Kermit Lynch often laments about his time spent with the winery families he meets while traveling throughout France in his book, Adventures on the Wine Route. Much about a wine’s character can be understood by knowing and dining with the people who are behind its creation. For four days and nights this month I experienced wine as Kermit does when I traveled to Memphis. There I visited with Michael Dragutsky, a founder of Cornerstone Cellars and his wife Beni. To say that these two are kind and caring would simply be insufficient. My original plans for this trip were to stay in a hotel, perhaps meeting with them a few times for dinner or a casual lunch. This was completely out of the question, with Mike insisting I stay with them. I’m glad I did as I was welcomed and treated just like a member of the family.
It had been years since I had seen Mike. The drive from Nashville to Memphis had me recalling the dinner we had a few winters ago in our VIP room, catered by Hurley’s Restaurant, and paired with more vintages of Cornerstone than I can remember. It was a casual affair with Mike talking to us about Cornerstone’s past, present, and future all through the medium of wine. We were able to taste through the history and toast to the direction we were heading. Though only a few hours in length and no white tablecloths, it was the first time all of us at Cornerstone were able to sit around a table together.
When I arrived at Mike’s house it was as if we shared that meal just last week. Shaking my hand with his right while reaching for my suite case with his left and grinning, Mike quickly ushered me to the guest bedroom all while introducing Beni. The introduction was fleeting as we made our way to Debby Karelitz’s -an ardent Cornerstone fan I happened to meet at the California Wine Festival in Santa Barbara just a few months prior- house for a casual wine dinner with her and her friends. A lovely pot luck, people had two options: either bring a dish or bring a few bottles of Cornerstone to share. I opted for the latter having shipped in bottles of our Cornerstone Cellars 2009 Napa Valley Cabernet, Cornerstone Oregon Chardonnay and Stepping Stone by Cornerstone Napa Valley Cuveé Musque. For both white wines, little if any, will be reaching a restaurant or wine shop. Mike and Beni opted to bring some of Cornerstone’s past, reaching for a few bottles of 1993 Cornerstone Howell Mountain Cabernet Sauvignon.
Next week: Memphis part two!