There are few winemakers with deeper Sonoma roots than James MacPhail. Famed for his “berry to bottle” winemaking philosophy, MacPhail got his start as a winemaker two decades ago and has been mentored by the likes of industry icons including Gary Farrell and Merry Edwards. Since 2002, MacPhail has produced over 100 Pinot Noirs and Chardonnays with 90-plus-point scores.
In his work as winemaker at The Calling, MacPhail’s mission is to showcase the breadth and depth of California’s top AVAs. Each wine is made in partnership with experienced growers, whose grapes have become known as some of the most sought-after and prestigious in California. Thanks to these partnerships, The Calling is living up to the founders’ dream of making world-class California wines with the noble grape varietals — Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, and Cabernet Sauvignon.
Berry to Bottle
This focus on making masterful wine with meticulously grown grapes started with The Calling’s very first partnership —the acclaimed Dutton Ranch in the Russian River Valley. Dutton Ranch is an icon among Sonoma growers for its fruit quality and sustainability and has worked with some of the heaviest hitters in the Sonoma wine world. Now, The Calling is Dutton’s No. 1 sourcing partner.
“We told them what our game plan was. We told them how we’d like to win. We told them we wanted to create something great,” says co-founder and Emmy Award-winning sports commentator Jim Nantz. “The Duttons believed in us, and we are so proud of the strong partnership we continue to have with them today.”
Nantz’s partnership with co-founder Peter Deutsch of Deutsch Family Wine & Spirits started from a chance encounter in 2009. Nantz and Deutsch bonded over their relationships with their fathers, who inspired them to pursue their callings in life (hence the name of the wine).
Wine With Character
The Calling’s emphasis on ensuring the production of quality, stand-out wines comes from its unwavering dedication to working with deeply rooted family growers to source from such prestigious, nurtured vines.
The Calling’s Dutton Ranch Chardonnay is barrel-fermented in French oak using wild yeasts and is aged sur lie for nine months. It undergoes full malolactic fermentation, with weekly batonnage for richer flavor and texture. The French oak is 35 percent new, which MacPhail calls “just a kiss of oak for an element of toastiness. … But ultimately [we] let this wonderful fruit shine through and stand proudly on its own.”
The current release of the Dutton Ranch Chardonnay has aromas of Gravenstein apple (another iconic Sonoma fruit), honey, stone fruit, and lemon, with a medium-to-full body. It pairs beautifully with Sonoma’s famed local goat cheese or with a simple roast chicken.
Each Chardonnay’s production process is tailored by MacPhail to unlock the specific character of the vineyard it came from, be it the Sullivan Vineyard or Searby Vineyard — both historic sites farmed by the Dutton Family.
The grapes for each wine from The Calling are specifically chosen for that purpose. The aging time and care regimen vary by vintage and by site, but one through line is MacPhail’s insistence that oak use be minimal and purposeful. Finesse and balance are always the name of the game.
The same care and attention go into the Pinot Noir and Cabernet Sauvignon. Also fermented with wild yeasts, the red wines undergo malolactic fermentation in a combination of French, Eastern European, and American oak barrels.
Their more weeknight-friendly red is the Monterey County Pinot Noir, featuring fresh, vibrant notes of raspberry, rose petal, and white pepper with Monterey Bay’s trademark hint of oceanic salinity. Aged for eight months in French oak, this is a balanced, elegant wine that MacPhail recommends with Margherita pizza.
The Russian River Valley Pinot Noir is an homage to the AVA, and one of the few wines from The Calling that’s a blend of vineyard sources. It shows the touchstone tasting notes of the region, including bing cherry and orange zest, with an earthy base note. Another wine of note that is made from a blend sourced from multiple vineyards is the Alexander Valley Cabernet Sauvignon, with notes of wild berries, coffee, and toasted spice.
If you’re looking for more of a special-occasion bottle, consider one of the single-vineyard bottlings, such as the 2019 Terra de Promissio Pinot Noir, from one of Sonoma’s most iconic and exclusive Pinot Noir vineyards. The chilly winds blowing through create a special microclimate in this plot, first planted in 2002, where tiny Pinot Noir berries grow with thick skins. The wine ages for 16 months in French oak and has notes of red berries, dried herbs, and citrus peel, plus a silky, elegant texture. Only three brands have access to the grapes from this special 53-acre vineyard in the Petaluma Gap AVA.
Or, there’s the 2018 Fox Den Vineyard Pinot Noir, with its notes of wild strawberry, bing cherry, and holiday spice. Historic Fox Den, nestled in the Russian River Valley AVA, has been stewarded by three generations of the Smith Family after having first been planted in 2002. The moderate temperatures and heavy fog in the vineyard at a 900-foot elevation usher in complex, luscious grapes. This wine spends 16 months in French oak before release, giving it a rounder, weightier texture.
If you’re more of a Cabernet Sauvignon fan, consider the 2018 Our Tribute Cabernet Sauvignon. With grapes sourced from rocky, steep, and sun-drenched Moon Mountain vineyards, this wine is brooding and rich, with notes of ripe black fruits and a long, complex finish. After spending 20 months in French oak, the wine is bottled unfined and unfiltered to preserve its complexity.
Perhaps you’re already a fan of Sonoma wine. Perhaps you’re a collector of premium Pinot Noir. Perhaps you’re just looking to find a great bottle to pair with the steak you’re making for dinner this week. Whether you’re looking for a special date night bottle or something age-worthy to lay down, The Calling offers wines made with care and impeccably sourced grapes that will take you on a journey through the hills and vineyards of Sonoma and beyond.
This article is sponsored by The Calling.