Tucked between the Gabilan Mountains just off Cienega Road in Hollister are two wineries whose connection runs deeper than the roots of the vineyards planted there.
Born and raised in Hollister, brothers Mike and Cory Waller are well established in the local wine community. Mike is the current winemaker and operations manager at Calera Wine Company, and Cory is the winemaker at Eden Rift Vineyards.
Mike, the eldest, was first to enter the wine scene. After graduating from UC-Davis in 2002 with a degree in viticulture and enology, he and his wife Jen moved to Napa to break into the industry.
“I was always into science and fermentation,” Mike said. “What intrigued me with wine is that you have one shot every year to make wine.”
Soon after arriving in Napa, Mike asked Cory to move in with him and Jen. At the time Cory was working as a substitute teacher in San Benito County after graduating with a degree in anthropology from Humboldt State University.
Appreciating “the artisanship of making things,” Cory originally thought of going into beer brewing until he realized he could always make beer at home.
“I don’t want to be making beer when I am 50 and have a big beer gut,” Cory said jokingly. “There is so much to [making wine] and it changes with the seasons. When the nights start cooling down you know it’s harvest season.”
Just as Mike was the first brother to step into the wine industry, he was also the first to return home to work. He liked producing pinot noir wines and had come to know Josh Jensen, Calera’s founder, who is credited in helping to establish pinot noir as a premier varietal American wine.
When Mike called Jensen in 2007 for a job reference, he was asked to come work at Calera.
“Calera has a huge reputation in the world of wine,” Mike said. This includes Calera wines being sold in all 50 states and about 30 countries. Calera’s top export customer is Japan.
Cory returned to San Benito County in 2011 to work at Calera alongside his brother and father Danny.
Calling his experience at Calera a “great opportunity,” Cory moved in 2016 to Eden Rift, which is among the oldest, continuously producing vineyards in California.
On the wine itself, Cory said, “There is a really good quality coming out of this area.”
What has allowed San Benito County to produce quality wines for generations? Both brothers say it’s the climate.
“We have a coastal influence more than people realize,” Cory said. “The weather is hard to beat.”