Sometimes you come to the fork in the road and you must make a choice as you can't travel both. We've made ours. We decided to take the path less traveled.
The choice was simple: quality or price. There was no hesitation in our choice as quality was the only answer. The market is price obsessed, but we believe there are those that understand you get what you pay for from wineries whose ego is based on what's in the bottle instead of on the ego of the owner. For many there is a deeper understanding that in wine, true quality is not in a label, but in the hearts of the people who craft it. Ninety-five percent of the wine in the world is an industrial product, manufactured based on market research, and the rest is divided between charming country wines and people with a passion to let nature express its beauty through their wines. Oddly enough, many of the world's most expensive wines fall into the first category, not the latter.
Our decision was to move forward and to let something old and comfortable fade away. As comfortable as Stepping Stone was to everyone as the wines got better and better, there comes a point when you have to forgo comfort to obtain excellence. This is especially true in the narrow confines of the Napa Valley, which is a mere thirty miles long and five miles wide. This small valley is one of the world's most distinctive vineyard regions and such distinction does not come cheaply.
Our vision is to make dramatic, elegant and complex wines from great vineyards. This means that the value in our wines is not that they are inexpensive, but that they have such an expressive personality, combined with our singular character, that their value is not on their price tag, but on your palate.
So we have decided to take the path less traveled and give up a less expensive line of wines to introduce a new range of wines made with no concessions in the tradition of our iconic White Label Cornerstone Cellars wines. The one thing we have not left behind is our obsession with offering exceptional values. However, we are a small company and can't do everything. To produce this new group of exciting wines something had to go by the wayside. So this is both the end of an era and a new beginning as we could not travel both paths.
With the 2010 vintage we say goodbye to Stepping Stone and with great pride introduce you to Cornerstone Cellars Black Label selections. Our first release of our Black Label wines is from the 2011 vintage and includes Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc and Syrah. These are not wines declassified from our White Label Reserve wines, but wines produced from specially selected vineyards. While our White Label wines are unabashedly made to cellar for decades, our Black Label wines are selected from vineyards that naturally produce a more forward style of wine that can be enjoyed in it's youth, but will gain complexity and depth with shorter term cellaring.
The roads between price and quality diverged, but not the one between price and value. So we took the one less traveled by, quality, and that has made all the difference. While the reception to raising prices can be frosty, we know that once these new wines are tasted that other path will soon be forgotten.
We are proud and honored to introduce you to a totally new range of wines: Cornerstone Cellars Black Label Selections.
Every vintage is a do over. You agonize over every possible imperfection and then look forward. It is not so much that you feel you were unsuccessful. How can you as critics rack up scores (not repeated in this points-free zone) and rave about your current releases. The thing is once the wines are in the bottle they are what they are and your mind goes to the future. As a winemaker your mind is in the future building, always building, on past vintages. Vintages are experiences, part of a voyage, not just end results. Winemakers have no favorite vintages just treasured experiences and the pain and pleasure of continually second guessing yourself.
The vines are now being pruned in the vineyards and the cycle that is agriculture begins again. In many ways it is comforting to work in a world governed by such a precise metronome. You know how you got here and where you're going.
There are always frustrations though as winemaking is slow motion business - you only get one 'iteration' per year. What are some of my current frustrations?
- Alcohol levels continue to challenge us. While we have reduced them by more than 1% over previous vintages, we're not quite there yet. I think the sweet-spot for Napa Valley Cabernet is between 14 and 14.5% and for Oregon Pinot 13 to 13.5%. this gives you the depth, complexity and mouthfeel we hope for while still letting terroir show through. It's a tightrope, but we'll get there - we are getting there.
- The cost of making wine in the Napa Valley continues to increase and will force wine prices even higher.
- Too many wine reviews are published without ever tasting the wine with food. This is like tasting just the sauce and then writing a review of the whole dish. You can never understand how it all works together.
- The fact that so many sommeliers do not have an open mind when it comes to California and, in particular, Napa Valley wines. They are not all the same.
What makes me happy?
- The limitless potential of Oregon makes it one of the most exciting wine regions in the world. This is a region where you can argue the best vineyards have not even been planted yet. It's a brave new world with no where to go but up.
- The growing appreciation of wines with a more balanced, restrained style is exciting. While for the most part this reawakening of taste has not enlightened old-school wine media yet, new wine media is all over it. The old guys better wake up or get left in the dust.
- The growing recognition and excitement around rebel, back-to-your-roots winemakers in the staid world of the Napa Valley.
- The exciting, exploding community of wine lovers on social media. Finally small wineries can actually have a marketing edge over corporate wineries. After all, real people are a lot more fun to have a conversation with.
- What I am happiest about is how far we've come with our wines. They are so, so much better. Uplifting wines that are refreshing and elegant. While I know I will always think we can do better no matter how great the vintage, these are wines I am proud of sharing with anyone.
Do over? Not really, each vintage is a new beginning. How lucky are we?
Winemaking is a journey with no end. You set goals, but as you achieve them you just have higher aspirations. The more you achieve, the more you know there is to achieve. With the two Cabernets we are now releasing we have achieved a goal we set for ourselves, but now our vision for what we will achieve in the future is even sharper.
Our first goal was to craft wines with elegance and finesse while still honoring the power, which is an accurate expression of Napa Valley terroir. It was also our goal to achieve wines with appropriate levels of alcohol. We do not simply want to have low alcohol levels for the sake of that alone by following some pre-set recipe, but to produce wines from grapes harvested at just the right moment, the moment that defines that vintage. We don't want underripe grapes anymore than overripe ones. Perhaps the most important thing to us is having acid levels that make the wines refreshing, even in their youth. What you will not get from us are wines suffering from the "big wine" syndrome so favored by certain well known critics. What you will get are wines that fire up your saliva glands with the zesty acidity required to truly compliment cuisine. If you like massive, oaky cabernet with 16% alcohol (no matter what it says on the label) with high pH and residual sugar you won't like these wines and we can live with that. Our first goal is to make wines we love to drink and our second goal is to find wine lovers who agree with us. We are not interested in making wines that try to satisfy the broadest range of consumers possible.
The 2010 Cornerstone Cellars Cabernet Sauvignon releases reflect well this vision. They are very different wines telling two distinct stories. We make different wines for that very reason as we find each expresses aspects of the Napa Valley well worth telling. By Napa Valley standards 2010 was a cooler vintage, which means by Bordeaux standards it was a a very good year. It reemphasizes my opinion that the problem vintages in Napa are the hot ones , not the cooler ones. The cooler weather helped us towards our goal to make balanced wines. While the "big wine" folks struggled with 2010, we loved it.
The 2010 Cornerstone Cellars Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon expresses the personality of three exceptional vineyards: Ink Grade on Howell Mountain, Oakville Station in the To Kalon district and Kairos in Oak Knoll. They weave together to produce a wine that reflects the character of the Napa Valley as a whole. The power and structure of Howell Mountain combines with the rich velvety Oakville Station and both are lifted by the bright aromatics and freshness of Kairos. However, Cabernet Sauvignon alone does not tell the whole story in this wine. Often I find that cabernet sauvignon on its own has a big start and finish, but can be a bit hollow in the middle. Here is where cabernet franc and merlot come in. A touch of merlot fills that hole in the middle and brings a beautiful silky texture. Cabernet franc is like MSG in a dish lifting and defining flavors. Together they achieve umami, that elusive savory personality that defines great wine.
The 2010 Cornerstone Cellars Howell Mountain Cabernet Sauvignon is a wine of time and place. Sourced from the organically farmed Ink Grade Vineyard on the high slopes on the east side of Howell Mountain. Grown on the distinctive powdery, white tufa soils as contrasted to the red, clay based soils on many Howell Mountain vineyards, this is a firmly structured wine, which we make to express, not hide its richly tannic character. This is a wine born and made to age. I recommend waiting five or more years to let the many layers in this wine to expand and integrate. If you can't wait, an hour or two in a decanter will help reveal the treasures still hiding in this young wine. Once again, a small touch of merlot is added to expand the textures on the palate.
Perhaps the most important thing to me is these wines give me the complete experience that I seek in wine: lifted aromatics, brightness on the palate, refreshing flavors and long, layered flavors that go on and on. Most of all they are wines that make me want a second glass. There is no such thing as a perfect wine, but in the fact that these wines purely represent the vineyard, vintage and varieties that gave them birth, I feel perfectly wonderful about them.
The baseball season is long, one hundred and sixty two games. After six months of effort it can come down to one game, indeed one swing of the bat. Months and months of effort can come down to one second.
Baseball, grapevines and winemakers start and end their seasons at the same time and in the same way. Some teams are happy to go home with a .500 season while for others nothing less than a championship will do. Every year we swing for the fences expecting nothing less of ourselves than winning it all.
Our season came to an end last Saturday when we picked our two cabernet franc vineyards in the Napa Valley. As usual, although Oregon and California are neighbors, the vintage experience is very, very different. In the Napa Valley it was smooth as silk. The early flowering in the spring gave us all the time we wanted to ripen our fruit to the very point of perfection. In Oregon the pace was not as relaxed as an approaching storm forced us into high gear to get our fruit in before the rains hit, which we did.
Once again as in baseball, there is more than one way to win the game. The 2010 vintage may have been difficult and the 2012 vintage warm and benevolent, but we made excellent wines in both years. Most importantly we made wines of the vintage, letting the natural character of the wines nature gave us to speak their own minds. Perhaps the biggest difference between big industrial wineries and artisan producers like Cornerstone Cellars is that their wines taste the same every year and ours don't. In baseball "small ball" often wins games, but in winemaking there is only one way to the pennant and that is by swinging for the fences each and every year.
Now as we finish the 2013 harvest, we are releasing the Cornerstone Cellars Cabernets from the 2010 vintage and our Cornerstone Oregon Pinot and Chardonnay from the 2011 harvest, while the 2012's are still resting in their barrels. Each of them tells the story of our dance with Mother Nature every vintage and we are confident you will find each of their stories as compelling as we do.
In 1991 Mike Dragutsky was touched by the dream to make great wine and founded Cornerstone Cellars. In 1979 Craig Camp gave up his career in journalism to tell the story that flows from the vine to the glass. In 1997 Jeff Keene escaped from the confines of the research laboratory to let his creativity flow in the winery. In 2008 they joined forces to intertwine their talents and vision and Cornerstone Cellars was reborn in the Napa Valley and Oregon's Willamette Valley.
In late 2007 Dragutsky and Camp began the drive to make wines at Cornerstone Cellars that are defined by their elegance, dedication to terroir, appropriate alcohol levels and that are crafted to enhance meals. They recruited Keene to join as winemaker as they knew he shared their vision of balanced wines, driven by acidity and freshness. Today's Cornerstone Cellars style combines Camp's European wine background, starting as an importer of Burgundy, Bordeaux then by three years working at wineries in Italy, with New Zealander Keene's cool climate background, both in his native country's vineyards and at Haven's Wine Cellars here in Napa. Their passion for balance combined with the entrepreneurial spirit of founder Dragutsky define the vision of Cornerstone Cellars as defined in their mission statement:
Vintage, Vineyard and Variety
"Excellence is never enough, we have to go beyond and establish an ever higher goal each vintage. Our goal is to craft wines that are not only exceptional, but memorable. Each of our wines expresses the essence of vineyard, variety and vintage, which combine each harvest to create something never to be exactly repeated."
In 2008, Cornerstone Oregon was born in the Willamette Valley as a collaboration between Cornerstone Napa's Craig Camp and renowned Oregon winemaker Tony Rynders. While longing to make pinot noir and chardonnay, Camp firmly believed that the Napa Valley was no place to make classically styled, elegant wines from these varieties. As a result a totally separate project was born as we believe it is more important where the vines put down roots than where we do.
What we believe:
Cornerstone Cellars wines are the combined personal vision of Dragutsky, Camp and Keene of what makes a wine great. The symbiosis of their personalities are realized in our wines.
We are not about statistics and points, terroir is terroir and every vineyard must find its own balance.
There is no finer place in the world to grow cabernet sauvignon, cabernet franc and merlot than the Napa Valley. It is both an honor to be able to craft wine from such outstanding fruit and it our responsibility to make each wine to the very best of our ability.
We make pinot and chardonnay in Oregon because we think it is a world class place to grow those varieties that the Napa Valley is not. It's more important where the vines put down roots than were the winemakers do.
We do not make wine for everyone. We make what we believe in, not what the mass market demands. We will not be a slave to the fashion of the moment, we make wines we love to drink. What makes a great wine does not change, it's not like having hemlines to go up and down according latest whim.
Our wines all express our vision of the 3 V's: vineyard, vintage and variety.
We are an atypical Napa Valley winery and we like that way.
The dawn has yet to glow over the Vaca Mountains to the east. I am standing in the dark morning coolness as hazy figures glide through the blackness waiting for first light to signal the start of the day's work. Harvest 2013 is now seriously underway in the Napa Valley as we prepare to pick our first grapes for red wine this vintage, Oakville Station Merlot. Theoretically the harvest started here weeks ago for sparking wines (they're done already) and some white wines, but in the Napa Valley you're not getting serious until you start picking merlot, cabernet franc and, most of all, cabernet sauvignon.
While the scene sounds idyllic, and indeed it is, there is an undeniable feeling of pressure. We get just the one chance a year to make meaningful wines from each of these sites. There are no second chances. Every decision is critical, including the timing of today's pick, which I believe we have gotten just right.
Vintage 2013 is full of potential. Our early spring combined with a warm, but not too hot summer has been ideal for developing the complexity of flavors we strive for in our wines while preserving the essential acidity, which makes them live. It is our responsibility to fully realize this potential.
The Oakville Station Merlot was of such outstanding quality in 2012 that we have decided to produce not only our first single vineyard bottling of merlot, but our first Cornerstone Merlot ever. The 2012 Cornerstone Cellars, Oakville Station Merlot will be bottled next July and released after a year of bottle age in 2015. We only produced 100 cases and it will be exclusively available to our Cornerstone Club members. Looking at the outstanding quality of the merlot we are picking this morning, I have every reason to believe that 2013 will see our second single vineyard bottling from this very special vineyard block that is tucked into the famous To Kalon vineyard.
So as it happens each year in the natural cycle that is agriculture, our goals remain the same, but Mother Nature makes the rules. Our goal is to make elegant, refined wines that elevate your experience at the dinner table. Almost every year here in the Napa Valley nature gives us the privilege of achieving our goals. It is our duty to repay that privilege by doing the very best we can do. While that's a heavy responsibility, it is also a great honor. The ultimate expression of this honor is achieved when we can share our wines with you.
Cabernet Day is literally every day at Cornerstone Cellars in the Napa Valley. There is not a day spent when we are not farming, harvesting, making, blending or sharing Cabernet Sauvignon. There is good reason for this, the Napa Valley is a perfect place to grow Cabernet Sauvignon. Our combination of a long, warm growing season with cool nights and a wide-range of ideal soil types gives birth to some of the greatest Cabernets made anywhere.
We have honed our vineyard selection to razor sharpness and produce three distinct Cabernet Sauvignon wines from a unique set of exceptional vineyards. We control the farming of each block with attention to the smallest details, which is what it takes to make great Cabernet Sauvignon. Our cabernet selections include:
- Cornerstone Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon, Stepping Stone is selected from vineyards that give a more forward style with great elegance
- Cornerstone Cellars Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon is our "winemaking" wine as it is a selection blended from our three finest vineyard blocks: Kairos near Oak Knoll, Oakville Station in the To Kalon district and Ink Grade on Howell Mountain. Regal, rich and complex our Napa Valley selection weaves the distinctive personality of three of Napa's finest vineyards into a dramatic, harmonious whole.
- Cornerstone Cellars Howell Mountain Cabernet Sauvignon is a true vineyard wine coming, as it has since the 2000 vintage, from our Ink Grade block high on the east side of Howell Mountain. Grown on volcanic, white tufa soils and farmed organically for more than a decade this is truly a great vineyard site that produces a classic, age-able mountain Cabernet Sauvignon.
Very soon we will be harvesting our 2013 Cabernet Sauvignon. It has been an amazing year so far. Starting with a beautiful warm spring and early flowering, which gave the vines a nice head start. The summer has been lovely with beautiful warm days, cool nights and only one real heat spike. Now we are looking forward to a sunny fall that will allow the grapes to finishing their ripening at the leisurely pace that gives the most flavorful wine grapes. We could not be more optimistic. It’s going to be a very, very exciting harvest.
Dawn Atlas Peak Yountville AVA #Napa Valley 8/25/13
Netted #Cabernet Sauvignon Yountville #Napa Valley 8/24/13
Atlas Peak and #Yountville AVA vineyards 8/22/13
We have lofty ambitions at Cornerstone Cellars. Not only do we reach for the sky with our wines each vintage, but we want visitors to our Yountville tasting room to be treated to a tasting experience as elevated as our wines. For our club members we always aim even higher. Our lofty ambitions to bring a unique wine tasting experience to our members has now been fully realized! We are excited to introduce you to the new Cornerstone Cellars Library Loft, a private tasting room reserved for our wine club members.
Tucked above the Cornerstone Cellars tasting room, the Library Loft offers lovely views of the Yountville Hills and the town of Yountville itself. On the deck is a bistro table for sun worshipers and inside groups of up to fourteen can enjoy our latest vintages and receive personal attention from our staff of experienced wine educators.
Knowing that wine without food is a bit lonely, we are pleased to offer you gourmet box lunch selections from our amazing culinary neighbors here in Yountville. Call ahead to order mouthwatering selections from Bouchon Bakery, Napa Style, the Yountville Deli or Ad Hoc's Addendum. As always, our wonderful cheese tasting plates are available to our club members.
Club members are welcome to bring their guests to share the Cornerstone Cellars Library Loft experience for a formal tasting, box lunches or casual sipping with our selection of cheeses. Our wine educators would be more than happy to present one of our fun and educational wine seminars or create a customized wine experience for our club members and their guests.
To make reservations for the Cornerstone Cellars Library Loft and for current menu information, please contact our wine club director Nadia Olson (firstname.lastname@example.org - direct line 707-490-271), tasting room manager Katrina Kay (email@example.com - direct line 707-260-5671) or call the tasting room at 707-945-0388.
We look forward to sharing the Library Loft with you. Please let me know you are coming and I'll be sure to stop by and say hello! Craig Camp - firstname.lastname@example.org or @CraigCamp on Twitter
Dawn Atlas Peak #Napa Valley 8/17/13
Franc-ly speaking Cabernet Franc is a pain in the butt. Hard to grow and tough to ripen just right. Underripe gives you veggie stew and too ripe gives you concentrate of Welch's. So why are we spending so much time on Cabernet Franc?
The truth of the matter is when you get cabernet franc just right it is nothing short of incredible. It is worth the effort. Its unique blend of herbs and spices blend with the rich fruit flavors to create one of the greatest of all wines for food. The nuances of cabernet franc mirror the flavors in many dishes in a way no other variety can. If you need proof just try our Stepping Stone by Cornerstone Napa Valley Cabernet Franc with lamb roasted with herbs.
It's tough to grow as while it's a late ripener, just to be difficult, cabernet franc likes cooler sites that allow it to ripen slowly, which allows it to develop its full range of flavors. Too hot and it just pounds out sugar with no complex flavors, too cool and most American's will wrinkle their noses from the pungent weedy flavors and aromatics. Cabernet franc needs a sweet spot and we've found a few that are just right.
Many cooler sites in the Napa Valley are just perfect for cabernet franc. The cooler southern AVA's like Carneros, Oak Knoll and Coombsville are uniquely suited to the variety as well as cooler micro-climates in Oakville and St. Helena. From these sites we craft our Stepping Stone by Cornerstone Napa Valley Cabernet Franc.
In all of our wines we love (and strive for) what we call "lift". That means to us a brightness in aromatics and flavors the seems to rise in complexity as you savor them. We are not referring to the intensity or power increasing as we treasure elegance and balance in our wines, but to an ever expanding range of sensations that draw your palate and nose back for more-and-more. We want our wines to be kaleidoscopes of flavors and aromas.
That's what you have with our 2010 Stepping Stone by Cornerstone Napa Valley Cabernet Franc. The brilliant ruby color pleases the eye, while the lifted aromatics of mint, lavender and rosemary are layered over the bright cassis flavors of this young wine. On the plate the beautiful round tannins smoothly carry the rich flavors into the long mouthwatering finish. This combination of flavors and textures are what make this wine so uniquely appealing and draws you back for the next sip.
First light warming the vineyards in the #Napa Valley
Fun. Rocks! is fun, fun to make and fun to drink. Isn't wine supposed to be fun?
Each year we start with a blank slate, but not a blank palate, as in our mind, we know the the bright, zesty, mouth-watering flavors we seek. It's all about the pleasure. Well, it's not just about the pleasure, but also the price. Rocks! is made to be enjoyed - often!
The freedom to blend whatever varieties we find to produce the best wine possible is liberating and fun. To keep this freedom, we do not share the exact percentage of the blends as we want everyone savoring the results vintage to vintage, not the statistics. Rocks! is Rocks!, our expression of a wine priced to enjoy every day, that is delicious enough to make everyday meals just a bit more special. Rocks! will make you think, but not too much as its place in the world is to stimulate conversation, not dominate it.
I'm excited to present you with our new package for Rocks!, which I think convey well its spirit. Bright, lively, as fun as the wine itself and topped with a screw cap to eliminate any obstacle to opening a bottle. This last choice was also made with picnics and patio barbecues in mind as they are a natural home for Rocks!.
My love of interesting blends goes back to the now famous Vintage Tunia by Silvio Jermann in Italy's Fruili, which I was among the first American importers of back in the early 1980's. During the same period I was introduced to the many blended southern French wines by Christopher Cannan. No one debated too much the exact blends of these wines they way people do now. They were just enjoyed for what they were - delicious.
While inspired by European wines, you'll find Rocks! distinctly Californian in personality with generous flavors full of the perfect fruit that we grow in this ideal climate for grapes, yet with that bright tang of acidity for which Cornerstone Cellars is now known. I hope you enjoy Rocks! with some hearty comfort food and fun. After all, that was the idea.
White Rocks! is as always brightly aromatic and spicy, perfect as aperitif with appetizers or with Asian or other spicy or sweet and sour dishes. The Red Rocks! is packed with bright red fruit flavors, a generous texture and is just assertive enough to leave even jaded palates satisfied.
Rocks! - the blend is our secret, the pleasure is all yours.
In Tavel they make rosé like they mean it. In Bandol they make rosé like they mean it. In America, not so much. At Cornerstone Cellars we mean it too.
Single vineyard Napa Valley syrah, fermented bone-dry and aged in oak for almost six months is a statement. We're serious about rosé. Serious rosé is not cheap and it's worth every dime. Stepping Stone by Cornerstone Corallina Napa Valley Syrah Rosé is such a wine. You can buy cheaper pink wines, but if you want flavor, not just color, it costs both of us just a bit more.
We confess to being rosé snobs. Corallina Syrah Rosé is a real rosé. That means it's not the leftovers of someone trying to beef up their red wine. In a warm climate like California making rosé by saigneé, or "bleeding" juice out of a red wine fermenter to concentrate that wine, means low-acid, flabby and sweet with those nasty fake watermelon flavors. We're not fans of watermelon candy.
Corallina Syrah Rosé starts in the vineyard as the first step is selecting a single block of syrah vines destined to become Corallina. Conceived as a rosé from the beginning, every farming choice throughout the year is made with only one goal in mind - rosé worth thinking about. Harvest is timed solely around the complexity of fruit flavors as we don't need to worry about ripening the skin tannins. The beautiful Napa Valley climate provides us with luscious fruit with more than enough color so no other skin contact is necessary than the three hours or so it takes the fruit to be gently pressed. After fermentation Corallina Syrah Rosé rests for five months in mature French oak barrels, where the flavors grow rounder, richer and more complex.
Corallina Syrah Rosé is lifted, bright and floral, laced with aromatics redolent of fresh wild herb and spices and touches of wild strawberries and white peaches. It is mouthwatering, refreshing and irresistible. Second glasses are unavoidable.
There is so much joy, pleasure and sunshine in Corallina Syrah Rosé that I had to seek out a label that reflected that energy. In "Wine Dance" by artist Janet Ekholm I found just such an image as the brilliant colors and intermingling of subject, landscape and sky into a harmonious whole is the perfect reflection of our vision for Corallina Syrah Rosé.
I am pleased to present you with our 2012 Stepping Stone by Cornerstone Corallina Napa Valley Syrah Rosé, which tells the story of one year of our lives. It is the full expression of what we seek to share in all of our wines, the essence of vineyard, variety and vintage combining each harvest to create something never to be exactly repeated.