlier than his peers, Jeffery said, “I wait for the grapes to get over their herbaceous state, but they don’t need to taste like raisins.” By early September, he harvests his Malbec, which is quickly followed by Merlot. After a slight lull, he picks the Cabernet Franc and Petit Verdot, which is usually done by the end of September, but “2010 was a cool year, so it went into October”. The Cabernet comes last.
Planning to bottle his 2011 vintage in June, just before the 2013 vintage comes in, Jeffery said, “I want to be a California wine grower that respects tradition.” And while many winemakers from California make adaptations of Bordeaux, Jeffrey has identified the sweet spot that will allow him to make Bordeaux wines with Chalk Hill terroir. Working with eight blocks and two vineyard specific sites: The Colonel’s Vineyard (1.25 acres) planted to Cabernet Sauvignon and the “Aux Raynauds” Vineyard (1 acre) planted to Merlot, Jeffrey makes 2,000 cases (in a good year) of four different wines.
The Calluna “CVC” Cuvee 2010 is a blend of all the varietals, including 44% Merlot and 36% Cabernet Sauvignon. With 750 cases made, this is Calluna’s highest production. Hand-harvested, and fermented in open-top tanks, the wine is then aged for 21 months in French oak, 25% new, before being bottled unfiltered. Inspired by Saint Emilion, where Jeffrey worked with Raynaud, the 2010 CVC is rich with plum and dark berry fruit, with savory notes and velvety tannins that are seamlessly integrated.
From a single acre vineyard, the Calluna Merlot “Aux Raynauds” 2010 shows “the voluptuousness and roundness of Merlot, but with acidity that goes well with food,” said Jeffrey. Making only 75 cases in 2010, Jeffrey added that he is “committed to making only 100 cases, even if I get 200 cases from the Merlot.” Totaling four barrels in production, he selects only the best for the “Aux Raynauds” while the remaining wine goes into the CVC. Fermented with native yeasts, the wine spends 21 months in French oak, 40% new. Savory and herbaceous, the fruit here is not plummy but rather fully developed, dark and of the earth.
Also from a single vineyard that is located at the top of the property, the Calluna Cabernet Sauvignon Colonel’s Vineyard 2009 is whole-berry fermented in French oak barrels, and aged for 21 months in French oak, 60% new. Again inspired by the winemaking techniques at Château Quinault, Jeffrey said, “I’m not fond of new oak, yet it’s amazing how you can ferment in new oak and have integration early. It gives an expansiveness that oak can give without it tasting like wood.” A labor intensive technique, Jeffrey’s work was featured in Wines and Vines magazine in an article titled Red Barrel Fermentation. Silky and lush, the Colonel’s Vineyard shows black cherry and licorice spice with notes of tobacco on the finish.
As the winery’s flagship wine, the Calluna Estate 2009 is a blend of 53% Cabernet Sauvignon, 20% Merlot and 17% Cabernet franc with Petit Verdot and Malbec, and is inspired by Bordeaux’s Left Bank. Fermented in open-top tanks, the wines spend eight months in barrel before blending, and the cuvee is then aged for 21 months in French oak, 60% new. With Bordeaux style fruit, the wine exhibits cedar spice mid-palate and earthy minerality with soft tannins–drinkable now and most certainly worthy of cellar aging.