Subscribe to Wine Camp

Add to Google

Subscribe in a reader

Enter your email address:

Delivered by FeedBurner

Craig Camp's Facebook profile
Wine Camp: Publishing online since 2003 - as always, a points-free zone
Photography by Craig Camp on Smug Mug
Nominated as “Best Wine Blog” by Saveur Magazine

Named one of the top
Wine Blog authors by
Food and Wine Magazine

50 Best Wine Blogs

From Guide to Culinary Schools

Winner “Best Jazz Writing on a Wine Blog”
Powered by Squarespace
Current Topics
Contact Me
This form does not yet contain any fields.


    Hard Chard

    Firsts are always hard and hard this one certainly was, which always makes the experience even more delicious. In this case it also makes the wine more delicious. This September we’ll be able to share this experience with you.

    It was with a surprising sense of satisfaction that I picked up the first bottle off the bottling line. It was, of all things a chardonnay. I confess I have little affection for most renditions of this variety in the New World. However, winemaker Tony Rynders changed my mind and I am sure this chardonnay will change yours.

    The hard part I was referring to in this wine was a backbone. A concentrated minerality and racy acidity that will hurt the teeth of those that love oaky, sweet chardonnay. That is way I decided to make it. I would never dream of making a spineless chardonnay. Cornerstone has never been about spineless wines and I have no place for them at my table.

    So this September I will be extremely proud to introduce you to the 2010 Cornerstone Oregon, Willamette Valley Chardonnay. Less than two hundred cases were produced. It’s a lean, mean machine and I wish I could wait another year to release it as it certainly needs a few years in the bottle to show all has to give. I can only hope that some of you will lay some bottles away in your cellar.

    How did it get here? Well, first of all there was a challenging vintage to deal with, but that’s something winegrowers in places like Oregon and Burgundy deal with seven vintages out of ten. There was a lot of mold when the fruit came in, but we hand-sorted like madmen and delivered only the clean bunches to the fermenter. Starting the fermentation in stainless steel tanks, the wine was racked into mature French Oak barrels to continue and finish fermentation. Those barrels were home to our chardonnay for the next fourteen months where it mellowed and broadened its flavors and, most of all, its complexity. Only 80% of the wine went through malolatic to preserve its perfect tightrope of acidity. In fact, nothing in the cellar was allowed to pilfer anything from the wine.

    In a strange twist of conventional wisdom, our Cornerstone Oregon, Willamette Valley Chardonnay is a better oyster wine than our Cornerstone Cellars Napa Valley Sauvignon Blanc, which finds its soul mates in crab and lobster. What these two white wines have in common is they will both age beautifully. This is our goal. To let each wine express its true spirit and find the match at your table that nature intended. That nature is something you’ll find subtly expressed in all our vintages after 2008. This is just a start as we will push ourselves each vintage to ever higher expressions of vineyard, variety and vintage. I believe that the Napa Valley is a perfect place to grow sauvignon blanc and that the Willamette Valley is a perfect place to grow chardonnay. Our vision is to go where the variety loves to be, not to force the variety to love where we put down roots. After all, nothing is more important to a wine than the soil that gave life to the vines. That essence flows from the soil through the roots to be mixed with sunshine to create wine.

    To understand my hesitance to make a chardonnay you have to understand my background. In the early eighties I was importing the wines of Domaine Comtes Lafon through Becky Wasserman, who I represented in the mid-west. At that time Dominque Lafon had yet to take over the estate from his father and was working for Becky. Over a two year period, on his many visits to Chicago and mine to Burgundy, I was privileged to drink a lot of great chardonnay (and a lot of other things) with Dominque. It is on this foundation my viewpoint on chardonnay is based. As a side note, just to highlight how different the wine world is today, in those days we had winemaker dinners promoting the wines of Comtes Lafon, which actually included their Le Montrachet. Times have changed, now you’re lucky and a lot poorer if you can get an allocation of Lafon. The point is, if your early reference point is Lafon Le Montrachet your future enjoyment of chardonnay may be impaired.

    Certainly I am not trying to compare our Cornerstone Oregon, Willamette Valley Chardonnay to Lafon Le Montrachet, but I will say that if you love Premier Cru Chablis you will pleased by our 2010 Cornerstone Oregon, Willamette Valley Chardonnay. The reason I can say that with confidence is that I am pleased, which is something not easy to do.

    I’m pleased to introduce you to something new from Cornerstone: Cornerstone Oregon, Willamette Valley Chardonnay. See you in September.


    Light on Your Feet

    He was on his annual “tannin death march” slogging through the two hundred barrel samples of the grand tasting of Premiere Napa Valley, the annual trade auction and Napa Valley extravaganza. Wine writer and publisher of Vinography Alder Yarrow attacks such events with a singular focus methodically working his way through each and every sample in the room. He is a better man than I. 

    Alder arrived at our table to taste our barrel sample of 2010 Cornerstone Cellars, The Premiere Cornerstone about halfway through his grind. Taking a sip, he smiled, looked up and said, “light on its feet.” My heart almost lept out of my chest. He got it. He understood the wine. 

    Now understanding a wine may not seem like a big deal to you, but if you have ever stood in a room pouring wine to tasters whose palates have been hammered into submission by tasting dozens of wines before yours, you know what I mean. All to often tasters arrive at your table with the looks of a punch-drunk fighter their teeth and lips wine-bloodied by roundhouse punches from a room full of bloated heavyweights. In big tastings the Mike Tyson’s of the world get more attention than the Sugar Ray’s. The heavyweights are always the champs in these tasting marathons and wines with quick moves, balance and finesse are lost to palates pounded into submission by knockout punches of tannin and alcohol.

    The wines of Cornerstone Cellars are crafted to be light on their feet. This does not mean light as in thin, but light as is deft and nimble; powerful wines that are under control and in balance. Wines that you can taste every nuance of from the first sniff to the long, lingering aftertaste. Make no mistake, our goal is still to knock you out, we just don’t want to knock you into oblivion.  A knock out punch from Tyson or Sugar Ray will still put you on the deck. 

    Not far behind the “light on its feet” comment from Alder Yarrow came some equally encouraging and rewarding notes from other wine writers. Joe Roberts at 1WineDude said of our the 2010 Premiere Cornerstone, “a mid-palate to die for.” Meanwhile Fred Swan at NorCalWine noted the, “very long finish.”

    To recap, three palates I respect (read no axe to grind) noted that the wine was, “light on its feet”, “a mid-palate to die for” and a “very long finish. In other words a complete wine from start to finish. “Completeness” is a concept to often ignored in a system that honors the first sip more than the last. 

    I think this is perhaps the essence of winemaking, that expression of your personal vision of completeness. For some, if not most, it is an expression of economic completeness, that is making a wine that sells and gets good reviews. For others, certainly the minority, to be complete means to make a personal expression even if it’s a harder sell, or, in the case of Premiere Napa Valley, not getting the mega-bids. On the other hand, wines made from commercial inspirations are always at the mercy of the critics, while those whose foundation is built on passion will find a loyal base of consumers that share their vision of what makes a wine meaningful. 

    Our Premiere Cornerstone lot at Premiere Napa Valley is the prototype for that vintage’s The Cornerstone, which is the expression of what our vision tells us is the pinnacle of Napa Valley winemaking. A sip of the Premiere Cornerstone is indeed a preview of what to expect in The Cornerstone itself. Our inaugural vintage of The Cornerstone, the 2009, will be released this September.

    We could not be more proud of the how we have evolved the wines at Cornerstone Cellars into wines that offer a complete experience. There could be no better representation of this than our 2010 Premiere Cornerstone. It’s wine with a beginning, a middle and a long lingering ending: a complete wine. It will knock you out.


    Cornerstone Oregon in Enobytes!



    2009 Cornerstone Willamette Valley Pinot Noir

    Posted on 06 February 2012.

    Craig Camp may no longer reside in the Willamette Valley but his presence undoubtedly still exists in the wines he is making with Tony Rynders, formerly of Domaine Serene for the California winery Cornerstone. This 2009 Pinot Noir is another great example of how the vintage has been way underrated. With just a little over two short years from harvest, this wine has settled into a smooth well-produced package that exemplifies the vintage. 2009 may have not received the accolades the 2008’s did but in time these wines just may surpass the opulence the much ballyhooed previous vintage has already obtained. This Willamette Valley wine expresses aromas of raspberry and blueberry with a hint of fresh ground cinnamon stick. On the palate, flavors of dark berry and hazelnut are offered up with a vibrant acidity that is balanced by well-integrated tannins. The finish is plush, pleasant and long enough to make this a memorable wine to savor alongside a braised lamb shank elegantly prepared for an intimate Valentines dinner. If your retailer or favorite restaurant does not offer this wine, get it online. I would get it soon because this one will not be around for long.

    Rating: Excellent (91) | $50 | 13.9% ABV

    Pictured above the 2011 Cornerstone Oregon Harvest


    5000 Wines a Year


    I saw a comment recently from a wine writer noting that they tasted over five thousand wines a year. I could only think how sad. Was this some sort of punishment? Did someone commit a crime? What a pity to turn such a pleasure into such a grind.

    Another comment on a forum noted that the writer first scored the wine 88 points , but that it had mellowed into a 89 point wine after about thirty minutes. It improved by a point? I could only think how sad it is to force flavors and aromatics into one point increments. Again pleasure becomes a grind.

    While I was attending a wine faults seminar by the University of California at Davis the professor passed off the answer to a question as obvious when someone asked the equally obvious question. “Professor I’ve noticed that the sample with the VA was very strong at first, but now that I’ve gone back to it several times and it gets harder and harder to pick up,” said one of the winemakers in the seminar. The professor almost off-handedly commented that was just how your nose worked. It could take twenty minutes or so before it reset itself.

    So, as the Ph.D. from Davis noted, if you get a nose-full from a a wine loaded with VA or Brett or a long line of wine faults you will be severely disabled aroma-wise for a signifiant period of time. Then there is simple palate fatigue on top of that.

    What does this mean? It means that the people that taste five thousand wines a year or those that nudge a wine by a point after a half hour are just kidding themselves. It can’t be done, we’re humans not machines. Your senses lose the ability to accurately judge wines even after just a dozen or so. The idea of defining the difference between 88 and 89 points as a relative quality value is simply a joke. Mother Nature did not give us the tools required.

    This, of course, extends to all the major wine publications and wine competitions. What they claim to be doing can’t be done. Fact and end of story.

    In addition to the fact that they’re totally inaccurate as an indicator of quality, marathon tastings and pointy nit-picking just take the joy and pleasure out of wine. They are also a slap in the face to the intellectual side of wine appreciation.

    One thing I appreciate about wine bloggers over the traditional wine press is that instead of pounding through dozens of bottles and pumping out points, most take a more thoughtful approach. Wine blogs are full of tales of wines at the table, which is the only place you can really get to know a wine. Wine writing about the experience of the true pleasures of wine tells you more than any point ranking or gold medal ever can or will. There are so many good wine blogs out there these days that they cover more than enough wine to fill anyone’s needs. What you won’t find in the blogs are reviews of Screaming Eagle or Lafite, but let’s face it, if you’re buying those wines you don’t really care about reviews anyway.

    My mind keeps drifting back to the person tasting more than five thousand wines a year. It sounds so terrible to me. I’m more than happy tasting a few hundred or so a year. It also means I get to enjoy wines that I really love more than once. I think it often takes a few bottles, consumed over a period of time with different foods, before you really know a wine.

    I doubt there are actually five thousand wines in the world that I want to try. Someone else will have to take that punishment for me. No thanks.



    It was a serene experience. Peaceful and focused. We waited and he arrived seeming almost bemused by our presence. For us he was already a deity, which was a title he did not seek for himself, nor one he needed.

    It was a cold spring morning and we could just see our breath as our eyes swept over the gentile beauty of Valpolicella. The air around us was hazy with the smoke of burning vine cuttings and the blossoms were just breaking on the trees. Just then his daughter appeared and led us down into his cellar. After a short wait he arrived surveying the group with a casual curiosity.

    Over the next hour and a half he talked softly and smiled gently. For him it was enough to let his wines do all the talking. He was not looking for the deference with we treated him, but it fit him well. As always in such a group some did not understand what they were tasting, but he took no offense at their lightness any more than he did at those who where too ernest in their worship.

    We tasted through the entire gallery of his creations. Their greatness requires no comment here

    When we left I was the last to go. “Ringrazie, arrivederLa,” I said. I stood a good foot taller than the great man, who then reached up and patted my cheek and said, “bravo.”

    We live in a “ciao” world, but to say “ciao” to such greatness just seemed wrong.

    Ringrazie e ArrivederLa Signore Quintarelli

    Pictured above is that tasting with Signore Quintarelli in the spring of 2000


    Wine and Food

    Thanksgiving brings up the usual stream of articles recommending wines for Thanksgiving. This exercise has obviously gone too far as writers now reach for extreme examples just to be “different” rather than sticking with something that actually makes sense.  Amarone? Grenache? Possibly, but why in the world would you go so far out? The matches for the traditional American Thanksgiving dinner are simple: lighter reds and fuller whites. Common sense and a little knowledge is all that’s needed.  Pinot noir or gamay (Beaujolais) and chardonnay or riesling if you like a little sweetness with the potentially dry bird. With the literally thousands of variations of these varieties there seems little need other than personal taste or a bored writer to practice this new extreme matching reality show. Also, not every menu demands complexity in wine. Mounds of turkey, sweet potatoes and stuffing requires refreshing beverages, not equally ponderous ones. Cool, fruity and zesty are more pleasurable than a wine as ponderous as the meal. 
    Perhaps all this extreme matchmaking is due to the fact that wine writers taste most of the wines they review without food. This is a very strange thing if you think about it. After all, wine really has no other purpose than to be part of a meal. Critics give wines points based on how they taste against other wines, not how they taste with dinner. This fact alone tells you how pointless points are when it comes choosing what wine to buy. 
    In all honesty I don’t drink wine without food: with the notable exception of sparkling wines. I just don’t get it. The first sip of wine always has me thinking about what bite of food is going to follow. The idea of a chardonnay or cabernet as a cocktail is beyond me. When I’m getting ready to cook I’m doing one of two things: either I’m looking for something to go with a particular wine or deciding what wine to have with the menu I’ve selected. The concepts of cooking, eating and wine are so tightly intertwined in me that I cannot separate their experience in my mind. I can’t even imagine why you would want to. 
    A beautiful veal chop thus led me to a bottle of 2009 Tendril, Tightrope, Willamette Valley Pinot Noir, the new release from my friend, winemaker Tony Rynders. Tony is making two Tendril pinots:  “White Label”, a blend of his vineyard sites and Tightrope, a special barrel selection.  The veal chop got the Milanese treatment and the wine was perfect with the dish and it was perfect with the wine. A very nice arrangement.  The only breadcrumbs at hand were panko so the chop was even crunchier than usual. I’d do that again.  The Tightrope’s tart acidity in the proverbial velvet glove was just the right foil to the breaded and fried chop. Being the foil is the wine’s job.
    Only sixty cases of 2009 Tendril Tightrope were produced and you can only buy it from the winery at www. The $64 price tag is a bargain for a wine of this depth It will be worth putting away for a few years to let it grow up. However, for Thanksgiving I’m recommending the more subtle 2009 Tendril White Label Willamette Valley Pinot Noir. It’s more forward and fruity than the Tightrope and certainly such an American meal deserves an American wine. However, with less than 400 cases produced not many tables will be lucky enough to be graced with a bottle this Thanksgiving. 
     Matching food and wine is about the combination of personal taste and common sense. There’s no reason to go to extremes: unless you have to write an annual Thanksgiving wine matching article that is.



    Cornerstone Oregon Harvest 2011

    Dawn Harvest for Cornerstone Oregon in the Yamhill Carlton AVA. For more Oregon harvest photos vist the gallery here:


    Night Harvest: Talcott Vineyard Cabernet Franc in St. Helena


    Never Boring

    Their shrill barking woke me from whatever dream I was having. A pack of coyotes was having a debate in the vineyard outside my window. In my sleepy stupor I tried, but could not remember the day of the week. It sounded like dozens of them, but it was probably just a few being particularly rambunctious. Suddenly the report of a rifle echoed sharply across the valley and the coyotes were silent. Just a few hundred yards from our house, in the other direction, the first crew of cooks were arriving for work at The French Laundry. Such is life in Yountville during harvest. There is this incredible mixture of nature and urban sophistication, which only intertwines so completely in the Napa Valley. The reason I could not remember the day was simple: during harvest all days are the same. There are no regular patterns, hours or life. It’s exhausting, stressful and the best thing that happens to you every year.

    So what does this vintage mean to us? It means another debate with Mother Nature, much like the coyotes outside my window had last night. As winemakers we all bark at the weather, but in reality we live within it and in the end treasure what we have been given each and every year. Like a parent we don’t have a favorite child, but revel in their differences and the memories of their unique strong and weak points. The critics will give this harvest a rating, but numbers have no soul and harvests, like all things in nature, do.

    So what should you expect from a wine or from a vintage? I think you should expect personality. Those who rank vintages by number in the modern era miss the fundamental character of wine and truly do not understand wine itself. The question should never be what is the greatest vintage of this wine can I have with my dinner tonight, but should be what vintage will taste the best with my dinner tonight. The disaster vintages of days past are no more due to the dramatic advances in enology and viticulture over the last decades. On top of it we live in the Napa Valley where, let’s face it, the weather is never really that bad. The ranges of vintages today runs more from producing earlier or later maturing wines and from bigger or more elegant styles. It’s a fact of the matter in the Napa Valley an overly hot vintage has a more negative impact on wine quality than ones that are overly cool.

    It often strikes me that critics want all vintages to be the same. I cannot think of anything more boring: or unnatural. Tomorrow morning at 4 a.m. we start picking our Talcott Vineyard Cabernet Franc in St. Helena. It will make a wine different from last year and from the one it will make the next. I would not have it any other way.


    Cabernet Franc Harvest, Napa Valley

    Harvesting Cornerstone Davis Block Cabernet Franc in Oakville

    Waiting for Light 

    Pickers wait for enough light to start their day’s work. Davis Block Vineyard, Oakville Napa Valley


    2011 Harvest: Napa Valley


    2011 Harvest: Napa Valley


    Crush 2011

    It’s time.

    You wait all year and know it’s coming, but it always feels like its sneaked up on you. How can it be harvest already? What happened to summer? However, harvest time it is and at Cornerstone we start picking our sauvignon blanc on Tuesday. That realization wakes you up and you start to notice a few leaves on the ground, the shorter and shorter days and a different type of coolness in the evening air. Fall is indeed arriving.

    It’s been an unusual growing season, at least that’s the conventional wisdom. In fact, it’s almost like last vintage, which means its been cool by Napa Valley standards. Is this the new “normal”? In my opinion a little cooler is not a bad thing. Cooler vintages give more balanced wines that are more transparent. Wines that clearly show where they came from. The major problem so far with vintage 2011 in Napa is the cool, rainy weather during flowering and set, which dramatically reduced the size of this year’s crop. Our Howell Mountain vineyards escaped this fate as the later flowering up on the mountain meant they missed the early June storms. Oddly our cabernet franc vineyards in St. Helena, Oakville and Carneros ended up with good fruit sets too as they also bloomed late.

    So we head into mid-September around two weeks behind normal. That’s really not too bad: as long as the fall rains hold off long enough for everything to ripen. This, of course, is a very big “if”.

    I often think there is an over-reaction to these slightly cooler years in Napa. Anyone whose spent time in some of the world’s most famous wine growing regions knows that Napa does not face the weather dangers those growers deal with on a regular basis. We will ripen our grapes. We will make excellent wines. I truly believe that these “cooler” vintages make better wines in the Napa Valley. However, certain critics who define wine quality by girth disagree with me, preferring wines from hot vintages. That formula is simple:

    High pH + High Alcohol + High Oak + High Price = High Points

    These cooler vintages excite me because of the opportunity they give us to make truly balanced, elegant wines designed to taste their best with food. The formula above gives you wines that taste out well against other wines, but that don’t marry well with food. I don’t like them: I don’t like to drink them, I don’t like to make them and I don’t like to sell them.

    It will approach 90 degrees this afternoon. Perfect grape ripening weather. Just like last vintage I know we’re going to make wines that I love. I can’t wait.

    It’s time.


    Tweet via CraigCamp

    CraigCamp (@CraigCamp) Fight the 100 point #wine score dictatorship: Thu, 28 Jul 2011 15:45:07

    Sent via Osfoora from my iPad


    IPNC 2011

    Saturday at the International Pinot Noir Celebration in McMinnville starts off with Drouhin, Adelsheim, Lafon, Evening Land, Au Bon Climat and Escarpment. IPNC could very well be the best wine event anywhere.

    Sent from my iPhone


    How I Came to Love the White Sox, Hate the Cubs and what that has to do with wine

    I love the White Sox. I hate the Cubs. A strange situation as I grew up a Cubs fan and my mom still loves them, watching every game she can. My dad loved the Cubs and they were my introduction to the Majors. There’s nothing quite as heartwarming to me as the memories of my parents taking me to Wrigley Field as a child. As I write this, just behind me is a framed scorecard of a game they took me to on August 24th, 1962, a day after my 9th birthday. Warren Spahn pitched for the then Milwaukee Braves. Hank Aaron hit a home run in the 4th. Lou Brock was playing centerfield for the Cubs (they made the brilliant trade to the Cardinals in 1964), Billy Williams was in left, Santo was at third, Atlman was at first giving Ernie Banks a day off.  The Cubs lost ten to one. On the other side of the scorecard  are the autographs of Ernie Banks, Don Landrum and Ken Hubbs, who was at second that day. I’m sure few remember Ken Hubbs. He was star to me, but he was killed in a plane crash in 1964 after only three seasons that included becoming the first rookie to win a Gold Glove and National League Rookie of the Year. Hot dogs were 30 cents, PBR 35 cents, cigarettes 35 cents and cigars went for 10 cents, 15 cents or 25 cents depending on how much of a connoisseur you were. 

     It is my most valued possession and someday will be passed to my son Colin. For some, expensive watches become heirlooms, but I can’t think of anything more valuable than this old scorecard and the detailed penciled history of that single game that my dad passed on to his son, grandson and certainly great grandchildren after that. On the day he died he had a Manhattan, watched the Cubs, then died in his sleep that night. He would of thought it a good last day.

    As you can see baseball means a lot to me. So how could I desert the team of my childhood and my father? It happened slowly and took many seasons. Things started to unraveling in 1984 when the Cubs choked in the playoffs, winning the first two in a best out of five against San Diego then going on to lose three straight to be eliminated. On top of this I had started hanging out with some White Sox fans and went to many games on the South Side with them. Also, as is common in Illinois, it was not that my family was without White Sox sympathizers as my grandfather Chester was a Sox fan as is my Uncle Gene.

    Over the years I went to both ball parks, gradually gravitating to Comiskey over Wrigley.  By the early 90’s I rarely went to Wrigley, but I did not actively root against the Cubs. How could I? Then in 1997 it happened, inter-league play was introduced. I actually thought the games would be fun with good sports all around, after all, at the end of the day a Chicago team would be the winner. I could not have been more wrong. I did not anticipate the wrath of the Cubs fans, who, I’m happy to say lost that first series just as they did the 1906 World Series against the Sox, which was the last time they’d played each other in games that counted.  

    It was only this experience that opened my eyes to why I had abandoned the Cubs and adopted the White Sox. The White Sox have to win to draw fans: to succeed. They were just like me. On the other hand were the Cubs who consistently packed tourists into their Field of Dreams stadium (I admit I love Wrigley) who cared little if the home team won or lost. The remainder of the seats at Wrigley are filled by beer-fueled bankers/lawyers/accountants/traders with little tattoos hidden under their pinstripes and loosened ties to brand them as the rebels they imagine themselves. It’s hard to take seriously a team that has a stadium packed with people who barely know the score, but never miss getting in their last round of beers. Oblivion makes people accept the idea that any team can have a bad century.

    The White Sox have to win. The Cubs can wallow in mediocrity and still rake in the dough. Like I said, the Sox are just like me and they’re just like you. Now we get to the part where it has to do with wine.

    There are a lot of Chicago Cubs in the wine business. Wineries that haven’t hit a home run in years, but still live on past glories and fans that just don’t pay attention to the actual score. They have famous names and play in beautiful ball parks, but most are well on their way to having a losing century, just like the Cubs. Some people must feel that bland is beautiful. 

    You’ll always get more for your money buying wine from winemakers who have to win, who are driven to win. Winemakers and ball teams do not get to the World Series by trying to play it safe. No guts, no glory.  

    Many of the biggest names in wine offer more fame than personality. What’s in the bottle should be more important than what’s on the outside. Wrigley Field is a great package with a famous name, but the quality of what’s inside leaves a lot to be desired. Just because sales are good doesn’t mean the product deserves it.

    Rooting for the White Sox of the wine world will get you not only better wines: you also get to watch better baseball in the process.

    Go Sox!


    Pinot Daze

    The noise was deafening. In front of me stood someone with purple teeth and a strange sort of necklace with a large wine glass where the locket should have been. The man with the Riedel necklace was talking rapidly to me. I could pick up about every third word. I heard him say, “ mmummmble brix mmmaa clones mmmumms alcohol ssssooumnos terroir.” No matter, these things are very predictable and I fired up my stock answer. He took a big sip, swirled and sniffed and swallowed. Spitting was not on the agenda in spite of the more than two hundred pinot noir wines in the room. 

    The onslaught that is Pinot Days could not contrast more with the delicate wine being celebrated. Packed into San Francisco’s Fort Mason more than two thousand pinot aficionados tasted the wines of more than two hundred wineries. A significant number of the attendees were giving tasting all of the wines their best shot. The spit buckets were not overused.

    While the passion for pinot of both the attendees and the wineries pouring can not be doubted, you can’t help but wonder how the wines themselves felt about the whole affair. No wine can properly strut its stuff in such conditions, but of all wines to run through such a ringer, poor pinot noir is not the one to take such abuse.  

    The social aspects of these mass wine tastings cannot be denied. A good time is had by all. However, these extravaganzas are no place to make serious wine judgements. We should recognize them for what they are: a good party, not a wine judging. This is not to pick on the Pinot Days folks, who put together a well run and fun event, but at some point people need to start taking these events for what they are, which academically are more related to frat parties than going to class.

    Nobody, but nobody can seriously taste and judge so many wines in such conditions. People that say they can are lying more to themselves than anyone else.

    Everybody had a great time at Pinot Days including me. I’ll be back next year. These everts are great for building energy for brands and varieties, but they’re just not very educational. Maybe the name can be changed next year to Pinot Party Days. You can count me in on that one for sure. There’s nothing wrong with fun and enjoyment when it comes to wine, what else is it for, but don’t confuse it with studying to get your Master of Wine diploma. 

    I was pouring our new 2009 Cornerstone Oregon Willamette Valley Pinot Noir, which I have decided to release July first. The 2009 is already more forward than the 2008 and I pushed the release date forward because the wine is already so delicious. This mutual project with my friend  Tony Rynders, one of the finest winemakers in the country, is most certainly a labor of love. To be able to make Cabernet Sauvignon in the Napa Valley and Pinot Noir in the Willamette Valley is a dream come true. Watch for the release information at


    Bodega Bay Sunset


    Having grown up in the midwest, I never tire of ocean sunsets. This is from a recent long weekend Joyce and I spent on the coast celebrating our anniversary.


    Cornerstone Updates: Wine Time Machine

    Just as the vines are thinking about flowering in vintage 2011, we are preparing and finishing the 2009 vintage reds for bottling. In wine you always are touching the past and the future simultaneously. It’s hard to think of an industry where your key focus for the month is something you’ve made two years before that you won’t sell for another whole year.

    Perhaps this is part of the appeal of winemaking. The ability to be working in the past, present and future all at the same time is as enticing at the wines we make.

    The seasonal cycles set our bottling season. Just after winter pruning it’s time to bottle the whites and rosé and ,as bud break flows into flowering, its time to bottle the red wines.

    Our 2010 whites and rosé are already in the bottle and are just being released for sale this month. This includes the zesty Stepping Stone by Cornerstone Napa Valley Sauvignon Blanc, Cuveé Musque and the dry, intensely aromatic Stepping Stone by Cornerstone Corallina Napa Valley Syrah Rosé. New for us, and a wine we’re very excited about, is our Stepping Stone by Cornerstone Napa Valley Riesling. Our Riesling is dry as a bone with incredible floral and mineral aromatics and flavors.

    Next into the bottle will be our 2009 Stepping Stone red wines: Syrah, Cabernet Franc and Cabernet Sauvignon, but you’ll have to wait at least six months to taste those when they’re released this fall. For more immediate gratification we have something new for you: Stepping Stone by Cornerstone Rocks!. We have a red Rocks! and a white Rocks!, each are blends of different varieties that will change from year-to-year depending on what inspires us. The defining terms will be delicious and fun. The Rocks! wines are house wines for Cornerstone lovers.

    In July, as the grapes are ripening in the warm Napa Valley sun, we will bottle our 2009 reserve selections: Cornerstone Cellars Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon, Cornerstone Cellars Howell Mountain Cabernet Sauvignon and our new benchmark wine, The Cornerstone, a blend of cabernet sauvignon, cabernet franc and merlot, crafted to be a Napa Valley classic. Only 100 cases will be produced and it will be released in 2012 after a year of bottle aging.

    There is another time element to this year’s vintage which ties us to an even older vintage, 1991, our inaugural vintage. As we approach our 20th harvest it is thrilling for us to be releasing innovative wine full of personality and the individuality that has always made Cornerstone one of the Napa Valley’s most dynamic wineries.

    Starting next week we’ll be pouring our 2010 Stepping Stone whites and rosé in our Yountville tasting room. Please join us for some tastes of the past, the present and some hints of what the future holds: our wine time machine.