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

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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.

Real Rosé

Real Rosé. Not a afterthought, not leftovers, not for fashion and most decidedly not a saignée, Corallina Syrah Rosé is Napa Valley rosé with a purpose. It is a wine made as mindfully as we make any other wine.

While a saignée may be a wonderful idea in the coolest years in the coolest regions like Burgundy and Oregon it is a very strange concept in a warm region like the Napa Valley. Do you really think its a good idea to concentrate Napa Valley wine more than Mother Nature already does? Yes, I know Robert Parker thinks so, but I don’t.

So Corallina Syrah Rosé is a mindful rosé and we keep these Oak Knoll AVA Crane Vineyard vines in a state of serene rosé-ness throughout the growing season. Each of these syrah grapes are in a state of serenity and inner pinkness from the moment of bud break until, just twelve months later, they become Corallina Syrah Rosé. This is fruit destined to be a rosé all the way from flowering to bottle.

As these syrah grapes arrive at the winery already having achieved enlightenment, it is our job to ensure that when you and Corallina come together that Nirvana is the result. To be sure this is the case we keep our hands off Corallina as much as we can.

Mere hours after harvesting the cool fruit arrives at the winery and immediately goes into the press. This is whole cluster pressing and a key part of Corallina’s centered personality. In California saignée is the shady ying to the sunny yang of whole cluster pressed rosé. The whole bunches of grapes that will be Corallina go into the press and over a slow, three hour press run these syrah grapes gradually reveal their pink soul. The juice goes immediately into a stainless steel tank where slowly, very slowly due to the cool temperature, it ferments to complete dryness. Then the new Corallina is racked into mature French Oak barrels for five months of meditation before it fulfills its destiny when the Corallina Wine Dance label finally adorns its bottle - just in time for summer.

Inner wine peace cannot be achieved with mass production so only 500 cases or so of Corallina Syrah Rosé are produced each harvest. This year Mother Nature gave us a Corallina with 13.8% alcohol, TA 0.54 and 3.50 pH - isn’t that riveting. More importantly she gave us our most delicious Corallina yet and we could not be more grateful and humbled by her gift.

Finding Nirvana will be a bit easier this summer due to the 2014 Cornerstone Corallina Napa Valley Syrah Rosé.

Moving Day

Big news! Cornerstone Cellars is moving! We’re moving from our current address of 6505 Washington Street to our new address of 6505 Washington Street. Okay, that’s not very dramatic news as we are moving all of about twenty feet across the parking lot, but it’s big news for us and good news for you. We’re moving into the space right behind our current Yountville tasting room and will be closed from March 23rd to April 1st (no kidding) as we prepare an exciting new tasting experience for you in our beautiful new space.

On top of this there is truly exciting news for our old space as soon a dynamic new culinary partner will occupy our old tasting room featuring charcuterie, cheeses, bubbly and exclusive designer fashions and jewelry that you won’t be able to resist.

In addition to our exciting new neighbor, Cornerstone Cellars will be expanding our offerings from Yount Street Glass. Their handcrafted jewelry and gifts from recycled wine bottles could not be more fun or beautiful and we are excited that our new spacious tasting room will allow us to expand our offerings of their selections. With our new neighbors, more Yount Street Glass and an ever more exciting selection of wines from Cornerstone Cellars we are sure you won’t be able to resist visiting all of us in Yountville ever more than you do now.

While it’s true that you’ll have to walk a few more steps to get to Cornerstone Cellars, we know you’d find those few steps so entertaining you’ll never know you took them.

We can’t wait to welcome you to the new Cornerstone Cellars!

One Hundred Percent

2012 Cornerstone Cellars Cabernet Franc Black Label

We believe in the power of blending the classic Bordeaux varieties for the same reason the French do: it makes the wines better. Cabernet provides the power and structure, merlot texture and aromatics and cabernet franc is a bit like MSG as it lifts, brightens and adds excitement to the wine. This blending process is an important part of what we do at Cornerstone Cellars.

Well most of the time. The fact is the 2012 Cornerstone Cellars Cabernet Franc Black Label, Napa Valley is one hundred percent cabernet franc. We did not plan it that way, but the wine insisted and it's our job to listen to what the wine has to say, not tell it what to do.

Blending trial after blending trial ended up the same way with the unblended Cabernet Franc being the winner. There was simply nothing this cabernet franc needed so we decided to do exactly that - nothing.

Cabernet franc and the warm, long 2012 vintage were made for each other. The perfect fall weather allowed the grapes to ripen slowly at the end, coasting in to full ripeness without losing the natural herbal edge that defines cabernet franc. The result is a wine with the richness of Napa Valley that is still lifted, bright and mouthwatering.

While this wine is one hundred percent cabernet franc, it is still a blend as we have combined fruit from three exceptional vineyards for our Black Label Cabernet Franc and each of them add something special: Our Oakville Station Vineyard in To Kalon adds depth, power and a velvety texture; the Talcott Vineyard in St. Helena gives structure and richness; the Carrefour Vineyard in Coombsville brings lift, freshness and classic cabernet franc aromatics. Together they create something very, very special.

Isn't That the Point


It very strange how in winemaking you can end up at the same point in very, very different ways. "It is important to understand that a point is not a thing, but a place," notes the Math Open Reference. The point we are always trying to achieve is a pure expression of our three "V's": vintage, variety and vineyard.

To achieve this with varieties as transparent as chardonnay and pinot noir takes a clear vision of where you are going. To arrive at the same point in winemaking is not to make carbon copies vintage-to-vintage, but to arrive at the place you feel each vintage is taking you. Patient, careful winemaking allows wines of very different vintages to arrive at the place, the point, you are seeking as a winemaker. To arrive at this point you have to let the wine achieve its own natural balance for the year that created it. So in some years you have structured wines and in others a more natural richness and forward personality. Just because they are different does not mean they have not arrived at the exact point you are trying to achieve.

Two such vintages are 2011 and 2012 in Oregon's Willamette Valley. In 2011 rain and cool weather made fruit sorting an art form if you wanted to make exceptional wines. We rejected bin after bin and individually sorted and selected each bunch that made it into the fermenters. The end result speaks for itself in the beautifully lifted and structured 2011 Cornerstone Oregon Willamette Valley Pinot Noir, White Label. The wines from this year are naturally tight and are only now starting to reveal their delicate layers of complexity. As someone who cut their pinot noir teeth on Burgundy I particularly love this wine. Then there was the sunny, gentle 2012 vintage where there was hardly a thing to sort. In fact, the 2012 chardonnay fruit was the most beautiful and defect free I've ever seen in Oregon. The 2012 Cornerstone Oregon, Willamette Valley Chardonnay, White Label reflects this generous vintage, not by being soft, but with a rounded firmness that will develop for years to come. I think this is a perfect example of the extraordinary potential of chardonnay in Oregon and why I am convinced this is the best region for chardonnay in North America.

It is exciting to release such a distinct range of personalities with our Cornerstone Oregon releases this fall. For me such differences are the things that make wine so exciting and pleasurable. After all, isn't that the point.

A Beautiful Factory

It was majestic, breathtaking. It cost tens of millions of dollars. It was the most beautiful factory I'd ever seen. Such are the temples of wine in the Napa Valley. Shrines to people rather than agriculture. The days of Bottle Shock have long passed to be replaced by sticker shock. The Napa Valley is no longer the place a farmer can bring his winemaking dream to reality.

Today in the Napa Valley people build pyramids to their own memories just as the pharaohs did in ancient Egypt - and for the same reason. Immortality is expensive. Making wine is farming and it's hard to think of anything less glamorous. The choice for the ages is obvious - temples last longer than wines.

I was visiting one of Napa's new pyramids a few weeks ago and it was perfection. Majestic floor to ceiling windows filled with vineyard views, a winemaking facility loaded with the cutting edge technology and, of course, it was all integrated with equally cutting edge modern art. There was only one thing missing. There was no soul, no soul of the wine and no tie to the land. The connection to the land was lost as everything about the place was about people - nothing was about nature and dirt, which was nowhere to be seen except through perfectly clean, massive windows. It was there to see, but there was nothing to touch or that could touch you.

You can buy the land, the equipment, the art and the media, but in the end the wines will have no soul, no soil, unless it is really inside of you. Without that soul, no matter how much you spend, you just end up with a beautiful factory and like all factories you pump out an industrial product. Designer wines designed for points not people.

The marketing employed to sell these wines is as cold as the facility they're made in. Data points replace people and social media becomes a strategy not a conversation. You don't want to get your hands dirty.

Corison Winery

On Route 29 in the heart of the Napa Valley is a plain gray barn where the wine, and only the wine, tells the story. There Cathy Corison has endured the pointless point-ridden decades for wine when only points mattered and pH did not. Today she has been magically rediscovered without changing a thing. It seems actually having a vision and a passion, not simply an ego and a bottomless checking account, have become fashionable again. This, at least, is something we can be thankful for in the Napa Valley

There are real wine temples, like that plain gray barn, out there in the the Napa Valley and across California, but as in Indiana Jones, you'd better choose wisely. Most people choose poorly forgetting that it's in the cup of a carpenter that you're more likely to find real wine.