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Cornerstone Cellars

Craig Camp
October 12, 2015 | Craig Camp

The Wine Dance - Why We Make the Wines We Do

You hear software and hardware developers often use the phrase, “eating your own dog food.” It simply means if you make something that others use you better damn well be using it yourself. It’s the only way you can truly understand what you make.

As I review the Cornerstone Cellars portfolio now I can see I’ve been following this same dictum.

What American wines do I like to drink? When looking for value and direct  pleasure I seem to find Rhône-style wines on my table. What wines do I think go best with my own personal daily style of cooking, which has become increasing lighter with decidedly less red meat? These meals are perfectly matched by Oregon pinot noir and chardonnay. When a special occasion presents itself often a grand aged cabernet sauvignon is retrieved from my cellar. 

These preferences clearly come from the entire history of my wine drinking experience. When I seriously begin to immerse myself in wine in the late 1970s the wine world was French and that was the style of wine I learned to love and still do. Balance, elegance, freshness are still the characteristics I value most in wine. Being on a limited wine budget I delved with delight into the wines of the Côtes du Rhône and with great pleasure sought to understand the nuances of Sablet, Rasteau, Lirac and other village wines. Châteauneuf-du-Pape, Hermitage and Côte Rôtie were still inexpensive in those days and I enjoyed them when I could find them. Then there was Bordeaux, which seemed the pinnacle of refinement and breed. You could gather a few wine lovers together and buy and taste all the First Growths from a vintage just chipping in fifty dollars or so each. Tasting the majesty of wines like Lafite, Latour and Mouton forever gave cabernet sauvignon a special place in my heart. The buttons these wines pushed when I was in my twenties they still push today.

Then there was my total immersion in Burgundy that started in the early eighties when I began importing the wines of Rebecca Wasserman. My time with Becky, both on her visits here and visiting her in Burgundy, built such a deep respect for the growers and terroir of Burgundy that these are among the most emotional of wines for me. Profound pinot noir touches both your soul and your intellect at the same time. It is irresistible. 

The one gap here is the great love I have for the wines of Italy, which are as likely to be in my glass as any of the wines mentioned above. However, while I find great examples of wines from Rhône varieties, pinot noir, chardonnay and the classic Bordeaux varieties in the New World, with a few rare exceptions I find the noble varieties of Italy have not produced wines outside of Italy that I find personally compelling. When my palate craves nebbiolo, sangiovese, barbera, dolcetto and the many other Italian varieties I adore, I always reach for a wine from Italy. Obviously, no Cornerstone Cellars Cal-Ital wines are on the horizon. 

What does this mean at Cornerstone Cellars? It means we are expanding our “Wine Dance” Rhone Ranger series of wines beyond our Corallina Syrah Rosé to include a whole range of Rhône varieties. It means we have just completed our eighth vintage at Cornerstone Oregon making pinot noir and chardonnay. It means that our Cornerstone Cellars Napa Valley White Label wines have evolved into an elite group of single vineyard wines including the greatest of the Bordeaux varieties - cabernet sauvignon, cabernet franc and merlot.

If you are going to eat your own dog food, you better make some damn good dog food. That’s my goal at Cornerstone Cellars. I simply want to make wines that I love. If I love them I know I can find others that will love them too. 

The next step in this voyage will be the introduction of our new “Wine Dance” Rhone Rangers series wines in 2016. Now in the cellar happily completing their fermentations are viognier, marsanne, rousanne, mourvèdre and grenache from El Dorado and syrah from Mendocino. Our new “Wine Dance” whites will be released this spring along with Corallina Syrah Rosé  and the first reds will arrive this fall. Along with the single variety wines there will be a red Rhône blend -  remember I do love Côtes du Rhône. As with all of the Cornerstone Cellars wines these are limited production, single vineyard wines with only a few hundred cases of each produced.

I’ve always felt a wine is defined at the table. In this case I guess the wines of Cornerstone Cellars are defined by my experiences with wines at my table over three decades. That is the true “Wine Dance” the magical interplay of wine and food.

It is wonderful to be able to share those experiences with you.



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