Wine Ink: Duckhorn buys Calera Wine |

Wine Ink: Duckhorn buys Calera Wine

Dan Duckhorn, founder of the Duckhorn Wine Company is a pioneer in the production of California wines, especially Merlot from the Napa Valley.
Special to the Daily |

Sometimes things go the way they are supposed to. Such was the case with last week’s marriage between the Duckhorn Wine Co. and Calera Wine Co.

For Josh Jensen, who founded Calera in 1975, it delivers a well-deserved chunk of change. Though a price was not disclosed, it’s fair to assume a brand as respected as Calera and the hard assets that come with it drew top dollar.

But more significantly, it provides Jensen the opportunity 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,” Jensen said. “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.”

The purchase is outside the aviary of Duckhorn’s growing flock of what is now seven brands. To date, the company and its owner, TSG Consumer Partners, has internally hatched all of its associated “birds”: Duckhorn, Golden Eye, Paraduxx, Migration, Decoy, Canvasback and Calera.

In addition to Calera’s winery, stock, staff and tasting room, DWC gets Calera’s vineyards that have long been the source of single vineyard pinot noirs that wine lovers have come to relish. 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.

Jensen 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. He 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 place, but Jensen knew its potential.

The next year, Dan and Margaret Duckhorn launched their eponymous brand. 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 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 turn out as they should.

Kelly J. Hayes lives in the soon-to-be-designated appellation of Old Snowmass. He can be reached at

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