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

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