Our love for Caliza started a few years ago when we were introduced to their gorgeous Rhone blends produced out of the Templeton Gap AVA of Paso Robles. VAULT29 recently had the opportunity to chat with proprietor Carl Bowker who gave us an exclusive and personal look back on how two fateful trips – during September 2001 and a road trip in 2002 – turned an appreciation of wine into a passionate venture and complete lifestyle change.
VAULT29: We’d love for you to share how you and your wife, Pam, got involved in the wine industry. Where does the Caliza story begin?
CARL: 26 years ago, we were living in Mill Valley (a little town north of the Golden Gate Bridge) which happens to be an hour or so drive from Sonoma and Napa Valley. Because we lived so close to these world famous wine regions, we often spent day and weekend trips there tasting and learning about wine! At a certain point, we also wanted to discover more about the world of wine outside of California and the US, and Pam came across an ad in a wine publication showcasing a wine tour of Italy. It didn’t take us long to sign up and we booked it for September 2001 with our focus on the Tuscany region.
And then the tragedy of September 11th, 2001 took place.
No one was traveling and it was an unsettling time. It set our trip back a bit, but ultimately the wine tour was rescheduled and we decided to go. Italians are very warm and hospitable, and they were so honored and appreciative that we had come to see them in spite of everything happening in the world. We were traveling with a wine educator from Robert Mondavi Winery, so this allowed us access to visit many well respected Tuscan wineries where we were able to interact and talk to people in the wine business there. Having the opportunity to speak to sons, grandsons and great-grandsons of some of the founders of these special and respected Italian wine producers was inspirational; all of them were so passionate about winemaking. It was this lifelong passion and commitment for wine from each family we visited that inspired me to work in wine. And after 9/11, with the world upside down, it all came together and made sense and I thought to myself why not do something with my life that I was passionate about?
VAULT29: What was your background prior to winemaking?
CARL: I was involved in horticulture and the plant industry. I owned a business where I grew plants, rented them to customers in order to decorate trade shows and conventions around the country. I had this belief that I could take what I knew about plant science and apply it to viticulture and the growing of grapes. When we returned from Tuscany, literally one week later, I enrolled in the 2-year viticulture and enology program at Napa Valley College. My first time ever making wine was in a series of classes at school and it was eye opening but in the end it gave me a real solid foundation in the wine sciences. I also enrolled in UC Davis weekend and extension classes too. I couldn’t get enough!
VAULT29: How long after your schooling did you start Caliza?
CARL: I was so hooked that within a year of starting school we started of determining and planning where we wanted to live and more importantly where we wanted to explore this idea of a career in wine. I knew I wanted to grow and make Rhone style wines, so this obviously influenced where we’d eventually settle. We researched areas up and down the West Coast, including Oregon and Washington state. In November of 2002, we decided to take a road trip from our home in the bay area down to San Diego County to visit my mother and father for Thanksgiving, and long the way we got stuck in fog late one night in Salinas. We drove a few more hours in the heavy fog and ended up in San Miguel at the only motel that had a visible light on. In the morning, as we woke up looking for coffee, we drove one exit south to downtown Paso Robles. We stumbled upon an old school breakfast counter and historic Paso Robles Inn. We loved the charm of the town! We stayed a couple of days to explore the area. We found a real estate office with properties for sale posted in the window and looking back this was the first step in our search for a suitable property that we would become the home base for the next phase of our lives.
VAULT29: Did you find a property on that trip? Or did it take awhile?
CARL: We didn’t buy a property until late 2002 – a small vineyard on the property which is our home today in the heart of the Templeton Gap. I was really eager to put my schooling to work and start applying all the things I was learning. This small property produced Cabernet Sauvignon which I used to practice my winemaking skills. During the first few vintages, we were commuting weekly between the Bay Area where we maintained our day jobs and Paso Robles where we were farming our “little” vineyard learning more about winemaking on the weekends. Eventually, in late 2003 we bought a second, larger Templeton Gap property on Anderson Road that would become Caliza’s “home base” and primary vineyard site. It was planted to a 30 acre vineyard of Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. Although these were not the varieties we wanted to use in our winemaking the site had amazing dirt, microclimate, and terrain and overall, it was a great location for a many reasons. In 2004, we farmed the Chardonnay and Pinot but were really disappointed with the results so in 2005, we removed that vineyard and spent the entire year bringing the land back to square one installing completely new infrastructure with a new irrigation system, vine trellising, etc. In 2006, we reestablished the vineyard and replanted the land with mostly our favorite Rhone varietals. This is now our 10th year farming the “new” vineyard.
VAULT29: Wow, what an endeavor! When did you officially start to make wine?
CARL: The same year, 2006, is when we started making wine. We weren’t able to obtain any fruit from the newly planted vineyard, so we purchased from our neighbors for the 2006, 2007 and part of 2008 vintages. Since we had a long term goal of a being an estate driven wine program, we made a conscious decision and commitment to only source fruit within a mile radius of our property. It was essential that all the fruit we sourced had similar characteristics and express the profiles from the Templeton Gap environment so that when we transition from sourced fruit to estate fruit there would not be a big or noticeable change in the wine. In 2008, our vineyard produced a small amount of fruit which we combined with the purchased sourced fruit. Then in 2009, we achieved our goal of being an estate grown producer and every vintage of Caliza has been estate sourced ever since.
VAULT29: How did you come up with the name, Caliza?
CARL: We wanted to develop a “sense of place” with our estate driven wines, where the land, along with what Mother Nature provides us each year play a great part in the wines produced. The land in this area of west Paso Robles, for millions of years, was under the Pacific Ocean and developed sedimentary shale and limestone layers. These layers and layers of limestone are now a big part of the terrior and soil type here. I wanted to name the winery something that had reference to the land, and after searching for a one-word appropriate name for the brand, we learned “Caliza” meant limestone in Spanish which was very fitting. It sounded cool and had some significant meaning for us. The fact that I trek through this limestone soil every day and the vines have their roots in the limestone, which influence the flavors of the wines, just made “Caliza” very appropriate.
VAULT29: What is the breakdown of your vineyard today by varietal?
CARL: We grow primarily Rhone varietals on approximately 20 acres. We are committed to a large portion of Syrah – 9.5 acres – since we firmly believe and it’s proven to be the case Syrah thrives in this area. Of the 9.5 acres of Syrah, we have 6 different clones each which bring different characteristics to the table. Our other red varietals we grow are Grenache, Mourvedre, Petite Syrah, Primitivo and Tempranillo. The two white varieties we grow are Viognier and Roussanne.
VAULT29: What is your case production to date?
CARL: We currently produce approximately 2,000 cases each year.
VAULT29: What can winelovers expect when they come to visit Caliza?
CARL: Our tasting room is open on the weekends for visitors without an appointment needed. However we also reserve appointment times on both the weekends and most weekdays for those that want a more focused tasting experience. Either way, wine lovers and those exploring Caliza wines can expect personalized attention from our tasting room team and quite often this includes me and Pam. We all love to share the passion we have as grape growers and wine producers. We are very committed to passing along our understanding of the wines from the Templeton Gap region. Paso has been divided into 11 sub-AVAs, and Caliza is now in the Willow Creek District, so we emphasize what makes the Willow Creek area and wines unique.
VAULT29: What does the future have in store for Caliza?
CARL: We currently sell 1/3 of fruit which has been a great experience. It’s very rewarding to sell our fruit to other small producers who share our passion; it’s also great to see Caliza vineyards on the bottle. But our long term goal is to turn all of our estate fruit into our wine. We want to grow the brand so that we have enough wine to be able to expand our loyal customer base and also be able to get our wines placed in more key California restaurants.