John Calvin
Owner and winemaker, Casa Rondeña Winery
by Shirley Jones

January 20 - January 26, 2000

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Cabernet Franc is a red wine grape most people have never heard of. Wine made solely from this noble grape is typically lighter in color than a Cabernet Sauvignon, with body ranging from light to medium. Its aromas include cherry, berries, and sometimes violets and earth; no harsh tannins assault the taste buds. It is, along with Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and occasionally Malbec and Petit Verdot, an important element of the blended wines of Bordeaux, widely considered to be the best wine-producing region in the world. (This style is called Meritage in the U.S.) From a grower's viewpoint, Cab Franc provides some insurance against whims of fall weather, being an earlier maturing variety; for winemakers, it adds perfume and hints of fruit to a blend. As Janis Robinson writes in The Oxford Companion to Wine, "Wines made solely from Cabernet Sauvignon can lack charm and stuffing; the framework is sensational but tannin and colour make poor nourishment."

Cabernet Franc isn't seen on its own too often, but fortunately, here in New Mexico we don't have to go far to find it. John Calvin, owner and winemaker of Casa Rondeña Winery in Albuquerque's North Valley, produces it as a varietal and has captured its fruitiness and delightful fragrances for us to enjoy. But who is John Calvin? Why did a successful builder and talented musician turn to making wine? Calvin, like a fascinating Bordeaux, is himself an interesting blend. He brings together an appreciation of art, a love of music and wine, and an understanding of hard work. His wines reflect an appreciation and respect for the grapes -- his Chardonnay doesn't taste like an oak barrel and his Cabernet Franc expresses fruit and earth. This earthy characteristic reflects the influence of terroir, a French term which literally means soil, but is used to describe not just earth, but all of its interconnected attributes. Terroir is very important to John Calvin. It brought him back home to New Mexico.

Born in the North Valley, John traveled to Spain and North Africa to study music and flamenco guitar. But the combination of desert, mountains, and primitive earth buildings attracted him. Developing his own unique way of working with natural elements of the environment, he began designing and building homes. After traveling through Europe, Asia and South America, Calvin returned to New Mexico in 1982. Why? Because, as he says, "I love the earth, the mud, and mud bricks." Casa Rondeña Winery reflects his love. While embracing hints of Mediterranean and Moorish architecture, the building, with its adobe bricks and earth tones, seems to rise from the earth.

Over the past eighteen years, Calvin has gained a reputation as an outstanding builder of prestigious homes in the Albuquerque area. A few years ago, he began making wines as an amateur, but soon turned to winemaking in a serious way. When we spoke recently at the winery, he told me, speaking almost reverently, "I have a passion to do things connected with the earth. In my buildings I stay connected with the earth, but I also feel an emotional response, like an emotional response created in music. Winemaking brings so much of that together -- the agriculture, the vineyard, the wine heritage of New Mexico. Winemaking allows me to share my passion with more people than my buildings ever could. And I want New Mexicans to realize what a great thing we have: our heritage, our culture, our wine."

So, what will the future bring for Casa Rondeña? Expansion? "Maybe," Calvin says, "but not here. I have too much appreciation for this area." Then, glancing out the window at the vineyard, he noticed water pouring from a broken pipe. Very much a part of the whole operation, Calvin darted out to take care of the problem himself. Returning with traces of water on his boots, he smiled. "Always something to do."

How is Calvin's 1998 Cabernet Franc? Excellent! Smooth. Hints of chocolate and blackberries, and a lingering aftertaste. To sample Casa Rondeña wines for yourself, visit the winery at 733 Chavez Road NW, visit a wine shop or order it at local restaurants. An additional touch: Casa Rondeña delivers in the Albuquerque area. Call 344-5911 for more information.

Shirley Jones has been a teacher, winemaker, radio talk show host, editor of Southwest International Wine and Food Review and contributor to Hugh Johnson's Wine Companion. She lives in Sapello, N.M.

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