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An Interview with Winemaker David Jeffrey of Calluna Estate

Calluna Estate’s David Jeffrey, whose flagship 2008 Calluna Estate Bordeaux blend is featured today, is one of those passionate winemakers who make my job so rewarding. Born and raised on the East Coast and educated at Dartmouth College, David has been an avid wine collector for almost as long as he can remember. He interrupted a career in corporate finance to go from collecting to making, and laid the foundation for Calluna Estate on a hilltop parcel in Sonoma County’s Chalk Hill Appellation. He recounted his journey to me over a cold one, because it takes a lot of beer to make good wine.

JG: How did you get into the wine industry?

DJ: In 2001, I left my career on Wall Street to enroll in Fresno State’s Enology and Viticulture program. At the end of the program, I put an independent study together where I proposed to work three months in Bordeaux and three months in Sonoma and Napa. My goal was to compare and contrast the growing conditions and winemaking styles in these regions to better understand how the same grapes can produce such stylistically different wines.

JG: Tell me more about your experiences in Bordeaux.

DJ: I was fortunate enough to be taken in at Chateau Quinault by Alain Raynaud, a very well known consultant across Bordeaux. Alain provided me with a broad base of knowledge about both the traditional winemaking techniques and emerging practices in the region, such as fermenting red wines in the barrel and using double sorting tables. Alain was among the first in Bordeaux to employ these tables, which proved effective in separating single berries from raisins, stems and leaves. This allows the cleanest fruit possible to pass through to the stemmer and crusher.

JG: How did you find the Calluna Estate property?

DJ: Upon returning from Bordeaux and finishing up my studies at Fresno State, I looked for property in Napa and Sonoma and came across this 80-acre parcel within a 220-acre estate before it came onto the market. I spent most of 2004 planning the vineyard, doing soil pit analyses and selecting rootstocks and grape variety clones. The site excited me because I felt it was an excellent area to work with Bordeaux grapes.

JG: What is unique about the Chalk Hill American Viticultural Area?

DJ: The Chalk Hill AVA is a transitional area between the cooler Russian River Valley and the warmer Alexander and Napa Valleys, so it is an appellation that allows me to get the grapes fully ripe while maintaining the acid and tannin balance I want.

JG: How do you define your winemaking style?

DJ: My first exposure was to French wines. I like the balance in those from Bordeaux and Burgundy. What I love about making wine in California is that the warmer climate allows me to coax my grapes to full maturity so I can get the flavors right relatively early before the sugars skyrocket. I’m very hands on in a very old school way. I work the vineyard, make and sell the wine, tend the vineyard, and of course, live on the same property where my vineyards are located.

JG: What’s behind the name?

DJ: I wanted to name the property Heather Ridge in honor of a family friend who passed away before her time, but unfortunately every permutation of the name was already trademarked. My wife and I had all but given up hope of the Heather name. But when we saw a heather plant in a Mendocino nursery, we noticed that the botanical name was “Calluna.” It was fate! We put a stenciled heather plant on the label.

JG: What is your goal with Calluna?

DJ: My ultimate goal is to craft a wine that can stand on the table with the best Bordeaux-style wines of the world, and I know that the California terroir has the ability to produce that wine. I want it to speak of California, but respect the notion of Old World balance.

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