Thanksgiving is that delightful time of year where we gather with our friends and family to enjoy good conversation and laughter while indulging in wonderful food. What often gets overlooked though, is the wine. Like every meal, wine can take your dining experience to the next level and the Thanksgiving meal is no exception. However, with its mulitude of flavors it can sometimes be daunting to try and pair with wine.
We're here to help. We've curated delicious Thanksgiving recipes on our Pinterest board that will pair perfectly with our wines. We suggest starting with our Cornerstone Oregon Willamette Valley Chardonnay, or perhaps our Cornerstone Cellars Corallina Napa Valley Syrah Rosé with your appetizers and then move on to one or both of our Cornerstone Oregon Pinot Noirs for the main event. If you're barbecuing or frying a turkey then our Cornerstone Cellars Napa Valley Cabernet Franc will pair deliciously with the smokiness of the bird.
Whatever you choose to do, enjoy the celebration!
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.
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.
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.