Caliza Winery: Templeton Gap nets Rhone Ranger

After moving from San Francisco and retiring from the trade show business, Carl and Pam Bowker had settled in the windy Templeton Gap area west of Paso Robles on the Central California coast. The couple’s newly purchased vineyard was producing a mix of Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, but Carl was not convinced his vineyards would develop world class wines at Caliza Winery.

For Part I on the Caliza Winery story, please read the Nov. 12, 2012, post, Caliza Winery: Bowker turns horticultural focus into viticulture dream. In Part II of the Caliza Winery story, Carl shares how his 2004 trip to the Rhône Valley convinced him to make the hardest decision he’s ever had to make in his life.

Carl and Pam Bowker had traveled to Italy in 2001 and their eyes were opened to utilizing old world wines in a new world venue. They farmed the vineyards on both of the Caliza Winery properties, but Carl longed for a stronger connection to the limestone soils he named his winery after. He began spending more and more time with winemakers in Paso Robles and became more familiar with the emerging interest in Syrah and other Rhône varietals. During a party for a real estate agent, Bowker met winemakers Erich and Joanne Russell of Rabbit Ridge Winery and Russell Family .

Carl Bowker’s, left, passionate interest in winemaking caught the attention of Erich Russell of Rabbit Ridge Winery. The two forged a friendship and have shared many social times together, including this 2009 Provence-inspired dinner at the Russell home with their wives, Pam and Joanne.

“I had been making wine for over 20 years,” Erich said, “and Carl seemed genuinely interested in being a winemaker. He first came around while I was building my winery in 2001 and decided to join us for crush in 2002. We got together often to talk about wine and in the process he learned to put on a wine clip and join two hoses together. At first it was obvious he was new to the process and I offered to do his jobs I gave him to do. It  would go faster if I did it. But he learned how to use hoses, clamps and steel fittings from our time together in the early days at Rabbit Ridge.”

While Bowker was a green horn in 2002, it didn’t take him long to become an integral part of the harvest for Rabbit Ridge and Russell Family wines in 2004.

“While we were mostly too tired to have fun even though we worked together, I could see Carl was going to be good at winemaking,” Russell said. “Carl was not like many of the other new winemakers. He was neat, clean, hard working, anal about the process. The man wouldn’t leave each night until everything was just right in the winery.”

But it was during their time together that the Bowkers and Russells became friends. They shared dinners together and began talking about an ever-growing excitement for Syrah and especially Rhône varietals. Both couples signed up for a trip to France led by a small group of wine writers.

Erich and Joanne Russell, left, chose to vacation in France with Pam (right center) and Carl Bowker for a two-week trip to the Rhône region in 2004, visiting over 15 wineries.

“We had enjoyed them [Rhône varietals] in restaurants and felt we needed to see for ourselves what the French were doing,” Bowker said. “So the Rhône Valley trip was a great next step for us. We learned a lot on that trip. I got to taste first-hand the distinctly difference wine-style in the North Rhône, which is all Syrah. And I love the robust, rich and powerful wines from the North such as the  Hermitage, Saint Joseph and Cronas areas. I also learned so much more about the blended wines in the South, where they incorporate Grenache, Mourvedre and numerous other varieties, and picked up the tools of blending their depth and character. I was inspired to make a California version of these Châteauneuf du Pape or Côte du Rhône style blends.”

Russell fondly remembers the Rhône trip with Bowker as it not only solidified their friendship but also helped keep him focused on Rabbit Ridge value-based wines.

After his 2004 trip to the Rhône Valley, Bowker made the decision to rip out all of the existing vines on his Anderson Road property and plant Syrah clones. He also planted other varietals, including Grenache on this hill behind the tasting room.

“Carl, our wives and I have similar interests and personalities,” Russell said. “While we enjoy creating or eating fancy dinners out, we decided to do dinner like the locals. We had free night to get dinner on our own one night. Instead of paying for another expensive dinner in Avignon, in southern France, all four of us decided to buy cheap Rhone wine from a local wine store and get some cheese and salami from a market. After following a couple people carrying baguettes, we eventually found a bakery, bought a fresh baguette of our own. Our dinner that night was as good as any gourmet dinners on the trip. And we loved and drank inexpensive local Rhône wines.”

Not only did Bowker tour and taste while in France but he asked numerous questions about the vineyard planting methods, irrigation, soil-types, root stock varieties and clones, so that he could use this knowledge in his new Paso Robles vineyard. Together, with the two-year  Napa Valley College viticulture and enology program, Bowker had the confidence to forge forward.

The Spanish word, “Caliza,” means a thin band of limestone. The catchy word describes the layers of soil under Bowker’s Syrah and Rhône varietals.

Bowker says that the 2004 French tour inspired him to make a “killer Syrah” and believes he “is now making that quality Syrah from fruit off his Anderson Road vineyard. The trip cemented the style of my Rhône varieties.”

His new-found inspiration morphed into a determination to join the growing movement of Paso Robles wineries planting Rhône varietals, creating for the Central Coast a Syrah-based regional identity parallel to Napa’s Cabernet focus. The trip to France solidified his Rhône focus. He then chose to have his soil tested by a soil scientist, hiring consultants by the end of the year.

Wine Spectator’s James Laube believes the Paso Robles area focus on Syrah and Grenache has strengthened the region. The epicenter of this blending has created a term used by California winemakers with many referring to the winemakers as Rhône Rangers.

After harvest in 2004, Bowker made a critical decision that would alter the direction of Caliza Winery for the following year.

“I made an incredibly hard financial decision, and in the spring of 2005,” Carl said, “we decided to remove the existing vineyard. The vines were ripped out, the land was tilled and a brand new irrigation system was installed. It was a hard decision because we spent most of our retirement funds, but we knew it was the right thing to do. We replanted Syrah and many other Rhône varieties, changed the location of the vines, installed the most current soil monitoring equipment, state of the art irrigation system, and incorporated sustainability farming practices.”

Bowker says the 2004 French tour inspired him to make a “killer Syrah” and believes he is now making that quality Syrah from fruit off his Anderson Road vineyard.
Bowker says the 2004 French tour inspired him to make a “killer Syrah” and believes he is now making that quality Syrah from fruit off his Anderson Road vineyard.

While other vineyard owners were beginning to consider changing out their vineyards in the Paso Robles region, Bowker’s decision was not without risk.

“I believe Carl works 10 times harder than he ever thought he’d have to work,” Russell said; “everyone has to in this business. He took a huge gamble in 2005 to tear out the vineyards. He had to go to a lot of extra work and remove the vines and irrigation. I’ll bet there were times he wished he was on the beaches of Maui.”

Hawley is a California State University, Fresno, with a degree in viticulture and enology. The Bowkers met him in Paso Robles on several occasions while he was a winemaker at Summerwood Winery and became huge fans of his winemaking style and ability.

“In one encounter we talked to him about helping guide us as we developed the Caliza brand,” Bowker said. “We were one of the first to sign him as a consultant. He worked with us for three years, helping with numerous important decisions: harvest timing, fermentation protocol and all aspects of the wine production. All the way, Scott was more of a trainer and mentor doing all that was necessary to help me completely understand the process than a paid consultant. In the end, he kind of worked himself out of a job as he mentored me so well.”

A very successful winemaker in his own right, Scott Hawley, now of Torrin Vineyard, became Bowker’s mentor and consultant in the early days of winemaking for the new Caliza brand. The first Caliza wines were made in 2006 from mostly purchased fruit as Bowker’s new vineyard was not yet producing. Grapes from that first vintage were sourced from neighboring Torrin Vineyard as well as the Russell Family Vineyard, just a short distance away. Bowker became confident Caliza Winery was going to be a major part of the Rhône movement like his Anderson Road area neighbors such as Booker Vineyard, Brian Benson Cellars, L’Aventure Winery and Torrin Vineyard.

As his skills mature, Bowker continues to focus on the details of winemaking but has learned to balance analytic chemistry in the lab and the creative ‘gut feelings’ of the best vintners.
As his skills mature, Bowker continues to focus on the details of winemaking but has learned to balance analytic chemistry in the lab and the creative ‘gut feelings’ of the best vintners.

“I was first introduced to Carl through a vineyard manager when he was buying his property,” Hawley said. “When I was in my consulting phase, I would look at property rather than being concerned with the people side of the business. I became familiar with the now Caliza property through someone else at first. I knew I wanted to work with that property and could see its potential.”

Shortly after meeting Bowker, Hawley said he knew this winemaking greenhorn was different than most Paso wine folks he had come into contact with.

“Carl was mild-mannered and super easy to get along with,” Hawley said. “He knew exactly what he wanted to achieve but was honest in that he didn’t know how to get there.”

While Bowker was inexperienced, without a track record in the wine business, Hawley said the newest Templeton Gap resident had the motivation, ambition, and focus to create something special.

Caliza Winery is one of many wineries on Anderson Road making Rhône-style varietals. Co-owner Pam Bowker, left, can often be found in the tasting room and will also become the president of the local Rhône Rangers chapter in 2013
Caliza Winery is one of many wineries on Anderson Road making Rhône-style varietals. While co-owner Pam Bowker, left, can often be found in the tasting room she will also become president of the local Rhône Rangers chapter in 2013.

“I could tell right away Carl was different,” Hawley said. “As soon as I agreed to work with him, he became absorbed in winemaking. Carl was, and still is, a sponge. He incorporated and assimilated everything I could show or teach him. He was meticulous, writing down and taking in everything I said. In fact, I had to watch my steps with Carl. He would go back to his notes and more than once I needed to be careful with what I did or said. I had to watch my Ps and Qs.”

As far as Hawley could remember, Bowker had a penchant for details. Carl was so focused on the process, he took everything literal and often became the punchline of winemakers’ jokes.

Carl and Pam Bowker produce 6-8 Rhône varietals on the Caliza property, including the Tanzer International 91-point rated Azimuth
Carl and Pam Bowker produce 6-8 Rhône varietals on the Caliza property, including the Tanzer International 91-point rated 2010 Azimuth.

“I wanted to be sure Carl understood a little about the importance of a clean environment in the winery,” Hawley said while chuckling. “But when I returned later, I found Carl, in classic fashion, decked out in a tie-back blue suit like he was working in a sterile lab complete with goggles on. I guess he was under the impression he needed zero contamination. But to his credit, he took the learning curve seriously and his attention to detail has paid off.”

The major strength of the Caliza Winery is that it’s almost completely self created. Most of Bowker’s wines are estate grown; he planted the vines himself and each year he helps pick, crush, create and bottles the wine. He is the whole picture. He knows what he wants when the year starts and is focused on gaining the unique characteristics of the vineyards.

Carl’s winery has a fine collection of six different Rhône-style clones, allowing him to handcraft his estate wines. Many are award-winning, including the 100 percent Rhône-style 2010 Syrah as well as the 2010 Azimuth which blends 40 percent Mourvedre, 30 percent Syrah and 30 percent Grenache.

“Carl is successful today–his wine sells,” Russell said. “He doesn’t need to pay a distributor to sell his wines; word of mouth shows how good Carl is.”

Caliza’s Syrahs and Rhône-style blends are award-wining, unique, big and intense. Bowker knows and experiences and lives out the whole picture, block, vineyard, and year with the final product. He is hands-on from beginning to end and there is a story behind each bottle of wine.

“Wine is made from the ground up,” Bowker says, “hand in hand, put together, made beautiful.”

Caliza Winery is located on 2570 Anderson Road, Paso Robles, CA 93446. The winery tasting room is open Thursday through Sunday, 11 a.m.- 4:40 p.m. or by appointment by calling 805.237.1480.
Caliza Winery is located on 2570 Anderson Road, Paso Robles, CA 93446. The winery tasting room is open Thursday through Sunday, 11 a.m.- 4:40 p.m. or by appointment by calling 805.237.1480.

Bowker and his wife, Pam, are members of the Paso Robles Rhône Rangers regional chapter: a term used to describe those who produce Rhône-style wines in the United States. They also belong to the national Rhône Rangers: America’s leading non-profit organization dedicated to promoting American Rhône varietal wines. Caliza is a very active participant in the organization, both nationally and in the local Paso Robles chapter. In fact Pam will lead the Paso Robles chapter in 2013 as president.

The 2010 Caliza Azimuth
The 2010 Caliza Azimuth

Carl has been on the Rhône Ranger panel for several seminars discussing Rhône wines at the national event held each year in San Francisco. Be sure to check out the 16th Annual Rhône Rangers San Francisco Tasting, March 22-23, 2013, at Fort Mason. Over 500 of the best American Rhône wines from more than 100 Rhône Rangers member wineries will be poured.

The Paso Robles regional chapter of the Rhône Rangers will next host the 2013 Paso Robles Rhône Rangers Experience at the Broken Earth Winery, Feb. 17, 2013. Over 40 wineries will explore with the public what makes Paso Robles so ideal for Rhône varietals. Tickets for the seminar and lunch are $85.

For more information on the Rhône Rangers, read the March 31, 2011, Wine Spectator article, “Talent Show”; it briefly outlines the Paso Robles’ new wave of wines from this growing network of California Rhône go-getters.

Be sure to read past winemaker’s stories, including Get to know 2012 Coast winemaker of the year: Mike Sinor .

Caliza Winery: Bowker turns horticultural focus into viticulture dream

Carl Bowker passionately pursued entrepreneurial opportunities in the trade show and convention business for 26 years while living and working in the San Francisco area. But in 2001, a Wine Spectator/Mondavi-sponsored, tour of Tuscany, convinced him to transform his horticultural focus into a viticulture dream. Who knew nine years later the same magazine would honor the rookie winemaker with their Pick of the Month.

Just before the 2012 harvest, I visited with Carl for nearly three hours on the outdoor patio at Caliza Winery. We sat underneath a couple of umbrellas, overlooking the Syrah vineyards, while he shared his journey with me.

Bowker was born and raised in Kailua, Oahu, Hawaii, and began his farming experiences tagging along with his father, an irrigation specialist on the Island. According to the Caliza web site, the time spent time on Island farms, working the soils beside his father, shaped young Carl’s career aspirations.

After decorating conventions and trade shows with plants and flowers for 26 years, Carl Bowker switched careers from horticulture to viniculture after two European wine tours.

After graduating from the University of Hawaii in 1980, Bowker left the islands at 23. He landed in California, and put his business degree into practice, working in the convention services industry.

The former Hawaii resident then decided he was willing to strike out on his own after three years. He literally decided to grow his own plant rental trade show business.

“I began my business renting plants and flowers for each convention, coordinating the setup and removal of decorations only to repeat the process time after time,” Bowker said. “I loved the process of creating memorable esthetics. However, it didn’t take long before I realized that there really wasn’t someone who was dedicated to trade shows. So I created my own business: Exhibit Plant and Floral. Instead of renting plants and flowers, I provided my own plants and flowers for conventions across the country.”

Bowker traversed the country for 23 years, moving freight as he coordinated the installation of plant and food decorations for trade shows. After each convention and post show clean up, he moved his gear to another destination. This endeavor later became ‘top shelf.’ He ensured a first-rate presentation by owning all the live green and cut floral arrangements in the displays.

“I loved the creative part of the business,” Bowker said. “It was fun. My wife, Pam, and I met a lot of great people and we loved to travel. We liked to put things together so our business thrived. We had horticultural green houses and plants all around the U.S. so it kept us pretty busy.”

Despite the success of Exhibit Plant and Floral, Carl Bowker and Pam’s food and wine trips to Napa and Sonoma began to transform their interests from plant rental to winemaking.

Despite the success, Bowker was not convinced he would retire as a trade show businessman. While the couple loved to cook, Pam and Carl had been introduced to wine and food pairings on dinner trips to wine country. Conveniently for them, the Bowker’s business was headquartered just outside of San Francisco, So the couple made frequent trips to Napa and Sonoma for weekends to wine and dine.

“While we hadn’t previously been interested in wine and foodies,” Bowker said, “Pam and I loved to entertain and cook. And we found there were great restaurants in the Napa/Sonoma area, so we made time to get over there, even if it was just for dinner.”

However, the event which changed the course of his life was the 2001 trip to Italy’s Tuscany region.

It was during a Italian wine tour that the couple expanded their appreciation for world class wines and for what the land could produce. While in Tuscany, Carl and Pam spent time with many of the region’s finest wine-producing families. The couple attentively listened to the details of wine production and noticed the special connection the families had with their land. From this experience, Carl vowed that he would make this the way of life for himself and his family. He wanted to become a part of the groundswell of excitement of Central Coast winemaking.

With the Tuscan hillsides in the back ground, Carl and Pam Bowker hang out along side a vineyard on a foggy morning during their 2001 trip to Italy.

“We almost did not get to go on the Tuscany trip,” Bowker said. “After the 9/11 attack, the trip was moved back two weeks. We decided to go but with a lot of concern. Now it is amazing to think how one event provided direction and changed the course of our lives.”

Even as he was interested in moving to a wine region like Paso Robles, it didn’t take long before Carl knew he needed to go back to school. He knew his horticultural focus in the trade show and convention business would not help him create acclaimed wines. After he returned from Italy in the fall of 2001, he began attending Napa Valley College to learn about viticulture and enology, completing an associate program in 2004. He believed these went hand in hand; grapes and wine are created from the ground up.

“I loved what I was doing with the plant business and I thought, ‘wouldn’t it be neat to do this with the wine business?'” Carl mused. “I already had a green thumb so why not get the education I needed work to with grapes? So I took wine science and the chemistry of wine classes.”

Lowell Zelinski, left, of Precision Ag Consulting, consults with Carl Bowker each week at Caliza Winery. He provides vineyard management and technical services and has done so since 2008.

Our time was briefly interrupted by Lowell Zelinski of Precision Ag Consulting who has been working with Caliza Winery since 2008. They briefly spoke about the irrigation plans for the day. Zelinski often checks in with Carl and provides vineyard management and technical services to Caliza and many other wineries in the Paso area.

Later I caught up with Zelinski who enthusiastically endorsed Bowker as someone who was quick to offer winemaking suggestions to all who asked in the region. In fact, Zelinski shared that Carl had often been a resource for his own small winery: First Crush Cellars.

“Carl is the real deal,” Zelinski said. “He is generous and generally interested in my recommendations concerning the Caliza vineyards and he is a hands-on guy. He is a consummate professional who seems to care and is passionate about winemaking.”

While their interchange lasted less than five minutes, Carl and Lowell’s banter was upbeat, to the point and ended with a chuckle.

Already on a quest to start a new life in fall of 2001, the Bowkers decided to travel to San Diego County where his mother and father lived. They drove down California Highway 101 and initially planned to stop in the Carmel Valley, near San Luis Obispo. It was a late November night and the drive was cut short by fog.

Carl and Pam Bowker found the Paso Robles wine region quite by accident after a foggy evening drive to SoCal prevented them from going any further south. Today Caliza Winery in the Templeton Gap west of Paso Robles creates award-winning wines.

“As the weather was deteriorating, we hoped to go as far as San Miguel,” Carl said. “In fact, as we drove near the town any further travel proved to be unsafe. Once we decided to stop, we hoped the town would have a motel. In fact, it was the first glow we saw–the only motel in town. It was a simple place and gladly stayed there that night–the evening before Thanksgiving.”

Early the next morning, the couple left, looking for great cup of coffee. They took the first exit: Paso Robles.

“We got off the Highway 101, looking for Starbucks, but Paso didn’t have one at the time,” Carl said. “We drove down Spring Street to the Paso Robles Inn. We had breakfast at the counter but no espresso. I remember Pam saying, ‘this is a cute little town–a little like downtown Sonoma. A cool town.’ We liked it so much and felt it was a wine town and deserved an extra night.”

After Thanksgiving, the Bowkers stopped in Paso Robles on way back to San Francisco and stayed another night. Ingtrigued by the country and the people, the couple made frequent trips to the area, checking around Templeton and eating at McPhee’s Grill.

“Next door to McPhee’s is a real estate office where we would check the listings,” Carl said. “Pam saw our winery property listed in the office and it got us interested. But at the time we both agreed to look at something else. In fact, I began spending a lot of my time–a week at a time–looking at property in the Paso Robles area. It became my … it became our focus. And it took us about a year to settle on our property here in the Templeton Gap. I love the country feel of Paso.”

Carl actually found the first property without Pam. He made an offer on the 50-acre Peachy Canyon site in late 2002. The Bowkers bought the first parcel and continued farming its 23 rows of Cabernet and bottling a Cabernet/Syrah blend called Companion.

Carl Bowker creates 200 cases of Caliza Companion as a blend of estate grapes, using 50% Cabernet Sauvignon from the Peachy Canyon property. The rest of the blend comes from the Anderson Road vineyards: 30% Syrah, 10% Mourvedre and 10% Tannat.

“Pam had faith in me,” Carl said. “I originally came to look at the Peachy Canyon site on my own.” Later Pam came down and it didn’t take long and she charmed the sellers, sealing the deal. “We were city people, out of the area and the previous owner was a little nervous about selling to outsiders. But we approached this opportunity as our land, our home. It was after Pam arrived and we all talked that the deal was completed. Pam helped the previous owner be comfortable with us taking over.”

Her faith in her husband’s ability continues to pay off and, while Caliza Winery is not necessarily known for Companion, the 2006 vintage received a 90+ points from Robert Parker’s Wine Advocate (June 2008) in Issue #177: California’s Rhone Rangers.

Carl says he feels fortunate to have “discovered” Paso Robles, and at the time, believed it to be a new frontier in winemaking. They kept looking for superior vineyard property and added a second land purchase on Anderson Road in 2003. This 60-acre piece of land had an old declining 25-acre vineyard planted mostly to Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, but the Bowkers felt strongly that this land could become the cornerstone of the new Caliza Winery and vineyards with some major modifications.

“We bought for location as we wanted to be in the Templeton Gap area west of Paso Robles,” Carl said. “We chose this location to be a part of this amazing land, region and culture. We also wanted to be a part of the Paso wine movement and  its huge upside. However, I knew I needed a special place to grow Rhone varieties and there is no better place than here.”

While a first trip to Italy help create an obsession for winemaking, a tour of France’s Rhone Valley solidified Carl Bowker’s vision for old world wine in the new world. In 2005 he planted 20 acres on their hillside property on Anderson Road, joining cutting edge winemakers in the famed Templeton Gap.

While their newly purchased Templeton Gap winery was producing Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, Carl Bowker was not convinced his vineyards would develop world class wines. A fall 2004 trip to the Rhône Valley convinced Carl to make the hardest decision he’s ever had to make in his life. Please return in a couple of weeks to TalesoftheCork for “Caliza Winery: Templeton Gap nets a Rhone Ranger” and Carl Bowker’s tale of “making wine that will grab your attention!”

For other stories from TalesoftheCork, read the October 12, 2012, blog post, Guinness confirms Napa Valley owns wine relay record (VIDEO).