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After a stint studying winemaking in the Jura and Languedoc regions of France, Caleb Leisure found his way into the royal court of one the most revered pioneers of California natural winemaking, Tony Cotturri. Like... Read More
After a stint studying winemaking in the Jura and Languedoc regions of France, Caleb Leisure found his way into the royal court of one the most revered pioneers of California natural winemaking, Tony Cotturri. Like Cotturri, Caleb shares a deep passion for beautifully grown biodynamic fruit and learned invaluable lessons from the master himself. But when it comes to the actual wine in the bottle Caleb has carved out his own, unique path.
Almost all American winemakers take some cues from their European counterparts. Centuries of working with their native varieties allowed them to create the characteristics and flavors that we associate with modern wine. But Caleb wanted to go further back. Instead of Burgundy, Loire, Piedmont or any other great European wine growing region he turned east toward the cradle of wine, The Republic of Georgia.
Georgian wines are made using techniques that date back thousands of years. One of the keys to how they make their wine is the use of large clay vessels buried in the earth called qvevri. This posed the first challenge that Caleb needed to overcome. It's hard to get qvevri in Georgia, let alone in Napa. Handmade in Georgia by only seven craftspeople, it took a while for Caleb to secure some. They arrived right before the 2017 vintage.
Caleb quickly went to work and buried them at the Cotturi facility in Glen Ellen. Since then he has been making wines that display his deep passion for wines vinified in the ancestral practices and ancient vessels of the country of Georgia. Like the best Georgian bottles, nothing is ever added or removed and everything, skins, stems and seeds are thrown into the qvevri.
The process makes it sound like a recipe for funky and strange wine and while they are certainly unique, Caleb’s wines are surprisingly fresh and transparent. Time in qvevri is the reason. Their unique shape allows for the optimal amount of contact between juice, yeast and sediment. Buried in the ground, they remain at a constant cool temperature which helps moderate the heat produced by fermentation. Qvevri are lined with bee's wax which has antibacterial qualities, and they provide natural clarity and pure expression of fruit.
Caleb’s wines are some of the most exciting coming out of California. Raw, distinct and most importantly delicious, they are a testament to the energy and creativity amongst California’s young winemakers. He has not only earned the respect of his local colleagues but perhaps more importantly he has been welcomed with open arms by the Georgian winemakers who inspire him.