Calera Gets “New Faces and New Blood” in Sale to Duckhorn

Central Coast Pinot Noir pioneer Josh Jensen finds a home for a life’s work.
Calera Wine Company / Photo courtesy of Calera Wine Company

Josh Jensen, who proved that world-class Pinot Noir could be made in California’s Central Coast, sold his Calera Wine Company to Duckhorn Wine Company this week for an undisclosed sum.

The sale included the winery and 85 acres of vineyards planted in the limestone-rich soils that Jensen discovered in the early 1970s south of Hollister, California. Calera joins brands such as Goldeneye, Migration and Paraduxx in the portfolio of Duckhorn, which is owned by the private equity firm TSG Consumer Partners.

“I’ve been considering this move in recent years and, at 73, I don’t have the energy I once had,” Jensen said Tuesday. “I thought that new faces and new blood would be good, and these are the best people to hand my life’s work to.”

Duckhorn CEO Alex Ryan said Calera “is a fantastic opportunity to establish a presence on the Central Coast with one of the region’s most iconic wineries.” Duckhorn has hired the existing Calera staff and expects to keep it functioning as is, but will leverage its sales and marketing to distribute Calera into more outlets both domestic and foreign.

Suitable Sale Took Three Years

Jensen’s early travails trying to replicate Burgundy in coastal California was detailed in the book The Heartbreak Grape and may explain why none of his three children ever entered the business.

After ruling out succession planning, Jensen started working toward a sale three years ago. He did not want to sell to what he calls “the giant ‘wine-glomerates,’” referring to multinational corporations. Wealthy individuals were unlikely to be interested in the Central Coast, he said.

“The people who are retired CEOs who siphoned billions of dollars out of the giant corporations they run, they want to be in the Napa Valley, they want to be in Sonoma County,” Jensen said. “They want the culture of luxury. We don’t have that down here. It’s just country living.”

That left groups like Duckhorn, whose founders, Dan and Margaret Duckhorn, have been Jensen’s friends since the beginning. Both released their first wines the same year, 1978. Now they will sit together on the Duckhorn board.


Exclusive Q&A with Josh Jensen

W.E.: How’s it feel?

JJ: It feels wonderful, it really does. I’ve been considering this move in recent years and, at 73, I don’t have the energy I once had. I thought that new faces and new blood would be good, and these are the best people to hand my life’s work to. They are enthusiastic about this as a new venture for them in a new region of California, so it really is mutually beneficial. It’s a perfect fit in my opinion.

W.E.: Neither of your three children were interested in taking over the company?

JJ: What I told my kids from the day they were born, although they probably couldn’t understand me then, is find your passion and do it. If it’s your passion, you won’t have to work a day in your life because you’ll be loving what you do. That’s what all of them are doing. It wouldn’t have been consistent to turn to them and say, ‘Quit your jobs and come work for me.’ So I never even hinted at that.

W.E.: Duckhorn isn’t going to change the name to something bird-related, like their Migration or Paraduxx brands, right?

JJ: No, they’re not. A lot of people would have assumed that, but Alex Ryan, the president of Duckhorn, who’s a delightful person, sensitive and thoughtful, and also decisive in these negotiations, told me, “We want to keep the heart and soul of Calera, and we’re not gonna mess that up.”

W.E.: Do single buyers of wineries even exist anymore?

JJ: Wealthy individuals do buy wineries, but they are in Napa County. They don’t want to come down here, where you can’t see anything manmade. The people who are retired CEOs who siphoned billions of dollars out of the giant corporations they run, they want to be in the Napa Valley, they want to be in Sonoma County. They want to go to Mustard’s Grill and the gourmet restaurants, which I love to go to as well. They want to go to clothing boutiques, fancy antique stores. They want the culture of luxury. We don’t have that down here. It’s just country living.

W.E.: Are you going to move?

JJ: A lot of people assume I’m gonna go live in Beverly Hills or Marin County, but I’m gonna build a new house here. The house I’ve lived in for 38 years was part of the sale. Duckhorn is wonderfully letting me stay living here and pay rent till early 2019. So I’ve got time to build a house, buy a nearby property, and enjoy the wonderful rural life that I’ve really grown to especially like.

W.E.: Do you have any concerns about your legacy?

JJ: Zero. Believe me, they are being sensitive to our traditions. They’ve hired all of our people, and it’s just wonderful. I couldn’t be happier.

Published on August 16, 2017
Topics: Latest News
About the Author
Matt Kettmann
Contributing Editor

Reviews wines from California.

A fifth generation Californian originally from San Jose, Matt Kettmann covers California’s Central Coast and South Coast for the magazine. He is also the senior editor of The Santa Barbara Independent, where he’s worked since 1999, has written for the New York Times, Time Magazine, Wine Spectator, and Smithsonian, and co-founded New Noise Santa Barbara, a music festival.

Email: mkettmann@wineenthusiast.net.




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