Ram Horn Vineyard Syrah Harvest, Mendocino

A true family endevour, the Poor Ranch in Mendocino is home to some wondeful old vines. The third generation is now working on the land and a fourth is one the way. The vineyard has always been farmed organically, in fact, this was the way vineyards used to be farmed and they just kept doing the way they had always farmed the land. They kind of laugh when people talk about the "new California" style of agriculture. True natural winegrowing by people that know no other way

Let's Play Two

The Dodgers and the Mets were in game five of the division championships and it occurred to me that the winner would be facing the Cubs in the NLCS. As a long time White Sox fan I'd spent the better part of the last three decades hating the Cubs. Normally I'd just assume I'd be pulling for whoever they ended up playing.

However, now I've been on the west coast for so long I've truly become a San Francisco Giants fan. To be a Giants fan means having a deep contempt for the Dodgers. So the idea of a potential Cubs and Dodgers NLCS made me face my true baseball fan soul.

What I discovered is that Tony Bennett has won out over Frank Sinatra and my roots are now truly more on the west coast than the midwest, where I grew up. The true measure of this was revealed to me when I realized in a showdown between the Dodgers and the Cubs I'd have to pull for the Cubs. Mind you I might not have been pulling very hard for them, but anything is better than the Dodgers getting to the World Series.

I guess we’re defined equally by not only the team we root for, but by the team we decide to see as evil incarnate.

There are several things that have made the Giants number one in my heart over the White Sox. Without a doubt winning three World Series in six years didn't hurt, but the fact that the White Sox, as they play in the American League, have a DH and the Giants don't has really changed the way I like to watch baseball played. The game is just better without the DH.

The Cubs, Dodgers and Yankees are rich teams in big markets. The (L.A.) Dodgers and Yankees have thrown their money at the game always feeling that anything less than a World Series Championship is failure. The Cubs, on the other hand, have been satisfied to just take the money from their fans and delivered mediocrity knowing they would still pack their quaint ballpark just by coming close to the playoffs every few years. Success at Wrigley Field has been measured by accountants not championships. It’s hard to like a team that has treated its long suffering fans so callously. Just think if they win the World Series this year they can ride that gravy train for another century. If is often joked about the Cubs that any team can have a bad century. But in fact the Cubs have had a tremendous century, they just haven’t won any championships. The lovable losers have been taking it to the bank for a long time now.

It was this attitude that eventually drove my loyalties from Wrigley Field to Comiskey Park and there they’ll stay in Chicago. I was drawn to the White Sox as, like me, they had to win to succeed. I felt closer to a team that had to produce results than one who was living on a type of inheritance and was milking it for all it was worth. It took a lot to drive me away from the team of my youth and the first place I ever saw a major league baseball game, but the Cubs did it.

My mother loves the Cubs and so if they do win I will be very happy for her and the other Cub fans so desperately praying for their beloved Cubbies to finally break the fabled curse. The same goes for the players who will be the real champions if they can pull it off. However, the ownership of this fabled franchise should not be let off the hook. They could have pulled this off much sooner with the resources at their command. The reason the Cubs have not won the World Series since 1908 is not due to the players or fans, but due to the callous economic interests of the various owners over the years.

I was lucky to visit Cooperstown and the Baseball Hall of Fame this summer. It was an amazing experience for someone who loves baseball and nothing moved me more than the plaque honoring Ernie Banks. Behind me in my office sits a framed scorecard my dad kept when he took me to a game in Wrigley Field on August 24th, 1962, the day after my ninth birthday. Warren Spahn pitched for the Milwaukee Braves and Hank Aaron hit a home run. A young player named Lou Brock was playing center field for the Cubs. Billy Williams was in right and Santo was on third. The Cubs lost. On the front of that scorecard are the autographs of Don Landrum, Ken Hubbs and the incomparable Ernie Banks all scored for me by my dad.

So for my mom, dad, Ernie and that beautiful game in 1962 I will root for the Cubs to make it this time in spite of the suits who have run the franchise so cynically for the last century. Terrible owners have given Chicago the Black Sox and a hundred years of frustration for generations of faithful Cub fans. It’s time to think about the game, not them.

“Let’s play two,” said Ernie, the most beautiful quote in baseball. For the next two weeks, I’ll be a Cubs fan.

Harvest Willamette Valley 9/13/15

Our Oregon crew sorting pinot noir

It’s 6:30 in the morning and it’s time pick the grapes. However there is no picking crew waiting except us. This vineyard was going to be harvested by the four of us. This is the Maverick Vineyard, in the Oregon Willamette Valley sub-AVA of Yamhill Carlton. It’s just a baby and an infant like Maverick does not produce enough fruit to interest a crew of pickers paid by the bucket. The fruit needed to be picked so the four of us picked it.

Then to the winery where over the next twelve hours seven of us hand sorted and processed 15 tons of pinot noir, from our other vineyards, which are now happily cold soaking as we finish cleaning up the mess that only handling ton after ton of grapes can make.

Winemaker Tony Rynders harvesting Maverick Vineyard

An interesting thing happens after you hand sort that much fruit. The tartaric acid crystallizes on your fingernails making them look like they’ve been painted white. I don’t think it’s good look for me.

You’ll excuse me after fifteen hours of hard work for not being more eloquent, but I’ll give you a more detailed look at our Cornerstone Oregon harvest tomorrow. Good night as another fifteen tons will be waiting in the morning.

Harvest 2015 Rhone Rangers 9/9 9/10 2015

Kari checking on Corallina fresh from the press

Today and yesterday we’ve been Rhone Rangers as on Wednesday we brought in our first marsanne and rousanne from the David Girard Vineyard in El Dorado. As exciting as that was, today is always a special day for us as we harvested our Crane Vineyard Syrah for what has became a very special wine for us - Corallina Syrah Rosé.

In what as become a rather innocuous wine category as rosé became more popular, I’m very proud that Cornerstone Cellars is known for making a rosé with true character. I’m glad the media agrees with us making Corallina Syrah Rosé the top ranked rosé in California

Gorgeous Corallina juice

The only problem with the 2015 Corallina Syrah Rosé will be there won’t be very much of it. Due to poor fruit set we are looking at about a 40% drop in production. No worries, we’ll be sure our friends get their Corallina first! As always we seek to make Corallina better every year and this will be the first vintage that is 100% barrel fermented. This will make the wine even deeper and more complex. The juice this year is particularly deeply flavored and colored and I expect the 2015 to be a dramatic rosé.

The marsanne and rousanne are part of our new expanded “Wine Dance” series of wines made from classic Rhone Valley varieties. Joining Corallina Syrah Rosé will be this rousanne/marsanne blend, a viognier, a grenache and a mourvedre from El Dorado and an old vine syrah from Mendocino. These are our “Rhone Rangers” and you’ll be introduced to these new releases in 2016. The style is ultra-traditional with no new oak used to maximize the bright, fresh fruit flavors of these wines.

Munching on marsanne

We co-fermented the rousanne and marsanne and the juice had this glorious, rich honeyed character that is sure make an expressive and delicious wine.

Tomorrow will be a very long day. We’re hitting the vineyards at 5:30 a.m. and will be picking two merlot and one cabernet franc site here in the Napa Valley. I’m sure the sun will be down before we get everything in the fermenters.

A New Cabernet for Cornerstone Cellars: Michael's Cuvée

Essentially all wines are cuvée blends to one degree or the other. Unless a wine comes from a single barrel or tank that passed from fermenter to bottle with no additions all wines are are blends. They’re either blends of barrels or vineyards or varieties or all of the above. The important thing is why you make a cuvée. Like so many wine terms, reserve for example, there is no legal restrictions in their use so it is only the integrity of the producer that gives these terms their meaning.

We have the privilege of working with some of the finest vineyards in the Napa Valley, which means some of the finest vineyards anywhere in the world. They are so exceptional that we have decided to bottle them in small single vineyard lots in order to let their beautiful personalities clearly sing in their own voice. The first of these single vineyard wines will be released this fall.

However, sometimes even the finest singers love to sing with others finding a new harmony and complexity in blending the textures of their voices. It’s the same for winemakers, we can’t help but explore the new layers and personalities that can be created by blending.

It is in this spirit that our Cornerstone Cellars Michael’s Cuvée was born. A selection from our finest vineyards and varieties, Michael’s Cuvée is a unique expression of the best of each vintage brought together in a new and distinctive harmony. Such an important wine could not have just any name and so we chose a name deeply and emotionally tied to the entire history of Cornerstone Cellars. Michael’s Cuvée is named for founder Dr. Michael Dragutsky, whose spirit and passion have fueled Cornerstone Cellars since our founding in 1991.

As befitting the first release of such an important wine, the 2012 Cornerstone Cellars Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon, Michael’s Cuvée is a true statement wine. Combining some exceptional vineyards with an extraordinary vintage we have crafted a memorable wine that will evolve for many years to come. The 2012 Michael’s Cuvée is 91% cabernet sauvignon with 9% merlot. The blend was selected from the Oakville Station Vineyard (To Kalon) 57%, 28% Kairos Vineyard in Oak Knoll and 9% Ink Grade Vineyard on Howell Mountain. Less than 250 cases were produced.

The 2012 Cornerstone Cellars Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon, Michael's Cuvée is a classic, powerful, but elegantly structured Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon. Deeply colored with rich, cassis laden aromatics, it is youthful and concentrated at this point and will develop even more complexity and elegance as it ages over the next decade or more. While voluptuous and richly textured it is still bright and fresh with a long, smooth finish.

A Muscular Rosé

Where is the line between red and rosé? As it all things wine, it’s all up to your palate. I’ve always loved wines that almost cross the line from rosé to red. So many rosé wines these days seem to do their best to avoid any personality at all and their only mission in life is to be pretty in pink.

One of my favorite recent wine discoveries is the Rouge Frais Impérial of Domaine Comte Abbatucci in Corsica, a light red that exudes the freshness of of rosé and enjoys the chill just just as much. Then there is the richly flavored Domaine de la Mordorée Tavel with a depth and complexity many a red only attain in their dreams. These are wines that are deeper in character than they are in hue.

For our first Rocks! Rosé we’ve made a wine inspired by wines like these, not the wimpy, barely pink wines that are flooding the market these days. The 2014 Rosé Rocks! by Cornerstone is a muscular rosé. Richly colored, flavored and dry-as-a-bone our Rosé Rocks! has the guts to take on real food. This vintage’s blend includes sangiovese, cabernet sauvignon, pinot noir and syrah.

A muscular rosé like the 2014 Rosé Rocks! by Cornerstone is the ultimate match for grilled steaks, chops ands sausages on hot summer days and you’re unlikely to find a better companion for cheese and sausage pizza. If the meal seems to call for a red wine, but the weather report calls for something chilled our 2014 Rosé Rocks! by Cornerstone is the perfect choice!

Rocks! by Cornerstone: Blending Creativity The Blend is our Secret, The Pleasure is All Yours

Blends are stylish now, but when I learned to love them in the early 1980s they were anything but fashionable. In one region they were controversial newcomers in the other just the way things had always been. The first time I tasted Vintage Tunina with Silvio Jermann it blew me away. Tunina was exciting, new and Silvio was breaking the rules and created something totally new in Italy. However, he was also building on Fruili’s past. Then there were the southern French wines that I was introduced to by Christopher Cannan. Often the exact percentages of these blends were not exactly known even to the producers, who were making the wine that the vineyards gave them. A mix of varieties was a practical thing that helped protect the grower from the vagaries of vintages. Some years there was a little more of that and a little less of this, but the wines tasted good and the local consumers where not obsessed with percentages and pH and just wanted a good glass of wine.

So when I decided I wanted to make a “house wine” that met the standards of our Cornerstone Cellars club members blends were the natural direction for me to go. It sounded like fun to create some wines that were not tied down to varietal labeling restrictions and just let our creativity go wild. So Rocks! was born and we could not be happier or more surprised by the success of what started out as such a small project. If anything the wines are better than ever. As Rocks! grew many more wines became available to us and the blends became more complex, delicious and fun. All are ready to drink tonight and at just $15 these wines are all exceptional values. We wanted to create wines that were good enough to satisfy our demanding Cornerstone Cellars customers for those days and meals when something simpler, yet still delicious was the right choice. We are confident they do indeed rock!

2013 Red Rocks! by Cornerstone - Not your simple, fruity California red, Red Rocks! has backbone, depth and just enough of a earthy touch to give it complexity. This wine will make your friends believe you brought out the expensive stuff for them. Steaks, chops, burgers and sausages are the perfect compliment for a wine with this much breeding. In the blend: cabernet sauvignon, syrah, zinfandel, petite sirah, pinot noir.

2014 Rosé Rocks! by Cornerstone - A very dark rosé that almost touches being a light red. Unlike almost any rosé in this price range it is bone dry. Ideal for those nights that are too warm or just too relaxed for a big red, Rocks! Rosé is the most versatile of wines matching perfectly with steaks, pizza or salmon. In the blend: sangiovese, cabernet sauvignon, pinot noir and syrah.

2014 White Rocks! by Cornerstone - Lifted, bright, zesty and exploding with aromatic fruitiness, White Rocks! was crafted with picnics and parties in mind. With just the right amount of refreshing fruitiness to enjoy on its own as an aperitif it is also the perfect compliment to those dishes with just a bit of heat. Ideal with Asian dishes, BBQs and chips for that matter, White Rocks! is a refreshing quaffer! In the blend: chardonnay, sauvignon blanc, viognier, orange muscat.

You Like Tomato and I Like Tomahto

ella and louis.jpg

You like potato and I like potahto

You like tomato and I like tomahto

Potato, potahto, tomato, tomahto

You say 92 points and I say 92 points

A tomato is a tomato no matter how you say it, but it doesn't matter how you pronounce 92 points - your 92 and my 92 are not the same things. Let's call the whole thing off?

Unfortunately, we can’t call off the 100 point wine rating system at this point. It’s now too entwined in the marketing system to simply go away any more. Without a doubt it has done some good things, but overall it has been far more damaging to the cause of balanced, retrained wines to justify the few good things it has accomplished. In all honestly, we all would have to admit, those good things would have probably happened anyway.

When it comes to giving wines a number rating it’s all to true that my tomato and your tomahto can have little or nothing to do with each other. Then there is the simple scientific fact that humans are not perfectly calibrated wine rating machines. Your tomato one day can easily become a tomahto the next day depending at such basic variables as mood, weather, time of day and the wine you tasted just before all have a measurable impact on the ratings we give wines. Anyone who believes that they can reliably taste and give accurate number ratings to hundreds of wines over a few days is not only lying to themselves. That is if you choose to believe the scientists who have proven over and over again that humans do not possess the the tools required to accomplish such feats. I wonder if the people that deny such clear scientific facts are also climate change disbelievers?

So why do people like me, who think the 100 scale is a bunch of hooey, pump out those scores to the market when we get them? I think for most wineries there’s a sense of desperation in the hyper-competitive wine market we live in today. Do we feel a bit dirty after sending out a press release pimping some 90+ point rating? Of course we do. However, as long as we stick to our ethical guns when it comes to winemaking, I hope we can be forgiven this moral shortcoming in our marketing. The sad truth is that the wine industry itself is more to blame for the proliferation of the 100 point scale than the media people that conceived it. It was our hammering away with shelf-talkers, case cards and advertisements that truly popularized the 100 point system to begin with.

So the next time you get a press release from me touting some score, please forgive me for I am weak. No matter if it’s a tomato or a tomahto you’ve got to find a way to sell it. In my heart I always believe once I get someone to taste our wines I’ll have a new customer. If I have to get down in the pointy mud once in awhile to accomplish that I’m willing to do it. A simple case of the ends justifying the means. As long as I’ve put my heart and soul into the wine itself I can still sleep well at night.

I can’t wait until we find a way to call the whole thing off.

Apple Watch

I have a new Apple Watch. It’s a bit buggy, a first generation piece of hardware that will be out of date in a year. It’s one of the most exciting things I’ve ever owned.

My first computer was an Apple IIe in 1983. It did not have a hard drive and you had to boot it up with floppy discs each time and then put in more floppies for each program you wanted to run - one at a time. While it seems primitive now, at the time it seemed a miracle.

This Apple Watch is what the Apple IIe was to me then, it’s a miracle on my wrist. Having experienced the evolution of that Apple IIe into my Retina MacBook Pro I can see that the Apple Watch is indeed a time machine as it is letting us look into the future.

After a week wearing it the novelty has worn off and it has simply become an incredibly useful tool - an unobtrusive one at that. It is staggering to think what it will do in five years. When I compare my iPhone 6 Plus to my original first generation iPhone and the progress that has been achieved in such short time, my imagination soars for what might be possible.

For the next several decades after I got my first computer it always seemed like I had to wrestle technology to get it to work and then patch together solutions that still usually fell short of what I wanted it to do. These days my phone, tablet, laptop and now my watch are all perfectly in sync. In fact they are no longer independent devices, but just different interfaces for working with the same data and contacts. When I have a real problem I am almost shocked as they happen so rarely.

I am perfectly happy with this cocoon of technology that Apple has built around me for the simple reason that it “just works” for me. For the first time in my life all my gadgets are doing all the things I had always wanted them to do. We are now entering an age when our devices will start not just doing what we have always wanted them to do, but will start doing things for us that we never thought of and that is very, very exciting. The Apple Watch is just the beginning of a whole new age.

The Apple Watch is an amazing time piece as not only does it tell us the time now, but also shows us what time will be in the future. With all it’s shortcomings as a first generation device, I find it fun and exciting to be there at the beginning of a new era. The future is indeed bright.

Now when I put on my old watch is seems lifeless. Once you’ve touched it, you have to get back to the future.