Having a small staff offers opportunities for employees to wear different hats and explore various sides of the winemaking business. This was especially true during harvest this year, which started early and wrapped up even earlier due to the small yields seen throughout the valley. As large crews became unnecessary, our tasting room staff were called in to provide extra hands where needed.
On a warm September afternoon, winemaker Kari Auringer and I handed-sorted through 10 tons of To Kalon Cab. A few days before that our tasting room supervisor Megan Myers and sales director Nadia Kinkade sorted five tons of Grigsby Vineyard Syrah. Having never been on the production side of winemaking, we were more than delighted to be involved.
The sorting process begins with half-ton bins being raised on a forklift and tilted slowly over a hopper until clusters begin to fall in. An inclined conveyer belt then moves a steady flow of grapes towards the destemmer. Positioned on either side of the conveyer, we move quickly to remove leaves, twigs, bugs, raisins, green and damaged grapes to ensure that only best fruit goes into our wine and that none of the green or non-wine elements (i.e. spiders, lizards, watches, etc.) find their way into the fermentation tank.
The term terroir refers not only to the soil of the vineyard, but is meant to define an all-encompassing sense of place. This includes everything from vineyard location, direction to the sun, topography and climate - to the people handling the fruit and making the wine. We are, then, very proud to be part of the terroir of Cornerstone’s 2015 vintage.
A last delivery of grapes arrives as the rain really starts to come down. Winemaker Tony Rydners rushes to get covers over the bins of just picked pinot noir. We were able to get all of our Oregon chardonnay and the marjority of our pinot noir picked before the storm.
While the scene sounds idyllic, and indeed it is, there is an undeniable feeling of pressure. We get just the one chance a year to make meaningful wines from each of these sites. There are no second chances. Every decision is critical, including the timing of today's pick, which I believe we have gotten just right.
Vintage 2013 is full of potential. Our early spring combined with a warm, but not too hot summer has been ideal for developing the complexity of flavors we strive for in our wines while preserving the essential acidity, which makes them live. It is our responsibility to fully realize this potential.
The Oakville Station Merlot was of such outstanding quality in 2012 that we have decided to produce not only our first single vineyard bottling of merlot, but our first Cornerstone Merlot ever. The 2012 Cornerstone Cellars, Oakville Station Merlot will be bottled next July and released after a year of bottle age in 2015. We only produced 100 cases and it will be exclusively available to our Cornerstone Club members. Looking at the outstanding quality of the merlot we are picking this morning, I have every reason to believe that 2013 will see our second single vineyard bottling from this very special vineyard block that is tucked into the famous To Kalon vineyard.
So as it happens each year in the natural cycle that is agriculture, our goals remain the same, but Mother Nature makes the rules. Our goal is to make elegant, refined wines that elevate your experience at the dinner table. Almost every year here in the Napa Valley nature gives us the privilege of achieving our goals. It is our duty to repay that privilege by doing the very best we can do. While that's a heavy responsibility, it is also a great honor. The ultimate expression of this honor is achieved when we can share our wines with you.
Vintage 2013 is off to a fantastic start.
This early growing season, 2 weeks earlier than normal, has all the crew at Cornerstone Cellars excited for the upcoming harvest. The growing conditions have been ideal. Even though the Napa Valley has experienced one of the driest winters in many years which has prompted early irrigation of the vines, the spring was very mild and one of the few where frost wasn’t an issue. With glorious warm sunny days, the weather couldn’t be better. Even the late June heat wave had little effect on the vines and the leaf protected grapes clusters with their hard skins helping to resist heat damage.
In our vineyards there are the first signs of veraison, the initial step of the ripening process. Now the Napa Valley has entered into its typical weather pattern with cool mornings aided by low clouds or marine layer which the sun burns off by late morning and the cooling Bay Area breezes coming in to cool the late afternoon. These temperatures are perfect for this critical time of the season so we get the flavor development which Napa Valley fruit is famous for.
But the greatest aspect of this early season is that it’s EARLY giving the grapes more time for optimal ripening to develop their intense, vibrant aromas and flavors, to be picked at just the right time and not rushed by weather concerns, to bring you fabulously balanced elegant wines.
Here’s to a fantastic, absolutely fabulous 2013 vintage.