For many winemakers, a nod to your product from Wine Spectator magazine can be about as good as it gets.


Dana Brown got the nod in the magazine's March 31 issue. In fact, three wines from her Calcareous Vineyards in Paso Robles, Calif., received a ranking of 90 or above. She's pleased, but not overwhelmed.


"It doesn't matter how great it is; you have to be able to market it and sell it," Brown said. 

Brown launched the winery in 1998 after she and her father, the late Lloyd Messer, sold alcohol distribution companies -- his was located in Sioux City, Brown's was located in Greater Des Moines -- pooled their funds and bought 425 acres of limestone hilltop with a view of the Salinas Valley and a scent of the Pacific Ocean, about 12 miles away.


Brown had been exposed to the world of high-end wine through her distributorship. Her father had contacts in the industry who located the California property with the limestone-enriched subsoil and arid climate that produces fine wines in the United States.


The idea in the wine world is that stressing wine grapes - growing them in what essentially amounts to a rock hilltop with little rain - will result in a tasty wine.

Of the 425 acres, 30 have been planted with wine grapes. Brown also has long-term leases on vineyards that were planted in the 1970s. She also buys grapes that are used for a related brand, Twisted Sisters.


But it is the wine from Calcareous that caught the attention of a Wine Spectator reviewer, who gave the three wines rankings that placed them in the "outstanding" category, which is second to the top ranking of "classic."


Here are the Wine Spectator observations and each wine's numeric rating, price and vintage:


· Moose (Messer's nickname was Moose) Paso Robles, 2009, $42, rated 92. "Outstanding, a wine of superior character and style. ... Intense, with rich road tar, graphite, dried dark berry, cedar and crushed rock. This is expansive, gaining depth and nuance on the finish, where the tannins are firm. Drink now through 2024."


· Syrah Paso Robles, 2009, $36, rated 92. "Pure and elegant, offering vivid raspberry and spicy blackberry and huckleberry flavors that show touches of fresh earth and underbrush. Drink now through 2022."


· Tres Violet, 2009, $38, rated 90. "Offers a complex mix of road tar, blackberry and cranberry flavors that are tight and vibrant, firming on the finish where the tannins have a gravely taste and texture." Drink now through 2022.


"We're thrilled to get our foot in the door with our ratings," Brown said. It has been a long haul, with Brown moving to California for three years to tend to the business. She is glad to be back in Iowa. Her husband, Ron Brown, heads the Bob Brown auto group.


The wine trade has improved steadily at Calcareous Vineyards. Its first production run was for 100 cases. Last year, it produced 11,000 cases. The Twisted Sisters brand is produced from grapes that are purchased from other vineyards and sells for a lower price than the Calcareous Vineyards estate brand. 


The wines are carried by Hy-Vee Inc. stores and can be ordered online at