It is a real challenge to capture the essence and raison d’etre of Kalin. If you’ve ever been curious to understand what winemaker Terrance Leighton means when he says his aged wines have “umami,” take Kalin out for a test drive. One taste, and it will open your mind to a unique California wine experience.
At Polaner Selections, we take special pride in finding superb, singular, traditional wines, and when we found out about Kalin, we pounced. Located in Marin County, the explicit goal of Terry and wife Frances is to “produce wines of enduring value with traditional European style and character.” They are also wines to match with food. “Wine is like a sauce for the dish you serve it with,” says Terry.
Take for example, their Graves-like Livermore Valley Semillon. The vines, planted in the 1880s on a gravelly spot that was once a riverbed, are from cuttings brought over from Château d’Yquem. (The Livermore Valley vines now look like small trees.) The Sauvignon Blanc is made in the style of Pavillion Blanc of Château Margaux. It requires extended bottle aging to express the complexity of the terroir of the vineyard in Potter Valley, California’s northern-most appellation.
Kalin Cellars is an artisanal, traditional enterprise at heart. Terry and Frances are literally the only “people between you and bottle.” (They don’t employ anyone to help out in the winery, and as a result never produce more than 7000 cases annually.) Terry is also a professor emeritus of microbiology at UC Berkeley and understands the science of winemaking better than most. They select specific strains of yeast to bring out the uniqueness of each vineyard site. They pioneered sur lie aging in America and were among the first to bottle their wines unfiltered, beginning with the 1981 vintage.
Like their peers in Europe, the Leightons’ methods can, at times, seem unorthodox. They’ve been known to release vintages non-chronologically. Kalin may have been the only winery to release most of the ‘92 Chardonnays before the slower-evolving ‘91s since, says Terry, “We release what tastes good...every wine we offer is a library wine.” The Leightons also believe that the American public is ready for sediment — sometimes a lot of sediment — in their wines. “If it doesn’t have crud in the bottle, it isn’t Kalin,” Frances told Richard Nalley in Departures Magazine a few years ago.