Lunch with Terrance Leighton from Kalin Cellars


Last September during a two week trip in California I was fortunate to meet up with Terrance Leighton of Kalin Cellars. Terrance had kindly organized a pairing lunch for us in the restaurant of an old friend “Uncle Yu Restaurant at the Vineyard” in Livermore. As Terry explained to us, the idea of this restaurant is not to serve immigrant Chinese cuisine, which tends to be the most common Chinese food found in America. They want to serve cuisine of a dynastic era, such that cannot be found in a normal Chinese restaurant. The restaurant also has a beautiful wine selection carefully selected by the owner and sommelier- well trained by Terry.


Terry and Frances Leighton, both retired biochemist professors from UC Berkeley, have been making wine since 1970 under the name of Kalin Cellars. Kalin Cellars is a small winery located in Marin County, California producing 7,000 cases of wine per year. As Burgundy lovers, Terry and Frances decided from the very beginning to follow European methods.


Red wines are fermented for several weeks in wooden VATs and aged in French oak barrels. These are a combination of new, one, two and three year old barrels which have been carefully selected. Far from the typical oaky style found in some Californian wine, “The point of a barrel is to synergistically enhance the character of a place, essentially to amplify “terroir”. It’s not to add any oak.” Before bottling, the wines are naturally clarified and stabilized as Terry neither fines nor filters his wine.  White wines are fermented and aged in French oak barrels or as Terry likes to say “not aged- matured, just like champagne”. These wines are not filtered either, however they do receive a small amount of fining in order to stabilize them.


Kalin Cellars Livermore Valley Sauvignon Blanc 2001 paired with Goats Cheese Wontons with Caramelized Apples and Peanuts

The grapes are from Wente Estate Vineyard near Livermore, the vines were planted in 1880 from the Chateau Yquem cutting brought by Charles Wetmore.  This wine has a unique style for Californian Sauvignon Blanc, with the usual floral characteristics expected of the grape however alongside great complexity and depth. Pairing with Goats Cheese Wontons was brilliant as the light acidity of the sauvignon helped to balance the dish.


Terry produces only 100% single vineyard wines that he selectively sources from the soil type and their position in the coolest possible microclimate. The natural acidity that is found in cool climate fruit, red or white, allows Terry to achieve full malolactic fermentation. The combination of a great vineyard and careful winemaking results in outstanding wines with amazing complexity and balance.  The idea of Terry and Frances is to keep the wine for at least a decade before releasing it in order to have drinkable wine to sell to their clients. At the beginning, such a decision was terrifying for Terry, “everyone keeps their wine for one or two years after bottling, if you hold your wine for at least 10 years, you need to be confident in what you do.” “Wine will keep their new wine colour for 7 to 10 years, after this period it starts to change”.


Kalin Cellars Livermore Valley Chardonnay “Cuvee W” 1995 paired with Chinese Gougere followed by Steamed Maine Lobster with Ginger and Green Onions.

This wine could easily have you thinking that you are in Burgundy rather than California. The rich flavours are balanced perfectly by the mineral acidity, which adds to the wine’s great complexity.  With the Chinese Gougere round puff pastry and melted cheese in the middle, almost like a meeting of Savoy, Burgundy and China together.  The ginger sauce provided a light spiciness that went perfectly with the lobster and the pairing with the Chardonnay was brilliant.


Kalin Cellars Livermore Valley Semillon 2001 paired with Whole Crab Hunan Da Quian Style

The fusion between the 90 year old Semillon vines, great soil and ideal climate produce a wine with amazing depth and a truly complex style, perfectly paired with the Crab.


Kalin Cellars Sonoma County “DD” Pinot Noir 1999 paired with Smoked Tea Duck with Hoisin Sauce

Old selection of Pinot from small berries and small cluster highly desirable with low yield. Terry sourced those grapes from a grower located in Alexander Valley. The parcel is by the river, providing a cool climate and it grows on something the locals call “blue clay”. After further research Terry realized that blue clay is a mineral that can be found in Gevrey Chambertin as well as Morey Saint Denis. This combination provides an intense wine that possesses an exceptional fruit definition, combined with a rich texture on the palate and a long finish. You couldn’t expect a better match than the Tea Duck and Hoisin sauce.


In addition to their Californian wine, Terry and Frances produce two amazing red wines from Cote de Beaune “Les Pierres Blanches” and Beaune Premier Cru Chouacheux. The couple bought these two tiny parcels from a friend who was retiring. This was a lifetime opportunity for the Leightons to make some Burgundy wine in Burgundy. Frances is mostly in charge of the Burgundy estate while Terry travels to France four to five times a year.  According to Terry, Burgundy wines and Chinese cuisine are a perfect match, so perfect in fact that he came up with own humorous theory about it. “A long time ago before tectonic plates progressed to the current state, Burgundy and Champagne were connected to China and as a result the French wines are a perfect match to Chinese cuisine”.


This time spent with Terry was an incredible opportunity to share a common passion for wine and food with an expert in the trade. At first one might feel intimidated meeting someone like Terrance as he is incredibly knowledgeable about wine and various similar subjects. Terry is a professor by nature and he enjoys sharing his knowledge and experience- which is certainly appreciated. Not only can he produce outstandingly good wines, but Terry also quick off the mark, never missing a joke.

  • Uncle Yu Restaurant at the Vineyard is located at 39 S Livermore Ave #125, Livermore, CA 94550, United States.

L’Imperatrice is delighted to be the sole importer for Kalin Cellars in Hong Kong, Macao and Mainland China.

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