Firsts are always hard and hard this one certainly was, which always makes the experience even more delicious. In this case it also makes the wine more delicious. This September we’ll be able to share this experience with you.
It was with a surprising sense of satisfaction that I picked up the first bottle off the bottling line. It was, of all things a chardonnay. I confess I have little affection for most renditions of this variety in the New World. However, winemaker Tony Rynders changed my mind and I am sure this chardonnay will change yours.
The hard part I was referring to in this wine was a backbone. A concentrated minerality and racy acidity that will hurt the teeth of those that love oaky, sweet chardonnay. That is the way I decided to make it. I would never dream of making a spineless chardonnay. Cornerstone has never been about spineless wines and I have no place for them at my table.
So this September I will be extremely proud to introduce you to the 2010 Cornerstone Oregon, Willamette Valley Chardonnay. Less than two hundred cases were produced. It’s a lean, mean machine and I wish I could wait another year to release it as it certainly needs a few years in the bottle to show all has to give. I can only hope that some of you will lay some bottles away in your cellar.
How did it get here? Well, first of all there was a challenging vintage to deal with, but that’s something winegrowers in places like Oregon and Burgundy deal with seven vintages out of ten. There was a lot of mold when the fruit came in, but we hand-sorted like madmen and delivered only the clean bunches to the fermenter. Starting the fermentation in stainless steel tanks, the wine was racked into mature French Oak barrels to continue and finish fermentation. Those barrels were home to our chardonnay for the next fourteen months where it mellowed and broadened its flavors and, most of all, its complexity. Only 80% of the wine went through malolatic to preserve its perfect tightrope of acidity. In fact, nothing in the cellar was allowed to pilfer anything from the wine.
In a strange twist of conventional wisdom, our Cornerstone Oregon, Willamette Valley Chardonnay is a better oyster wine than our Cornerstone Cellars Napa Valley Sauvignon Blanc, which finds its soul mates in crab and lobster. What these two white wines have in common is they will both age beautifully. This is our goal. To let each wine express its true spirit and find the match at your table that nature intended. That nature is something you’ll find subtly expressed in all our vintages after 2008. This is just a start as we will push ourselves each vintage to ever higher expressions of vineyard, variety and vintage. I believe that the Napa Valley is a perfect place to grow sauvignon blanc and that the Willamette Valley is a perfect place to grow chardonnay. Our vision is to go where the variety loves to be, not to force the variety to love where we put down roots. After all, nothing is more important to a wine than the soil that gave life to the vines. That essence flows from the soil through the roots to be mixed with sunshine to create wine.
To understand my hesitance to make a chardonnay you have to understand my background. In the early eighties I was importing the wines of Domaine Comtes Lafon through Becky Wasserman, who I represented in the mid-west. At that time Dominque Lafon had yet to take over the estate from his father and was working for Becky. Over a two year period, on his many visits to Chicago and mine to Burgundy, I was privileged to drink a lot of great chardonnay (and a lot of other things) with Dominque. It is on this foundation my viewpoint on chardonnay is based. As a side note, just to highlight how different the wine world is today, in those days we had winemaker dinners promoting the wines of Comtes Lafon, which actually included their Le Montrachet. Times have changed, now you’re lucky and a lot poorer if you can get an allocation of Lafon. The point is, if your early reference point is Lafon Le Montrachet your future enjoyment of chardonnay may be impaired.
Certainly I am not trying to compare our Cornerstone Oregon, Willamette Valley Chardonnay to Lafon Le Montrachet, but I will say that if you love Premier Cru Chablis you will pleased by our 2010 Cornerstone Oregon, Willamette Valley Chardonnay. The reason I can say that with confidence is that I am pleased, which is something not easy to do.
I’m pleased to introduce you to something new from Cornerstone: Cornerstone Oregon, Willamette Valley Chardonnay. See you in September.