The One Per Cent

It took forty-seven percent to make a difference for Mitt Romney. For us it's the one percent. No, we're not joining Boycott Wall Street. Percentages for us are all about blending and every percent matters.

Winemaker Jeff Keene and I show what a percent can mean at Premier Napa Valley Auction 2013

Winemaker Jeff Keene and I show what a percent can mean at Premier Napa Valley Auction 2013

Jeff Keene and I were working on our final blends for our 2011 reds a few weeks ago and it never ceases to amaze the nuance and complexity that can be gained by the smallest changes. It is on the blending table that the soul of the wine comes together. It requires intense concentration and attention to the smallest detail to bring a wine to the perfect point.

There are many ways to blend: different varieties and different vineyards, same variety different vineyards and every permutation you can think of. Yet it's not how you blend, but why you blend that's the most important thing. Different varieties react very differently to blending. Take varieties like pinot noir and nebbiolo and blend them with other varieties you quickly lose their distinctive character. The only real blending choice is to make a single vineyard or multi-vineyard wine. Then there is cabernet sauvignon, merlot and cabernet franc, varieties with assertive character that relish the flourishes added by blending their three spirits.

You don’t start off from scratch, you have a general idea where the wines will take you when you put the first rough blends together. Then you begin to work the permutations. A little more of that; a little less of that and the wine edges closer and closer to what you envision for the wines of this harvest. Finally you’re almost there, but there seems to be something missing. It’s tough to describe or put your finger on, but you know there is more to find, more for the wine to give. It is at this point you discover how important just one percent can be as suddenly the wine comes totally alive from just that small touch of the right variety or vineyard.

This time it was our 2011 Cornerstone Cellars Howell Mountain Cabernet Sauvignon, but it happens with every wine. We were so close with a blend of cabernet sauvignon and merlot, but Jeff and I just felt something was missing. This time the one percent truly made the difference and when we added a tiny dollop of cabernet franc the wine suddenly became brighter, more lifted and, frankly, perfect. It’s our willingness to reach for our vision of perfection that makes the wines of Cornerstone Cellars something truly special. There are many wonderful wines in the world, but sometimes by reaching for just one percent more moves you from wonderful to something memorable.