Monday, January 30, 2012

Corison Winery – Home of Old Vine Cabernet in St. Helena, California

Earlier in the week I drove through Sonoma and visited a winery in Santa Rosa with barely a single wild flower in sight… so with warm and sunny weather in the forecast for the weekend I was really looking forward to heading out to the Napa Valley for the beginning of the Mustard Season which runs through February and March.

So, with that in mind I drove up to St. Helena to taste at Corison Winery - the 110th winery I have visited in the Napa Valley since the Spring of 2000.

Founder and winegrower Cathy Corison specializes in crafting artisanal Cabernet Sauvignon that reflects the terroir of great benchland vineyards located between Rutherford and St. Helena, where deep, stony alluvial soils provide ideal growing conditions for the Cabernet vine.

The Corison Winery is the home of the Kronos Vineyard, eight acres planted exclusively to St. Georges rootstock. As one of the last old Cabernet Vineyards in the Napa Valley, it is one of the few vineyards to have produced world-class fruit continuously for more than four decades. Farmed organically and growing on gravelly loam soils, the gnarly old veterans produce scant yields that result in wines of rare concentration and refinement. 

Cathy Corison discovered her passion for wine while pursuing a bachelor’s degree in Biology at Pomona College in Claremont, California. Inspired by the notion that wine is “alive at every level,” she went on to receive a Master's in Enology from U.C. Davis in the mid 1970’s.

While serving as a winemaker for other wineries such as Chappellet Vineyard, Staglin Family Vineyard, York Creek Vineyards and Long Meadow Ranch, she honed her skills in producing well-crafted wines. Then with a desire to put make her own wine, in 1987 she made the first vintage of Corison Cabernet. 

Though it's Cathy’s name on the label, Corison is a true family winery. Cathy’s husband, William Martin, a winery Renaissance man, designed the barn, keeps all the equipment humming and manages the day-to-day details of running the business.

If you are visiting the Napa Valley during the months of February or March and want to view the spectacular display of wild flowers during this season, most of the flowers are in the central part of the valley along Highway 29 from Oakville up to St. Helena. And if you want to experience some of the finest wines in this region, then I highly recommend visiting Corison Winery.

While visiting I tasted the following wines:

My first pour was the 2008 Gewürztraminer, sourced from a 30-year-old vineyard in the Anderson Valley. This is not your typical sweet, super-floral style Gewürz but a light an elegant wine with subtle fruit and floral notes that is very crisp, dry and has a long finish. On the nose and palate I picked up melon rind, white grapefruit, lychee nut and a slight chalky minerality. This wine sells for $30 a bottle.

My second wine was the 2007 Helios Cabernet Franc – Napa Valley. I’m not a big fan of Cab franc as a stand-alone wine but I was really impressed with this one as it displays all the wonderful fruit characteristics of the varietal without all the typical green vegetal notes. On the nose it exudes fresh black and blue berries and on the palate it is full bodied with a round mouth feel with some tart red currants followed by a very distinct boysenberry pie character on the finish. If I was blind-tasting this wine, I would never guess it was 100% Cab Franc and would tend to think that it might have a little Malbec in it. A really nice wine for $40 so I brought one home.

My second red wine was from the library, the 2001 Corison Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon. This wine is surprisingly youthful in appearance – bright ruby red colors without a touch of garnet or brick on the rim. On the nose I picked up blackberries, black currants, molasses, coffee and vanilla. On the palate I picked up more red fruits, particularly red currant. The tannins are soft, it has great structure and mouth watering acidity. A really great wine for $80 a bottle.

My third red wine was also form the library, the 2002 Kronos Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon. This is a very Bordeaux-like wine and needs some air to breath to really enjoy its beauty so I highly recommend decanting it.  I spent a lot of time swirling the glass, repeatedly returning to the nose and was absolutely delighted as the bouquet developed in the glass. On initial impact it is somewhat earthy and mushroomy and then as it opens it displays an array of black and red fruits (blackberries, blueberries, black currants) followed by anise and some spice on the back end. The nose on this wine is not “in your face” attacking your senses all at once, but has a gradual evolution from start to finish. On the palate the nose is repeated with supple drying tannins and a long finish with a hint of anise on the return. This is what I call a  “wine of interest” – one that makes you think and pay attention to its beauty. A fabulous wine for $125 and I brought one home to share with friends at an up-coming dinner.

My final wine was the 2007 Kronos Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon. This wine is similar in its fruit profile to the 2001, but without the earthy-mushroomy notes. It is bright and fresh, with great acidity and backbone and easily drinkable now. But, 2007 was such a  great year if you plan on buying one I’d buy another to compare 10 years form now. This wine sells for $98 and undoubtedly will sell for a lot more 5 - 10 years from now.

To see more pictures, check out Erik Wait’s Wine Country Photography at:

To visit or for more information:

Corison Winery

987 St. Helena Highway

St. Helena, CA 94574

Telephone: 1-707-963-0826