Kalin Cellars

Owner(s) Frances Leighton, Terry Leighton
Web site www.kalincellars.com
Link to this site

Microbiologists Dr. Terry Leighton and his wife Dr. Frances Leighton founded Kalin Cellars in Marin County in 1977. Terry was a professor of microbiology at University of California Berkeley when he became the original winemaker at Domaine Laurier in the 1970s prior to starting his own label. The first wines, a Zinfandel and Cabernet, were released in 1978. Over the ensuing years, the Leightons have labored in relative obscurity producing some of the greatest California wines that only wine critics and wine geeks can testify to. The eccentric couple avoid publicity at all cost. I have been enamored with their wines for years because of their unique character, age ability and individuality.

The wines at Kalin Cellars are all single vintage, single vineyard wines. The Leightons own no vineyards of their own, but source grapes from distinguished vineyards outside Marin County. An exception was the use of Pinot Noir grapes from Marin County’s Devil’s Gulch Vineyard (farmed by Mark Pasternak) in 1987 and 1988. The Leightons produced sparkling rosé in those two vintages that are legendary among wine enthusiasts. The Leightons own and farm two vineyards in Beaune, from which Frances oversees the production of 80 cases of “Kalin Bourgogne” that is sold to “Kalinites,” and restaurants.

The Leightons do all of the winery work themselves. Because of the style of winemaking, the wines are not ready to drink for at least five years. Unheard of in the modern business model of wine sales, they follow no set vintage sequence. Basically, the wines are released to the market when the Leightons feel they taste good, usually between 5-10 years after the vintage. The current (2007) Pinot Noir release is the 1996 Kalin Cellars Cuvee DD Sonoma County Pinot Noir (the 1997 vintage was released in 2006). In essence, then, every wine that is released is a library wine!

Wine writer Robert Parker has called Terry Leighton "one of Calikfornia's two most talend winemakers" and his products "the wines of a genius." Terry is now retired from his professorship but continues to do scientific research at Children's Hospital in Oakland.

7,000 cases of wine are produced annually usually consisting primarily of a Sonoma County Pinot Noir and Chardonnay and a Livermore Valley Semillon. Cabernet Sauvignon, sparkling wine and dessert wine have been thrown into the mix in some vintages.

Kalin Cellars has several vintages available in the retail and auction marketplace: 1991, 1993, 1994, 1996, 1997 and 1999 Pinot Noir and 1996, 1997 Semillon. The wines are sold by inquiry through the website or phone, 415-883-3543.

Reviewed Wines

2000 Kalin Cellars Livermore Valley Semillon

13.8% alc., $30. Current release. Sourced from old vines planted in the 1880s from Chateau d’Yquem cuttings at the Wente Estate Vineyard in Livermore. 75% Semillon and 25% Sauvignon Blanc. Aged 10 months in French oak barrels. · Golden yellow color in the glass. Appealing aromas of pear, butterscotch and vanilla custard, with equally inviting flavors of ripe tropical fruits, apricots, roasted nuts and honey. The mouth feel is viscous and sensuous. Fully mature, and drinking at its apogee, this dry wine can easily age another 10 years. Pair with spicy food or richer sauced fish and shellfish dishes. Score: 90. Reviewed August 25, 2014 ARTICLE »

2000 Kalin Cellars Cuvée DD Sonoma County Pinot Noir

13.5% alc., $40. · Moderate garnet color with a slight orange tinged rim. The nose is musty with aromas of old cigar box and bacon fat but no fruit. Mid-weighted, with flavors of raisin, prune and dried cherry. There is definitely the flavor of beef broth (umami) replacing the faded fruit. The acidity is quite evident, even unpleasant, especially on the puckering, citric finish. A wine only for fans of extremely well-aged California Pinot Noir. Score: NR. Reviewed August 27, 2020 ARTICLE »

1999 Kalin Cellars Cuvee DD Sonoma County Pinot Noir

13.0% alc., $45. The current Pinot Noir release from Kalin Cellars. The fruit is sourced from the Demostene Ranch in Alexander Valley, the oldest Pinot Noir planting in that region. · Moderately light reddish-purple color in the glass with mild bricking of the rim. Aromas of oiled wood, spice, pipe smoke and soy sauce. Dark, redder fruits with secondary age related flavors of bacon fat, soy sauce, oak, mushroom and cassis. Moderate intensity with a crisp, juicy finish. Holds up nicely in the glass over time despite its age. Will thoroughly please old wine lovers and really shows off the umami flavors that old Kalin Pinot Noir is known for. Very good. Reviewed November 2, 2011 ARTICLE »

1998 Kalin Cellars Cuvée Sonoma County Pinot Noir

13.8% alc., $45. · Deep reddish-brown, even mahogany color in the glass. Subdued aromas of macerated strawberries, brown spices, leather, roses and green garden. Performs better as it opens in the glass. On the palate, the berry fruits are complimented by flavors of brown sugar, bacon, smoke and grapefruit. A lively grip of acidity highlights the finish. Good. Reviewed March 11, 2010 ARTICLE »

1997 Kalin Cellars Cuvee DD Sonoma County Pinot Noir

13.8% alc., $35. · Amazing reddish-purple color with a hint of brickish change at the rim. Terrific and impressively nuanced nose offering scents of black cherries, plums, leather, old wood, old book, vitamins and sweet smoke. Rich and full-bodied flavors of sweet black cherries and blackberries with hints of oak, bacon, cola and citrus. Amazingly fresh and vibrant fruit set off by balancing tannins and acidity. The fruit really grabs hold and lingers on the finish. Fades some over time in the glass so drink up when you pop the cork. I have to take my cap off to this incredible 13-year-old California Pinot Noir. Reviewed January 27, 2011 ARTICLE »

1996 Kalin Cellars Livermore Valley Semillon

13.8% alc., The grapes come from the Wente Estate Vineyard near Livermore planted in the 1880s from Chateau d’Yquem cuttings. 25% Sauvignon Blanc. · Hard to find a 10 year old California white wine this good. Exotic aromas of char, toast and banana. Flavors of coconut, banana, charred corn and well-toasted crème brulee. A treat to drink. Reviewed August 24, 2007 ARTICLE »

1996 Kalin Cellars Cuvée DD Sonoma Pinot Noir

13.7% alc., $38. From the Demostene Ranch in Alexander Valley, the oldest Pinot Noir vineyard in the region. · The wine has a touch of orange color on the rim. The nose opens with cigar box and mint progressing to dried cherry and dank mushrooms. Tart cherry flavors lead to very lively acidity. Many tasters will find the acidity challenging without food accompaniment. Reviewed August 24, 2007 ARTICLE »

1996 Kalin Cellars Cuvée DD Sonoma County Pinot Noir

13.7% alc., $45. · Moderately deep reddish-purple color with a golden rim in the glass. Much better color than the 1998 vintage. Aromas of beef stew, marzipan, and bacon fat with a hint of smoke, ash, nuts and latrine. Many subtle and highly nuanced flavors including blackberries, plums, beef, braised meats and a lingering hi-strung citrus note on the snappy finish. Still possesses some rich fruit on the mid palate and the mouth feel has become plush and inviting. Has held up extremely well with considerable interest and intrigue and will perform nicely at the table. Very good. Reviewed March 11, 2010 ARTICLE »

1995 Kalin Cellars Cuvee DD Sonoma County Pinot Noir

13.7% alc., released September 2001. · This wine was disappointing. The rim had a slight brickish color in the glass. The nose was flat with damp leaves, mushroom and forest floor dominating. The fruit was subdued and the acid was very puckering. Probably corked. Reviewed June 12, 2006

1994 Kalin Cellars Cuvee DD Sonoma County Pinot Noir

13.7% alc., released October 2003. · This wine appears young with a beautiful dark violet color. A deep, dark cherry nose makes you want to stick your nose deep into the wine and grovel a bit. I think it is the musk aroma that is also present. This beauty defies adequate flavor descriptions (my notes say, "Just terrific," "Incredible," and "Very appealing." Perhaps it is the umami. Rich, round and mature, alive and impeccably balanced. This is one of the best aged California Pinot Noirs I have tasted in a long time. A wine that makes you want to go straight to bed and shag someone. If you can find it, buy it. Reviewed June 12, 2006

1994 Kalin Cellars Livermore Valley Semillon

13.5% alc., released March 2003. Sourced from the Wente Estate Vineyard located near Livermore. The vines were planted in the 1880s from Chateau d'Yquem cuttings brought to Livermore by Charles Wetmore. Wente gave up trying to sell Semillon to the American public, but the Leightons were happy to take the grapes, believing, "Semillion can produce wines which are fully comparable to the highest levels of quality realized in dry white wines regardless of the grape variety involved." 20%-25% Sauvignon Blanc is added. The wine was fermented in French oak barrels for 10 months. Bottled with fining, but with no filtration in August 1997. · Golden yellow in color. Appealing aromas of buttered toast, pear and butterscotch. The rich flavors of ripe tropical fruits, roasted nuts and wax are delicious. The wine has a sensuous and viscous mouth feel and the oak is perfectly integrated. A seamless wine of great distinction that can easily age another ten years. I tried this one with Sichuan orange shrimp lettuce wraps and it was a perfect match. Reviewed June 12, 2006

1994 Kalin Cellars Cuvée Billon Sonoma County Pinot Noir

13.7% alc., $58. · Moderate color with a slight yellowing of the edge in the glass. Very interesting bouquet of raspberries, mushrooms, black cherries, bay leaf and Herbs de Provence. Slightly tart and rustic but pleasing flavors of cherries and berries accented with savory (unami) notes and leading to a bright finish with a grip of citric tang. Some dusty tannins persist to round out the wine. Lovers of older California Pinot Noir will really enjoy this wine. Very good. Reviewed November 24, 2010 ARTICLE »

1993 Kalin Cellars Cuvee LD Sonoma County Chardonnay

13.2% alc., released March 2001. Sourced from Wente clone grapes grown at Long Vineyards in the West Dry Creek area of Sonoma County. Fermentation lasted 10 months in 50% new French oak barrels. The wine was racked, clarified by bentonite fining, and bottled without filtration in August 1995. · Straw yellow in color. The nose is bright and fresh with notes of toffee, caramel and coconut. The flavors of pears, caramel and roasted nuts are presented on a lively acid platform. Beautifully balanced. Tasted blind, there is no way you would identify this wine as being 16 years old. Flat-out terrific. Reviewed June 12, 2006

1990 Kalin Cellars Cuvee DD Sonoma County Pinot Noir

13.6% alc.. Sourced from the Demostene Ranch in Alexander Valley, Sonoma County. The vineyard is said to be the oldest planting of Pinot Noir in the appellation and the clone of undetermined type produces small berries and low yields. The vineyard is located within a mile of the Russian River and is dry farmed. The must was fermented on the skins in wooden cuves for three weeks. The cap was punched down by hand three to four times each day. The must was pressed, settled and transferred to 50% new French oak barrels. The wine was bottled without racking, fining or filtration. · A slight brickish color to the rim in the glass. The nose is earthy with features of dried herbs, cherries and sherry. There is plenty of mature fruit, earth, leather and soy on the palate. Plenty of racy acidity in this wine demands a food accompaniment. Reviewed June 12, 2006

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