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The brilliantly idiosyncratic wines of Kalin’s Terry and Frances Leighton come about as close as any in California to our wine ideal; they are truly remarkable expressions of time, place and winemaker. With no tricks and no illusions, they are wines that demand and reward long aging.
A biochemist, Terry retired from UC Berkeley in 2002, but he and Frances have been making wine since the 1970s. They call most modern winemaking “industrial,” arguing that it minimizes the chances of something going wrong but strips wine of its soul. All of their wines are handmade, using methods that could have been found in Burgundy cellars a century ago.
Terry and Frances own no vines but find vineyards that produce wines of unique character. Just from Sonoma’s Long Vineyard they make three distinct Chardonnays: LV (“Long Vineyard”), LR (riverside cuvée) and LD (designated original section). The little-known Livermore and Potter Valleys have produced many great Kalin wines over the years. And from David Demostene’s vineyard in Alexander Valley comes the Cuvee DD Pinot Noir.
Terry and Frances hold wines back for what would be an eternity to other winemakers. Terry’s view: “We’re not hung up on maintaining any kind of vintage sequence; we release what tastes good.” Parker has said that Kalin “stands nearly alone in the Golden State when it comes to producing Chardonnays that require considerable cellaring. Most California Chardonnays drop their fruit by the time they are three years of age. Kalin’s Chardonnays do not begin to open until they are four or five.”
With little interest in marketing and with most releases verging on a decade old, very little of the Leighton’s wine finds its way to the marketplace; disappearing instead into the hands of sommeliers and private collectors. With much more in common with Burgundy than California, they stand not only as examples of the Leighton’s craftsmanship, but as totally unique examples of California winemaking.
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