I couldn’t believe my eyes as the last bin was lifted off the scale and they handed me the weight tag. I blinked in disbelief as I read 2.25 tons. That was less than half of what we picked from this vineyard last year.
Making things even more painful was that this was not just any vineyard, it was our Oakville Station Cabernet Franc block. We just had just bottled the 2013 Cornerstone Cellars Oakville Cabernet Franc, Oakville Station Vineyard and there were only 101 cases from that banner vintage. A small amount of this exceptional cabernet franc is used in the blends for Michael’s Cuvée and The Cornerstone, but we save enough to bottle as a single vineyard as this is one of the most distinctive cabernet vineyards in the world and to not let it sing its own song would be a sin. The 2015 Cornerstone Cellars Oakville Cabernet Franc, Oakville Station Vineyard could end up being less than fifty cases.
This one of those situations when you find out if you are a optimist or pessimist - a half-empty or half-full glass sort of person. The half-empty of this situation is the small amount of fruit harvested, the half-full is what little we got is of exceptional quality. We’ll take the half-full side of this situation as quality is always more important (and more delicious) than quantity.
A little very welcome rain fell on the Napa Valley yesterday hopefully giving the firefighters a little help in their struggle against the Valley Fire. For us that meant no fruit today, but tomorrow we’ll be harvesting Grigsby Syrah in the Yountville AVA.
It will be full speed ahead now until the end of harvest. Yields will obviously continue to be light, but we’ll keep our glass half-full outlook.
Just in from BevX.com
100 Points - 2012 Cornerstone Cellars Oakville Merlot, Oakville Station Vineyard, Napa Valley
"Perhaps the greatest Merlot I have ever had (I have had thousands). This is Cornerstone Cellar's first release under their single vineyard program. To further shake things up they went with Merlot, a varietal that often plays a supporting role in their Cabernet. The fruit comes from their Oakville Station Vineyard blocks in To Kalon. It's 100% Merlot and why not as it clearly does not require any assistance. Simply gorgeous. 100 points out of a 100." Sean Ludford
97 Points - 2012 Cornerstone Cellars Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon, Michael's Cuvée
"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. Michael’s Cuvée is named for founder Dr. Michael Dragutsky who fuels their passion to this day. It's an absolutely seamless wine with all of the individual parts fitting together like a beautiful puzzle. 97 points out of a 100." Sean Ludford
Yesterday at daybreak it was cloudy, cool and showers were threatening. Today more of the same. Finally it feels like harvest in Oregon. It was ninety degrees just a couple of days ago and the crew was working in shorts and t-shirts instead of the usual fleece and flannel garb usually associated with Oregon harvests.
The weather we started harvest in was a reflection of the entire growing season in the Willamette Valley. It was hot. The hottest ever. The Oregon wines from this harvest will reflect that, just as they should. After all, isn’t the point of growing pinot is letting the idiosyncrasies of each harvest and vineyard speak for themselves?
What are the results of this warm Oregon vintage? It means that the grapes are being harvested at brix levels that are considered high in Oregon, but low in the Russian River Valley. In other words they will be big pinots by Oregon standards, but not those of California. What I think they will be are rich, charming wines that will be ready to drink, and should be drunk, young. This is the way nature should work with some vintages better for drinking young and others needing time to reveal their true character. Their rich textures and softer acids will mean a lot of wines getting big points from certain critics. Just remember, sometimes the closer the score is to 100 points the more the likelihood that you should drink the wine young.
Yesterday we were very lucky as our fruit, from the Saffron Fields Vineyard in Yamhill Carlton, arrived at the winery early in the morning allowing us to get a quick start on processing fourteen tons of pinot noir. This is really the maximum amount of fruit the team can physically handle. I assure you your arms and legs are tired after hand-sorting that much fruit. Doing it day after day gradually wears you down and getting out of bed in the morning becomes a creaky, sore process. The day finished with a quick tour of the vineyards remaining to be picked to get samples and determine when they’ll be harvested. There will be a break of a few days now as rain comes through the area. The remaining vineyards just need a little more time to fully develop their flavors.
Today I’m heading back to the Napa Valley as we’re picking Oakville Station Cabernet Franc at the crack of dawn tomorrow. After that harvest we’ll be sampling our cabernet sauvignon vineyards (that’s all that remains in Napa) to set the dates for their picks.
It seems clear at this point that everything will be picked by the end of September. Crazy, simply crazy.
It’s 6:30 in the morning and it’s time pick the grapes. However there is no picking crew waiting except us. This vineyard was going to be harvested by the four of us. This is the Maverick Vineyard, in the Oregon Willamette Valley sub-AVA of Yamhill Carlton. It’s just a baby and an infant like Maverick does not produce enough fruit to interest a crew of pickers paid by the bucket. The fruit needed to be picked so the four of us picked it.
Then to the winery where over the next twelve hours seven of us hand sorted and processed 15 tons of pinot noir, from our other vineyards, which are now happily cold soaking as we finish cleaning up the mess that only handling ton after ton of grapes can make.
An interesting thing happens after you hand sort that much fruit. The tartaric acid crystallizes on your fingernails making them look like they’ve been painted white. I don’t think it’s good look for me.
You’ll excuse me after fifteen hours of hard work for not being more eloquent, but I’ll give you a more detailed look at our Cornerstone Oregon harvest tomorrow. Good night as another fifteen tons will be waiting in the morning.
"I'm down, I'm really down, How can you laugh..."
It's true across the board in the Napa Valley. We're going to make a lot less wine than we have the last several vintages as the crop yield in Napa is down, really down. From what we've seen so far we will be down thirty to forty percent this year and more in some vineyards. That means a drop from 5,000 cases to around 3,500. Ouch! For example last year's 500 cases of Corallina Syrah Rosé will be around 250 cases in 2015.
On Friday we picked three vineyards:
Oakville Station Merlot, Oakville AVA
Hazen Merlot, Yountville AVA
Pokai Cabernet Franc, Calistoga AVA
While there may not much fruit, we got less than five tons from each, what there was tasted wonderful with deep, sweet flavors and bright acidity. Very, very, promising.
Just a word on this week's heat spell, while we could have done without it, September heat spikes are quite normal in the Napa Valley. It did put stress on the vines, but at this point they are focusing the little energy they have left to ripen their seeds, not making more sugar. With this upcoming cooler weather and some judicious irrigation the remaining fruit (which is mostly Cabernet Sauvignon) will be refreshed and brix levels should drop slightly. As we are always intensely concerned about our levels of acidity you can bet we will be picking as soon as possible as extended hang times are not our style.
As I write this I'm on a flight up to Oregon to pick our chardonnay and pinot noir. Our next pick in Napa is scheduled for next Wednesday when Oakville Station Cabernet Franc will come in. After that pick is done we'll be out sampling our Cabernet Sauvignon vineyards and setting the dates when they'll be harvested. It really seems that we'll be done in both states by the end of September.
Today and yesterday we’ve been Rhone Rangers as on Wednesday we brought in our first marsanne and rousanne from the David Girard Vineyard in El Dorado. As exciting as that was, today is always a special day for us as we harvested our Crane Vineyard Syrah for what has became a very special wine for us - Corallina Syrah Rosé.
In what as become a rather innocuous wine category as rosé became more popular, I’m very proud that Cornerstone Cellars is known for making a rosé with true character. I’m glad the media agrees with us making Corallina Syrah Rosé the top ranked rosé in Californiahttp://cl.ly/d3uE
The only problem with the 2015 Corallina Syrah Rosé will be there won’t be very much of it. Due to poor fruit set we are looking at about a 40% drop in production. No worries, we’ll be sure our friends get their Corallina first! As always we seek to make Corallina better every year and this will be the first vintage that is 100% barrel fermented. This will make the wine even deeper and more complex. The juice this year is particularly deeply flavored and colored and I expect the 2015 to be a dramatic rosé.
The marsanne and rousanne are part of our new expanded “Wine Dance” series of wines made from classic Rhone Valley varieties. Joining Corallina Syrah Rosé will be this rousanne/marsanne blend, a viognier, a grenache and a mourvedre from El Dorado and an old vine syrah from Mendocino. These are our “Rhone Rangers” and you’ll be introduced to these new releases in 2016. The style is ultra-traditional with no new oak used to maximize the bright, fresh fruit flavors of these wines.
We co-fermented the rousanne and marsanne and the juice had this glorious, rich honeyed character that is sure make an expressive and delicious wine.
Tomorrow will be a very long day. We’re hitting the vineyards at 5:30 a.m. and will be picking two merlot and one cabernet franc site here in the Napa Valley. I’m sure the sun will be down before we get everything in the fermenters.
It was almost cold at 6:30 a.m. when dawn started to break and I considered heading back to my truck to get a jacket. But by 9 a.m. it was already hot. Winemaker Kari Auringer and I were out to sample the fruit in all of our Napa Valley vineyards and to start to pick harvest dates. By 2 p.m as we finished it was pushing 100 degrees.
Some wine regions worry about rain and hail. In the Napa Valley this year we are worried about the heat. It has always been my belief that the problem vintages in the Napa Valley are the hot ones, not the cool ones. This has been a odd year, as they all seem to be these days. We started with a very early bud break due to the warm, nonexistent, winter, which was followed by a cool, damp spell at flowering. This meant an uneven fruit set and a lot of unripe bunches needed to be dropped before veraison completed. This, of course, means a smaller crop for us this vintage. Fortunately, what’s left looks great. Summer itself was mild by Napa Valley standards, but as we approach harvest a serious heat wave is upon us.
The results of our vineyard tour is setting things in motion for what is sure to be a hectic vintage that could even be over before the end of September. Crazy. This Friday we will be bringing in merlot from two vineyards and cabernet franc from another. The Oakville Station Cabernet Franc should follow the middle of next week and cabernet sauvignon looks to be about two weeks out, but who knows with this heat.
This late season heat spike is forecasted to be over by Saturday so our remaining sites will be able to finish ripening in a more civilized environment. Just what we like, letting them coast over the finish line.
Saturday I’m headed up to Oregon to start our chardonnay and pinot noir harvest. Strange as it seems, up to now, Oregon has had more days over 90 degrees than the Napa Valley. Things seem a bit upside down when it comes to the climate these days. I’ll update you on Oregon this weekend.
The town of Yountville is a walkable, one-mile stretch of restaurants, shops, tasting rooms, art displays, and hotels. Known as the "Culinary Capital of Napa Valley" or the "Gourmet Mile," Yountville boasts several critically acclaimed restaurants, including Thomas Keller’s The French Laundry and Bouchon. As such, it has a reputation of being an expensive place to visit, much less stay.
While this is certainly the case for those looking for 5-star dining and lodging...there are more affordable options for visitors wanting an equally memorable experience, with money left over to buy wine. The wine is, after all, why most people come to the Napa Valley. What’s more, you can leave your car at the hotel and stroll the day(s) away. Here’s how:
The Yountville Chamber has implemented a program called “Taste Life Here” Wine Tasting Passport - $59 gets you a tasting flight at six wineries, all within walking distance from each other. The pass is valid until July 1, 2016 so if you can’t make it to all of them in one visit, you can use it again on your next.
In addition to being a passport participant, Cornerstone Cellars offers complimentary tastings with purchase, as well as to Wine Club members and Napa neighbors. You can even enjoy live music and 2 for 1 tastings from 3-6pm at our free Sunday Funday events, running all summer long through the end of October.
Hurley’s Restaurant is a favorite among locals and visitors alike. Their daily Vintners Menu features a two course lunch for $24, or a three course for $29. They also don’t charge a corkage fee so BYOB (bring your own bottle). Pacific Blues Café is a casual American Grill with a varied menu and al fresco seating on a big rustic deck. Yountville Deli, located in the north end of Ranch Market, has a variety of artisan sandwiches, along with a build your own menu. And then there’s Taco's Garcia—a tasty taco truck located in the dirt parking lot of Pancha's, the Valley’s last remaining old-timey saloon (read: dive-bar). For picnicking, there are parks at the north and south ends of town where you can enjoy your new favorite summer wine with some epicurean take-out.
Napa Valley Railway Inn is a unique hotel featuring charming rooms in converted antique train cars that sit on their original tracks. There’s even a delicious coffee hut in its caboose! There are also a few B&B’s in town where you can find a good deal with a little searching and flexibility: Maison Fleurie, Petit Logis, and Lavender Inn are all lovely options.
#96 Cornerstone Cellars, Yountville, Calif., and Gaston, Oregon
Michael Dragutsky and Craig Camp of Cornerstone Cellars believe that there is no better place in the world to grow cabernet sauvignon, cabernet franc, and merlot than the Napa Valley, but that Oregon's Willamette Valley produces better chardonnay and pinot noir than Napa can — so they make wine in both places. (They also produce, among other wines, a Napa Valley syrah rosé called Corallina that has been widely hailed.) Whichever state they're from, Cornerstone’s offerings are forthright and rich — not wines that will sit quietly in the corner.
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