What We Say 2009 Napa Valley Sauvignon Blanc
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Mission Codename: The Keystone
Operative: Agent White
Objective: Return to Cornerstone Cellars and procure their first-ever white wine, their stellar 2009 Sauvignon Blanc
Mission Status: Accomplished
Current Winery: Cornerstone Cellars
Wine Subject: 2009 Napa Valley Sauvignon Blanc
Winemaker: Jeff Keene
For today’s wine, we sent Agent White back to Cornerstone Cellars, a Wine Spies favorite. Until now, Cornerstone has been best-known for producing some of the finest Cabernet Sauvignon the The Wine Spies have had the pleasure to taste. Today’s wine marks the debut of their White wine program, with the release of this exciting and delicious 2009 Sauvignon Blanc. Read Agent White’s tasting notes, along with his exclusive interview with winemaker, Jeff Keene.
Sauvignon Blanc originally hails from the Loire Valley in France, but has found new homes in other parts of France (Bordeaux, where it is blended with Sauternes); New Zealand, and specifically the Marlborough region as well as California. It is generally dry and crisp with flavors of apples, pears and tropical fruit and tends to have bright acidity that lends itself well to pairing with spicy foods.
Wine Spies Tasting Profile:
Look – Perfectly clear, pale straw yellow, this wine tends to pick up on any hues present in the room, which made finding the exact color of the wine an arduous – but really fun – ‘chore’. When swirled, the wine shows a medium viscosity. When it settles, fast-moving and skinny legs ring the glass.
Smell – Big and zesty, leading with citrus, melon, fresh lemon zest, dry minerals and lively soft herbs.
Feel – Light and soft, but only on the initial attack. After a moment in the mouth, the wine evolves, revealing a rounder and more full feel on the tongue. A few moments later, the wine introduces a dryness that spreads to the lips and cheeks, where a slate mineral feel and flavor make an appearance.
Taste – Bright and lively, with bold flavors almost perfectly reflect the nose. Added, are delicious flavors of Kaffir lime, flint and a subtle hint of sweetwoods.
Finish -Long and lingering, with flavors that start sweet, then go softly tart – and then a soft minerality and tender dryness appear, making your mouth water.
Conclusion – We have always been so impressed with offerings from our friends at Cornerstone Cellars – and today’s wine reminds us why! This wine delivers a great deal of character and depth, making this a stellar wine that delivers beyond its (lower) price category. Winemaker Jeff Keene has crafted this wine, the first white from Cornerstone, to be bold, beautiful and exciting. We declare that he has easily achieved his goals; This is one interesting and delicious Sauvignon Blanc!
WINEMAKER INTEL BRIEFING DOSSIER
SUBJECT: Jeff Keene
WINE EDUCATION: Postgraduate Degree in Oenology and Viticulture from Lincoln University, New Zealand.
CALIFORNIA WINE JOB BRIEF: Cornerstone Cellars, Peter Franus Wine Company and Havens Wine Cellars
WINEMAKING PHILOSOPHY: To produce wines that reflect site and appellation, respecting traditions and to make wines we love to drink.
WINEMAKER QUOTE: If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it…
AGENT WHITE: Greetings, Jeff. We are thrilled to be showing your [wine] today. Thanks so much for taking some time to answer questions for our Operatives today.
JEFF: That you so much for this exciting opportunity to show Cornerstone’s 2009 Sauvignon Blanc.
WHITE: Was there a specific experience in your life that inspired your love of wine?
JEFF: Well, growing up in a house where there was nothing, but the ‘bag in the box’ wine on offer, I can tell you it inspired me to find better wine, so you could say my parents inspired me…
WHITE: What wine or winemaker has most influenced your winemaking style?
JEFF: All wines I try influence me in one way or another, but in terms of winemakers I have learnt and still learning from Peter Franus and Michael Havens, 2 great but stylistically different winemakers.
WHITE: Who do you make wine for?
JEFF: You, me and all the consumers out there who enjoy great wines.
WHITE: Please tell me a little bit about the wine we are featuring today.
JEFF: The 2009 Cornerstone Sauvignon Blanc is the first white wine produced under the Cornerstone label. The vines are dry-farmed, that is no irrigation, so they utilize the natural residual moisture in the soil to produce grapes that ripen evenly and consistently so flavors and sugars come together harmoniously with a beautiful natural acidity. This is a vibrantly rich Sauvignon Blanc, with a great depth of flavor balanced by zesty acidity and a firm minerality. It is a Sauvignon Blanc that is seductive, substantial and succulent.
WHITE: What is your favorite pairing with today’s wine?
JEFF: Sit back, relax and enjoy this wine with the freshest seafood you can find.
WHITE: In your opinion, what makes the [REGION] so special?
JEFF: I think it is the site which is special. The grapes for this Sauvignon Blanc come from the Talcott Vineyard in St. Helena. The site or block location is close to the Napa River, and as I mentioned the vines are dry- farmed, utilizing the natural moisture levels in the soil and this coupled with the age of the vines, 20 years old, enables them to be very self regulating, balancing vine canopy and fruit levels so as to produce a crop which can evenly and consistently ripen even in the hottest of St. Helena days without compromising flavors and acid levels. Join all this with an excellent vineyard management team, with their attention to detail and this site has produced an excellent example of Napa Valley Sauvignon Blanc.
WHITE: What is occupying your time at the winery these days?
JEFF: The other winemaking season…bottling. We are in the process of blending and tasting, finalizing the blends before they are bottled, this is my favorite part of my job..not bottling, but blending.
WHITE: How would you recommend people approach your wines and wine in general?
JEFF: With great enthusiasm and vigor. With wine in general…don’t be afraid to try new wines, new winemakers, new regions / new experiences. Let your own intuition guide you.
WHITE: Is there anything else you’d like to share with our readers?
JEFF: I would just like thank The Wine Spies for this fantastic opportunity to showcase one of our wines and to thank all your readers out there for their amazing support. Thank you.
WHITE: Thank you so much for your time. We learned a lot about you – and your wine. Keep up the great work, we are big fans!
Wine Spies Vineyard Check:
The location of the Cornerstone tasting room, in the heart of downtown Yountville, can be seen in this satellite photo.
What the Winery Says
About This Wine:
Our 2009 Sauvignon Blanc is vibrantly aromatic, with great depth of flavor balanced by zesty acidity and a firm minerality. It is a seductive, substantial, but succulent Sauvignon Blanc that will achieve perfection complimenting shellfish and the freshest seafood you can find.
Our 2009 Cornerstone Cellars Napa Valley Sauvignon Blanc was harvested in the cool of the morning (pictured above) on the 9th of September. The ripe, beautiful golden fruit was gently pressed to extract only the highest quality free-run juice, maintaining and protecting the natural brilliant aromatic and flavor profile while minimizing phenolic (tannin) interference. An extremely cool, gradual fermentation in stainless steel enhanced the retention of the delicate, lifted aromatic and flavor characteristics of this beautiful vineyard. After over a month of slow, cold fermentation the wine was racked into mature barrels for sur-lie aging that added a richness to the mid-palate and a lingering, complex finish.
As always, the true character of this wine comes from vineyard. These dry-farmed old vines (clone 1) from the Talcott Vineyard in St. Helena utilized the natural residual moisture in the soil to produce a crop that ripened evenly and consistently so flavors and sugars came together harmoniously with a beautiful natural acidity. The 2009 vintage was a mild one. A dry, cool winter brought a late bud break. Then spring rains produced lush canopies, necessitating extra attention in the vineyard on our part to balance between vegetation and fruit. June heat stopped the vegetative growth and prompted véraison. A moderate summer with welcomed late season heat spells meant ripening occurred at a relatively even pace, allowing the fruit the chance to develop perfect acidity.
About The Winery:
1991 was the first vintage of Cornerstone Cellars – and a head-first plunge into the wonderful world of long-distance wine production for Memphis physicians, Michael Dragutsky and David Sloas.
Back in the fall of 1991, Sloas was visiting the Napa Valley. He and Napa wine merchant Bruce Scotland went up to see Randy Dunn on Howell Mountain, taste his wines and watch harvest. As the trailers unloaded, Dunn told them he had five tons more Cabernet coming in than he could manage at his place. Would Sloas want to buy it? He called back to Dragutsky in Memphis for a reality check. They agreed they had both lost their minds – and purchased the overage of 4.8 tons of premium Howell Mountain Cabernet. They were in the wine business.
Taken somewhat by surprise by their overwhelming reception, Dragutsky and Sloas decided that their love of good wine would prevail over all else. “From the beginning our philosophy was to use the best grapes, the best barrels, the best facilities,” says CFO and Vice President, Dragutsky. “Making the best wine we can bottle is the real bottom line for us. It’s thrilling to be out to a fine meal with friends, order our wine and see the great response to our Cornerstone wines.”
From the first, the wines have been extremely well received in the press, getting ratings in the mid-nineties in the Wine Spectator and excellent reviews in The Wine Advocate and Connoisseurs’ Guide.
Cornerstone Cellars was rated one of eight “World Class” Cabernet Sauvignon producers (along with Dunn Howell Mountain, Dunn Napa Valley, La Jota Anniversary, Mondavi Reserve, Phelps Insignia, Ridge Monte Bello, and Stags Leap Wine Cellars Cask 23) in The Connoisseurs’ Handbook of the Wines of California and the Pacific Northwest, 4th Edition.
1991 was a great vintage year and Cornerstone Cellars found a cult niche: powerful Howell Mountain Cabernets – big, ripe and muscular with focused fruit of currant, cherry and plum – and a miniscule production of 400 cases. This is some of the latest Cabernet in the valley to ripen due to the lean hillside soils and the elevation of the vineyards on Howell Mountain (the vineyard sources are from 1700 to 2400 feet). The yield averages two to two-and-a-half tons per acre. While the temperatures are moderate, the daily pattern is reversed: on a hot day it is warmer in the morning since the vineyard is above the fog on the valley floor, and it is cooler later in the day which makes the flavors more concentrated. The later ripening allows “hang time” when the intensity of flavor develops and the tannins soften.
In 1997, Dragutsky and Sloas bought into a 12 acre vineyard on Liparita Road which had been the primary fruit source since the first vintage. The site is at approximately 1700 feet with red mountain clay soil typical of this part of Howell Mountain. In 2002 the vineyard was sold to next door neighbor and vintner, Mark Neal. A gradual replant is underway with all aspects of the project focused on putting the best wine possible in the bottle. Long term contracts with Neal ensure continuity of fruit source for many years to come.
About The Winemaker:
I’m pleased to announce that, for the first time in many years, Cornerstone Cellars has a full-time winemaker. With our plans for growth and ever higher quality goals, I felt a consulting winemaker would not be able to give us the focus and time required to achieve our goals. Our new winemaker, Jeff Keene, is a veteran winemaker with more than a decade of Napa Valley experience. A native of New Zealand, Jeff was a research chemist, but returned to university in New Zealand to get a degree in enology. A former associate winemaker with Peter Franus and head winemaker at Havens Wine Cellars, Jeff will bring an elegant touch to the wines of Cornerstone Cellars. Also joining our winemaking team is star consulting enologist Peter Franus, whose more than thirty years of Napa Valley winegrowing and winemaking will help achieve our goal of taking our Cornerstone wines to the pinnacle of Napa Valley wines.
T.A.: 0.58 g/100 ml.