Wednesday, July 18, 2012

"Walking the Fine Line Between Power & Balance" - Visiting Corison Winery

After more than a decade winning winery recognition awards and consulting for other wineries, Cathy Corison decided there was still great wine she had yet to make. Her first namesake Cabernet in 1987 came from outsourced grapes and was sold only to devoted followers of her winemaking. After eight more very successful vintages, she purchased a prime space of real estate for the Corison Winery along Highway 29 - one of the most traveled roads in Napa Valley.
Cathy named her vineyard Kronos - after the Greek god and son of heaven and earth, and to symbolize her winemaking philosophy "to make complex wine that walks the fine line between power and balance". The Corison Cabernets are known for their distinct characteristics that come from Cathy's unique winemaking style of organic dry-farming, picking the fruit early and keeping a modest alcohol level, which transforms into an elegant, terroir-driven wine. After 25 vintages, her wines have become well-known for "a memorable consistency of flavor and nuance". 

Coming up the driveway, we were greeted by the modest Victorian-style barn that sits in the heart of her Kronos vineyard. We soon found out the barn was designed and built by her husband William Martin - who, keeping true to a family operated vineyard, is also responsible for keeping the equipment running, balancing the books and managing the day-to-day business operations for the Corison Winery. The barn was built for functionality and houses the French oak barrels and production facilities for the winery. Upon entering the barn, which doubles as the tasting room, we quickly noticed the silver shine gleaming off the walls of exposed insulation. 
After being welcomed in by Hardy, he set up our tastings on a table constructed by a piece of plywood laid across a couple of barrels, which was a nice complement to the half-finished aesthetics we found inside the barn. Cathy and the Corison winemaking family focuses primarily on producing Cabernet Sauvignon, so we had the pleasure of tasting and comparing her two distinct labels - the estate Kronos Cabernet and the Napa Valley Cabernet. While both wines had similar characteristics like minerality, violet in color, soft tannins and bold black fruit aromas, they had very distinct flavor profiles. 
Since we were sitting in the production facility itself, the next stage of our tour led us outdoors through one of the oldest Cabernet vineyards in Napa Valley. Our guide Hardy was very passionate about the wines and telling the Corison story. His enthusiasm was extremely contagious. He pointed out how wide the Kronos vines are, showing their near 40-year-old age by their broad diameter. The vines are situated on gravelly, well-drained soil which is great for grape growing because it forces the vines to seek out water and nutrients much deeper than normal, placing all their efforts in producing pronounced fruit. 

These "gnarly vines" as Cathy calls them, have been producing low yields that result in "rare concentration and refinement".  In fact, the Kronos vineyard yields one ton per acre - roughly half the average crop size in Napa. Proving that during a time when a majority of Napa wineries have grasped onto the "bigger is better" philosophy, Cathy has held onto her vision of refinement, structure and balance. 

So stop on by in September and let The Empty Glass fill yours up with the 2004 & 2005 Napa Valley Cabernet and the 2006 Corison Kronos Cabernet, so you can taste for yourself Cathy's wine which has "power on one hand and elegance on the other."

Fun Facts on Cathy Corison:
  • Earned a letter in men's diving at Pomona College, because, at the time, women's varsity in diving did not exist
  • Earned a Master's in Enology at the University of California, Davis in the 1970's, when winemaking was still a "boys club in Napa Valley"
  • Was told by her professor she would never be hired in Napa
  • Became the first woman Winemaker Proprietor in Napa Valley in 1987
  • Cathy was named The San Francisco Chronicle's "2011 Winemaker of the Year"
  • After 25 vintages, "she shows it's still possible to make a complex, restrained Cabernet that honors California's best traditions." - The Chronicle

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

First Stop in Napa -- Honig Winery

Honig Winery

Our first scheduled stop during our Napa Valley visit was recommended to us by our friend Mike Griffin of Bertapelle Cellars in Healdsburg, California. Honig Winery began in 1964, when Louis Honig purchased and planted the 68-acre ranch in Rutherford, California with Cabernet Sauvignon and Sauvingon Blanc grapes. While Chardonnay grapes were, and to continue to be, California's most successful white wine grape, Louis took a chance with the Sauv. Blanc and was rewarded with a gold medal at the Orange County Fair in 1981. A few years later, at the ripe age of 22, Louis' grandson Michael took over the management of the winery and continues to do so to this day.

Trying not to be over eager, we arrived to Honig precisely at - 10 a.m. (but technically we were still on Central time, so it felt like noon to us). We were greeted by Mr. Irresistible, who was our wine tour guide and tasting sommelier (which he is actually testing for soon). And were quickly greeted by Michael Honig himself.

The atmosphere was obviously very upbeat, positive and fun. We had our first pour - the signature Sauvingon Blanc, while we looked through postcards the winery sends out to their mailing list for various holidays and announcements. Again, as you can see a very charming group!
 2011 Sauvignon Blanc Tasting Notes

We were then led on a tour of the vineyards. In addition to the breathtaking vines and rolling hills, the olive trees that were planted on the main path between the vineyards were a really unique feature. Also built along the edge of the vineyards were wooden bluebird and owl boxes and bat houses, to improve the local wildlife habitats while decreasing the insect and rodent populations organically.

Another impressive feature we saw during the tour, was what they call the "electricity farm" - their ground mounted solar electricity panels which power the entire winery and costs less than $1.50 per month  - can't beat that! Additionally, of course there are extreme environmental benefits, "over the next 30 years, we will prevent the emission of over 7.5 million pounds of carbon dioxide - the equivalent of planting more than 34 acres of carbon-dioxide absorbing trees"(from their website).

Following our tour, we were led to their outside patio area, perfect for enjoying a glass of wine surrounded by the sites and sounds of the vineyards. Not to mention we enjoyed the change in climate, coming from Texas's 100 degree days to the beautiful Napa mornings hovering in the low 70's. On the porch we enjoyed the Cabernet Sauvignon tastings, and here noticed the Honig logo more closely which uses a bee to cross the "H"; come to find out Honig in German means honey. 

We finished our visit with a taste of their dessert wine, the Late Harvest Sauvignon Blanc. Being a family owned and operated winery most of the wines produced are only available for sale through their wine club, at the winery itself, or in select restaurants. We are happy to say The Empty Glass will carry the 2011 Honig Sauvignon Blanc and the 2009 Honig Cabernet. We'll see you in September to fill your glass up!

Stay tuned for more blogs to share with you our amazing trip through Napa and Sonoma!!