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Never Boring

Date: Thu, Oct 20, 2011 Wine Tasting

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.

Read Full Wine Blog Post

Never Boring

Date: Thu, Oct 20, 2011 Wine Tasting

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.

Read Full Wine Blog Post

Cabernet Franc Harvest, Napa Valley

Date: Tue, Oct 11, 2011 Wine Tasting

Harvesting Cornerstone Davis Block Cabernet Franc in Oakville

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Cabernet Franc Harvest, Napa Valley

Date: Tue, Oct 11, 2011 Wine Tasting

Harvesting Cornerstone Davis Block Cabernet Franc in Oakville

Read Full Wine Blog Post

Waiting for Light

Date: Mon, Oct 10, 2011 Wine Tasting

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

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Waiting for Light

Date: Mon, Oct 10, 2011 Wine Tasting

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

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Crush 2011

Date: Sat, Sep 10, 2011 Wine Tasting

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.

Read Full Wine Blog Post

Crush 2011

Date: Sat, Sep 10, 2011 Wine Tasting

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.

Read Full Wine Blog Post


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