And now the conclusion of my Memphis trip!
The following night I was fortunate enough to meet with more of the Memphis based partners of Cornerstone. Everyone came from diverse backgrounds, but all had one common passion: compelling and intriguing wines from California and Oregon. For this meal together I wanted to focus on the future of Cornerstone’s wines from both states. We sipped on both red and white wines from 2011, 2010, and 2009. I was excited to try some of the 2010 Stepping Stone reds as the last time I tasted them was just days after their bottling. Their elegance, flavor, aroma, and texture is readily apparent. The partners had many questions as well, wanting to hear more about my travels and where Cornerstone was in the cities they traveled to. Fortunately, these were conversations I had recently with a number of our distributors and was able to point them in the right direction for their next destination.
A few days later after visiting accounts with our distributor, Mike, Beni, and I all had an evening free to do dinner. Rarely do I have access to such a beautiful and well stocked kitchen. I insisted that instead of the three of us going out we instead stay in and I cook dinner. Beni’s ears perked up when I said that as she is a great chef with a killer rack of lamb recipe. Wine is to be had with any proper meal and prior to coming up with a dinner plan Mike and I headed to the cellar. I just as well should have walked into a time portal. In half of the cellar very Cornerstone vintage was elegantly displayed. The other half held wines from friend’s California and Oregon as well as an impressive array of older Bordeaux and Burgundies. Relying on a staple pairing, red with red, I cooked rib eyes with Farro and Brussels sprouts.
On my last evening in Memphis, Mike and I went to Folks Folly restaurant to provide the staff with a Cornerstone tasting of their own. Attending the Friday night pre-shift fifteen servers and managers listened to Mike tell the history of Cornerstone while I poured them the 2007 Cornerstone Cellars Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon that they carry on their list. Even though I waited tables for years in the Napa Valley, it was rare that I would get the chance to taste wines with the owner of a winery during pre-shift. Many of them knew Mike already from the Memphis community. Being that this was a very rare and special treat, we decided to pull out a library selection for the staff thus allowing them to see all of Cornerstone’s storied past. As Mike is talking about our 2008 Napa Valley Cabernet, I see a few servers eyes light up as I reach into the wine bag and pull out a bottle of 1996 Cornerstone Cellars Howell Mountain Beaty Ranch Cabernet Sauvignon. I love being able to try older, rarer wines. This group was no different and one could see how much they enjoyed the wine. Be sure treat yourself and stop by Folks Folly on your next trip to Memphis.
My four days with Mike and Beni were very memorable. The meals, the stories, the history, the wine and oh yes, the fun. It was not all business on this trip. I did make it to Graceland.
The vintage 2012 has the potential to be one of the finest vintages in many years, if not one of the best ever on the west coast. There is a true potential to create something special.
In the Napa Valley we have already harvested some amazing fruit at Cornerstone Cellars. Our new Stepping Stone Pinot Gris, picked on September 11th, has just started it's long cold fermentation and the juice could not be more exciting. Packed with fresh peach and melon flavors and explosive acidity the wine is sure to be exceptional. This new vineyard, located directly in front of Silver Oak, is an A+ quality site and will produce a very complex pinot gris. A few days later, September 13th, we picked our sauvignon blanc. To the excellent Talcott Vineyard in St. Helena, this year we have added a new sauvignon blanc vineyard, Ink Grade on Howell Mountain, the same site where we harvest our Howell Mountain Cabernet Sauvignon. We are co-fermenting these sites and fermentation is progressing slowly and perfectly. We ferment our whites at very low temperature to maintain all the aromatics so fermentation can take months, instead of weeks as in the red wine. The juice now is packed with mineral-ly, grapefruit flavors and aromas. It's delicious.
The red wine harvest started last Monday and Thursday, with merlot from Oakville Station/To Kalon and Ink Grade Howell Mountain. Merlot is the earliest ripener of the Bordeaux varieties. To say that this first fruit has lived up to our high expectations of this vintage is an understatement. The color is rich and dark and the juice is full of the velvety plum flavors that define great merlot. These tanks are now all yeasted after a cold soak of several days and fermentation is just starting to really roll.
With temperatures spiking into the 90s this weekend we could not have hoped for better weather to push the cabernet sauvignon to perfect ripeness. Over the next several weeks things will go into overdrive as we rush to bring in this perfect fruit before the rains and birds arrive.
- Upcoming scheduled picks:
- 10/1 - Oakville Station/To Kalon Cabernet Franc and Block 2 Merlot
- 10/3 - Ink Grade Cabernet Sauvignon, lower block 5
- 10/4 - Ink Grade Howell Mountain Cabernet Sauvignon and Stewart Ranch Carneros Merlot
- 10/5 - Losey Vineyard Riesling and Atlas Peak Syrah
In Oregon the quality of the vintage looks equally sensational. Harvest should start in about two weeks, which should let me finish here before I have to head up there. While in Napa we have the staff at Laird to support us, in Oregon its totally hands on wine production with harvest meaning about three days of concentrated harvesting for Cornerstone Oregon. As the pinot noir and chardonnay must get into the fermenter as quickly as possible that means days that begin long before dawn and you finish only when that day's fruit is all processed - often long after dark. We have no scheduled pick dates in Oregon yet, but the upcoming week will give us a good idea when crush time will arrive.
Our biggest challenge after this heat spike may be that all the fruit will ripen at once, which will test our logistical systems (read Jeff and my backs) to be be sure we don't let any of this great fruit get even one more day on the vine than it should have. We want perfect fruit in such a perfect year. You can't waste such a gift.
Pictured above: The harvest crew takes a well deserved break just before sunrise during our pinot gris harvest.
Autumn has began to sweep over Napa Valley. Trees are beginning to turn from green to yellow and red. The foggy mornings are crisp, but lead into pleasantly warm and sunny afternoons. It is an exciting time of celebration as we welcome in the day’s harvest of beautifully ripe grapes. The dry, warm weather we have seen around here is ideal for what vintners are considering to be a great vintage. Here at the Cornerstone Cellars Yountville tasting room, we are gearing up for a fun filled holiday season with great wine and amazing friends.
Since it is so nice to spend this special time of year with fellow wine lovers, we threw an industry party. We invited concierges from local hotels, restaurant employees, bloggers and wine educators. Coming together with like-minded individuals from all over the valley was so much fun! We were able to exchange harvest stories and bring in the season with many cheerful toasts. The best part was sharing our wonderful lineup of Cornerstone Cellars new release wines with people who had never tried them before. It was fantastic exposure and we certainly created a few new Cornerstone Cellars enthusiasts.
After speaking with a few other wine educators we came to the agreement that the 2009 Stepping Stone by Cornerstone Corallina Rose would be a perfect way to start out a holiday meal. It would be ideal with turkey dishes for Thanksgiving. The 2009 Cornerstone Cellars Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon would be a fantastic wine to share with loved ones with Cypress Grove Midnight Moon aged goat’s milk cheese. Overall it was great to share thoughts, ideas and wine while meeting new people as well as hosting old friends. We hope that you all are enjoying preparing for the holidays as much as we are. Keep our incredible wines in mind for your meals and remember that we can ship to almost every state! If you are going to be in Napa this season then please stop by our Yountville tasting room for a wine tasting. Cheers! ^aw
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!
Today is the beginning of my favorite time of year! Our harvest season has started (we have brought in our first ever lot of Pinot Gris and almost all of our sauvignon blanc!), all types of squashes are in abundance at the farmers market, the days are getting shorter, and the autumn colors are just about to show! In addition to all of the wonderful changes and bounty this new harvest is granting us, the weather has cooled down throughout the country and we are finally able to ship wine out to our friends, fans and wine club family!
Because of of the summer heat and potential of heat damage, we are unable to ship wine from mid-May through the majority of September. In temperatures above 75 degrees, the wine can be damaged in the bottle by hot storage conditions (i.e. the back of a shipping truck) and develop raisined and stewed flavors, flavors the winemaker did not intent our wines to have. In order to preserve our wine, we hold all shipments until the weather has cooled down throughout the country.
Now with the weather cooling off, we are finally able to kicking off our Wine Club shipments in full force! Our first shipment is going out in this last week of September and it will be to our Connoisseurs Club! The Connoisseurs Club is my favorite club level because it gives our members a sampling of all of the wines we craft under Stepping Stone by Cornerstone, Cornerstone Oregon and Cornerstone Cellars, including our small lot and tasting room exclusive wines we produce each year. With special pricing, special parties, special dinners, and exclusive experiences at our Yountville Tasting Room, our wine clubs is the best way to continue and I am thrilled to share this September club shipment with our club members.
Our Connoisseurs Club Members will receive one bottle of our inaugural vintage of the Cornerstone Oregon Chardonnay. A wine that is exclusive to our tasting room and Wine Club Members, the Oregon Chardonnay will pair beautifully with all of the wonderful Fall squash dishes readily available on every chef’s menu. Our Connoisseur Club Members will also receive our current release 2009 Stepping Stone Cabernet Franc and pre-release of 2010 Stepping Stone Cabernet Sauvignon (the most elegant Cabernet we have made yet).
It is going to be a few more busy months sending out all of our various Wine Clubs, but don’t get left out of the fun and miss any of our new releases first by by signing up for yourself!
This season has really brought on a whole new excitement throughout the Napa Valley with news that this is set to be an almost ideal growing season with abundant fruit. The harvest is
also showing fruit with high acidity which is great for both white wines and age worthy red,
which is perfect for us because a great harvest means great wine and Cornerstone Cellars was
born out of a passion for great wine.
This news has really excited our tasting room and we have decided to celebrate this
harvest with the guests that come to visit us, with some of our new release wines like the 2009
Cornerstone Cellars Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon. We have also introduced artisan cheese
plates to accompany your tastings while you relax and enjoy your tasting with us. Pair these
cheese plates with one of the new educational tastings we have recently started. They are a great
way to begin your journey in to Napa Valley.
Please also look for information several upcoming special events we have planned that
will allow you to experience Cornerstone Cellars in ways you have never experienced before.
Our first event in December will be a dinner featuring our Winemaker, Jeff Keene. For more
information about our upcoming events and tasting experiences contact us at our tasting room in
Yountville Ca. And it will be our pleasure to make arrangements for you to come visit.
Kayne Prime is the kind of restaurant I wish we had in Napa. Mostly it is because the wide open windows looking out on the Nashville skyline allowing a summer’s breeze to gently blow through the dining room. The staff, attentive, knowledgable, and fun, all were quick to make suggestions on the wine list and dinner menu. The most intriguing menu item was a chopped kale salad dressed with simple olive oil and sea salt. The texture was incredible and taste was divine.
I met Aliza, their wine director, as she was finishing up her wine notes from a few days of tasting. We agreed to taste through the Cornerstone wines the next day, focusing on the Cornerstone 2008 Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon and the Stepping Stone by Cornerstone Napa Valley Cabernet Franc. Much like myself, Aliza is a huge Cab Franc fan.
The next evening we tasted, laughed, sipped, and savored all of the Cornerstone wines available in the Nashville, Tennessee area. The 2008 Cornerstone Napa Valley would be a great addition to their steakhouse wine list, a thought that was further solidified forty-five minutes later when I sunk my teeth into the first bite of my seared Wagyu filet. Its hard to beat the umami essence given off by a seared prime grade steak paired with the velvety tannins and full, rich fruit flavors of our Cabernet Sauvignon. Be sure to stop by and have a grand meal. Don’t forget to say hi to Aliza!
It was just one green grape. It was one green grape too many. It's always something.
It has been a picture perfect vintage. A lovely spring, with warm, dry weather for flowering and fruit-set. A “three bears” sort of summer: not too cold, not too hot, just right. So why was it there? As you passed through the vineyards you could not miss it standing out like a sore green thumb in the middle of a bunch of gloriously deep purple cabernet sauvignon, there would be one, just one, green berry.
No big deal, right? How could just one unripe grape on some bunches make any difference when all the others were perfectly ripe? One green grape is a very big deal if you want to make wines that are special.
Also there was another issue. Everything else this vintage has been perfect. The gorgeous weather has produced fruit capable of making wines from this vintage something very special indeed. When Mother Nature gives you such a gift you must take advantage of it. There is a sense of duty, responsibility, to take this gift and do everything in your power to make not only great wines, but memorable ones.
What could we do? For us there was no choice. Out into the vineyards went our crews with one mission: to remove one-by-one those individual green grapes. Armed with scissors they went down the rows with the precision of a Bonsai gardener. Was this expensive? Certainly, but this is the price you pay to go beyond good, or very good, on to greatness in a wine. For us there was no choice.
We’re getting pickier and pickier every year as finicky is a virtue when it comes to winemaking. Not satisfied with just dropping any less than perfect fruit in the vineyard, we are going beyond just sorting out any bunches that don’t meet out standards and this vintage will be sorting individual berries on a special sorting table specially designed for nit-pickers like us. Note this is not a job we farm out, Jeff and I do all the sorting ourselves.
Nothing will be spared, not only in this glorious vintage, but in each-and-every vintage to make wines that we love to drink and, most of all, that we are extremely proud to share with you.
The evolution of my thoughts had me in a conundrum. I wanted to create two distinctive blended wines, but that was not enough. I wanted to make wine that Rocks!
We did not just want to make another blend, but to create a wine truly inspired by wines from two great wine regions we loved. First there are the racy whites of Italy's Fruili region like Jermann's Vintage Tunina or Bastianich Vespa and then there are the robust, satisfying red blends of southern France, just go down the list of Kermit Lynch's wines from the Languedoc-Roussillon or Provence: we love them all.
Our goal was simple: offer both a great wine and a great value. We wanted to make house wines for people who love our Cornerstone Cellars Howell Mountain Cabernet Sauvignon. There doesn’t need to be anything everyday about a wine made to be enjoyed daily. We did not want to be limited by any specific blend of varieties so we do not list them on the label. Rocks! is Rocks! and each year is an expression of that vintage. We scour the North Coast for the most interesting varieties and each year a new blend emerges. This means that each year’s Rocks!is a one-of-a-kind and its personality will change vintage to vintage with one very important common element: Rocks! is just plain delicious.
Tossing off the chains of varietal designation is a new experience and an exciting one. It is a totally different thought process. Normally we are thinking within the context of a particular variety, while with Rocks! our focus is only on the wine itself. Should it be light-bodied or full-bodied, who knows? That can only be determined by wines themselves. We taste, taste, taste, then taste some more until something in the wine tells us we have arrived. Each vintage is a new experience and each new experience gives birth to a unique wine.
- a blend of chardonnay and gewürztraminer
- Bottling Date: March 27th., 2012; Cases Produced: 962 cases
- Bottling Analysis: alcohol 13.5% v/v; pH 3.74; T.A. 0.680 g/100mL
This wonderfully robust, wildly aromatic white blend of chardonnay and gewürztraminer is loaded with delicious flavors of pear, bright tropical citrus, melon and a dash of spice. Layers of succulent tropical flavors tantalize the palate giving a round mouthfeel, which is balanced by a refreshing acidity, creating a crisp, clean, satisfying finish. This delectable blend dances together beautifully creating a smooth, layered, but crisp white wine that pairs well with fresh salads, spicy Asian dishes and is perfect as an aperitif with appetizers.
- a blend of zinfandel, syrah and merlot
- Bottling Date:June 15th., 2012; Cases Produced: 1051 cases
- Bottling Analysis: alcohol 14.5% v/v: pH 3.74; T.A. 0.570 g/100mL
The 2010 Stepping Stone by Cornerstone Red Rocks! brings together a unique, but tantalizing blend of three irresistible grape varieties, zinfandel from Lake County, syrah from Sonoma and a Napa Carneros merlot. The lifted, refreshing red and black brambly fruits and spice of zinfandel, syrah’s pepper laced smoked meat and earthiness all bound together and balanced by the generous, velvet textured merlot. Straight away these three varieties seamlessly meld together, playing off each other creating a delightful blend of pure pleasure with layers of lush, lifted aromatics playfully leaping out of the glass. To the vibrant, yet generous mouthfeel bursting with flavors of rich fruit and spice which greets the palate, balanced by a juicy, mouth-watering acidity, with supple easy-going tannins and a deceptively long and satisfying finish that leaves the palate clean and refreshed. Fresh, fruit-forward, playful and oh so drinkable, a wine for all seasons and reasons, the 2010 Stepping Stone by Cornerstone Red Rocks! is delicious on its own and is wonderfully versatile with food. An instant friend of gourmet pizzas and grilled meats, the 2010 Red Rocks! is sure to take your next BBQ to new heights of enjoyment.
As these wines are in limited release and will be available for only about six months out of the year, I hope you get a chance to taste our Rocks! wines soon and share your opinions with me as soon as possible. I know they'll rock you just as much as they rock us!
Complete. This is the word that most comes to my mind when I taste our 2010 Stepping Stone by Cornerstone Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon. This wine is a complete experience that starts with the mouthwatering bouquet that seamlessly flows from the tip of your tongue to a long and lifting finish that lingers and lingers. This refined cabernet sauvignon is the first of a new generation of wines at Cornerstone Cellars. Our vision of crafting harmonious, balanced wines that grace your table with elegance is perfectly reflected in this new release. Cabernet sauvignon from the same vineyards that bring you our critically acclaimed Cornerstone Cellars Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon is blended with 7% merlot, which broadens and rounds the textures and flavors into a harmonious whole. Indeed our 2010 is a complete experience and an amazing value.
Worth noting is the 13.9% alcohol level, which is moderate by modern Napa Valley standards. It is our belief that wines with excessively high alcohol levels obliterate the breed and personality of the vineyards and varieties that gave them birth. It is not our goal to have a specific alcohol level, but to achieve a natural balance, which, of course, naturally changes with the character of each vintage. It is our aim to pick our grapes when they are perfectly ripe, not over-ripe as many producers do who are aiming for power over balance. Picking before the grapes become overripe not only gives you lower alcohol, but higher acidity and preserves the more delicate flavors and aromatics. With more moderate alcohol levels and higher acidity wines can sing on your palate and dance with your dinner. In music and wine it’s all about the harmony.
In our 2010 Stepping Stone by Cornerstone Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon you will find this harmony. Right now it’s a lovely concerto, give it a few years and you’ll have a whole symphony.
Stepping Stone by Cornerstone 2010 Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley
Composition: 93% Cabernet Sauvignon
Beatty Ranch Vineyard, Howell Mountain
Bella Oaks Lane Vineyard, Rutherford
Garvey Family Vineyards “Home Ranch”, Rutherford
Kairos Vineyard, Oak Knoll District
Stewart Ranch Vineyard, Carneros
Oakville Research Station, Oakville
Harvest: Each of the vineyards was harvested mid to late October, 2010 in
Aging: 18 months in 50% new french bordeaux oak barrels
Bottling Date: May 15th., 2012
Cases Produced: 1309 cases
Bottling Analysis: Alcohol 13.9 % v/v; pH 3.65; T.A. 0.580 g/100mL
Our Stepping Stone by Cornerstone 2010 Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley is a wine of balance and depth, emphasizing restraint and finesse. A gorgeously vibrant nose of red berry fruit, subtle spice with hints of dried herbs combine with a lush, silky, mouth watering palate with a smooth, subdued tannic structure. Surprisingly refreshing, this wine exhibits a beautiful texture all the way through to an expressive, lingering finish.
Sourced from 4 outstanding vineyard sites each adding a unique personality to the wine, our Stepping Stone by Cornerstone 2010 Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley highlights the complexity and diversity of winegrowing in the Napa Valley, which is the secret to its silky textures and vibrantly rich balance. The muscular, dense and concentrated fruit of Howell Mountain, the refined clarity and elegance of Rutherford to the lively aromatics and lush, vibrant sophistication of Oak Knoll, which are all balanced with a little lift and mid palate richness from our Carneros and Oakville Merlots, bring a unique harmony to this wine.
Our Stepping Stone by Cornerstone 2010 Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley is not aggressively intense or tannic, but gentle and harmonious. Enticing, generous and elegant upon release, this accessible “light-on-its-feet “ Cabernet Sauvignon is a fine respite to the high alcohol reds available and will continue to grow and become even more delicious in the cellars of the patient among us.