2007 Stepping Stone Cabernet Franc
California: Napa Valley: Carneros
What We Say
Today’s wine receives this special alert because it has a stellar QPR (Quality to Price Ratio) – making it a wine that drinks well above it’s price-class
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Mission Codename: Stepping up
Operative: Agent Red
Objective: Investigate reports that Cornerstone Cellars, producer of high-end Napa Valley wines, has created a budget-minded Cabernet Franc that lives up to the Cornerstone name. If the wine is a excellent as intel reports indicate, secure an ample allotment for our Franc-loving Operatives
Mission Status: Accomplished!
Current Winery: Cornerstone Cellars, Napa Valley, California
Wine Subject: 2007 Steppingstone Cabernet Franc, Carneros
Winemaker: Jeff Keene
Cornerstone Cellars, a Wine Spies favorite winery, recently introduced today’s 2007 Steppingstone Cabernet Franc, a delicious and elegant high-value wine that he recommends wholeheartedly. As you know by now, Cabernet Franc is one of Agent Red’s favorite red varietals. Perhaps this is because its flavors are often rich, layered, complex and elegant. Or, perhaps he loves Cabernet Franc so much because it pairs so exceptionally with many different foods. One of the most notable things about Cabernet Franc is the fact that finding excellent examples can be very difficult. Read Red’s tasting notes and mission report below for the full intel on today’s superb wine
Wine Spies Tasting Profile:
Look – Deep and inky garnet with a beautiful wide ring of pure ruby near the edge of the glass. When you swirl this wine, you will notice a soft but weighty surface that settles quickly, leaving behind tight clusters of skinny legs that move steadily down the glass
Smell – Softly and very pleasantly perfumy, leading with darkest mixed berry, blackberry bramble, dark dried flower petals, soft dried meats and a hint of spice. After some swirling, additional aromas of brown sugar and soft spice make a very pronounced and very intriguing appearance
Feel – Velvet-smooth on entry, round and softly voluptuous. Quickly, the wine grips in softly, showing off a medium body, coating the entire palate and adding a subtle dryness
Taste – Balanced flavors of smoky dark berry, bright cherry, cassis, lightest red plum and overripe raspberry play against and earthen character that shows off subtle fresh herbs, softest spices and a hint of forest floor
Finish – Long and delicious, with an elegant feel that leaves your mouth feeling exhilarated and wanting that next sip
Conclusion – Don’t tell Agent White, but I tend to spend an inordinate amount of time seeking out fantastic Cabernet Franc. The fact that we don’t feature that many tells you that I am extraordinarily choosy when it comes to my favorite varietal. When reports started flooding in that our friends at Cornerstone Cellars were preparing a high-QPR (Quality to Price Ratio) Franc, I wasted no time; I contacted the winery and arranged a private tasting as quickly as I could. Needless to say, I was blown away. This wine is a brilliant example of just how wonderful – and flexible – Cabernet Franc can be. With perfectly balanced aromatics, flavors and feel, this wine also has the right amount of bright acidity to make it a ready companion to most meals. If you are looking for a fantastic wine that will go with nearly anything you plan to serve this Holiday season, I give this wine my heartiest recommendation!
WINEMAKER INTEL BRIEFING DOSSIER
SUBJECT: Jeff Keene
DATE OF BIRTH: 04/71
PLACE OF BIRTH: Waiouru, New Zealand
WINE EDUCATION: Postgraduate degree in Oenolgy and Viticulture from Lincoln University in New Zealand, with an undergraduate in Chemistry, because there needs to be a little science with this art.
CALIFORNIA WINE JOB BRIEF: Havens Wine Cellars, Peter Franus Wine Company and Cornerstone Cellars.
WINEMAKING PHILOSOPHY: To produce wines that reflect site & appellation, respecting traditions and to make wines we like to drink.
SIGNATURE VARIETAL: Come back to me in 2 to 3 years time with this question, but I have to say that I have had the most challenges and rewards with Cabernet Franc.
CAREER HIGHLIGHT: Every day is a highlight, but honestly, the friends I have made and the wines I have drunk while in this industry are the highlights…and its not over yet!
WINEMAKER QUOTE: If it ain’t broke don’t fix it…I think you can apply this to most occupations
AGENT RED: Greetings, Jeff. We are thrilled to be showing your 2007 Steppingstone Cabernet Franc today. Thanks so much for taking some time to answer questions for our Operatives today.
JEFF: Thank you so much for giving me this opportunity. It’s an honor to be given this mission.
RED: 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 this inspired me to find better wine…
RED: And where did you learn the most about winemaking?
JEFF: I can point to my education in New Zealand, but for all aspects of winegrowing, physically, mentally, spiritually I have to say the majority of my experience came from my time at Havens Wine Cellars where I had the opportunity to work with 2 great, but stylistically different winemakers, Peter Franus and Michael Havens.
RED: What is your winemaking style or philosophy?
JEFF: I aspire to make wines that reflect the site and appellation they come from and also to make wines we love to drink, very challenging, but the rewards are a great bottle of wine.
RED: 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, once again, Peter Franus and Michael Havens…2 different winemaking heads. I have learnt a lot from these guys and I am still learning from them…
RED: How long have you been making wine?
JEFF: 11 years now…time flies when you are having fun, but then there is bottling…
RED: Who do you make wine for?
JEFF: You, me and all the consumers out there who enjoy great wines
RED: Tell me, what makes the Carneros region so special?
JEFF: What makes the Carneros region so special is the moderating influences of the Bay (San Pablo and San Francisco). The growing season starts earlier, but extends longer than most inland areas. Cooling begins earlier in the afternoon, the results of this are wines with deeper, more stable color and mouth-filling, textured tannins, all with slightly more acidity for refreshing fruitiness.
RED: What is one piece of advice that you would give to someone that is considering a career as a winemaker?
JEFF: Listen, learn, travel and have fun. What an amazing industry to be in. Wine is made in some of the worlds most beautiful regions. So many different styles, traditions and personalities. It’s a fascinating experience and one that you are always continually learning.
RED: What is occupying your time at the winery these days?
JEFF: The last of my tanks was just pressed out, so the 2009 harvest is all in barrels, happily, quietly doing what it needs to do, so occupying my time at the moment is catching up with my family after a long harvest and wondering where in the garage I put my skis…
RED: Please tell me a little bit about the wine we are featuring today
JEFF: The 2007 Stepping Stone Cabernet Franc from the vineyards of the Carneros region highlights all those amazing characteristics which I was just talking about… mouth filling, textured tannins, refreshing…
This is a very fragrant and elegant wine which balances its high toned refreshing acidity with a full well structured palate. Long and firm on the finish, this wine has the texture to be enjoyed now, but it also has the tannic structure to age for 3-5 years.
RED: What is your favorite pairing with today’s wine?
JEFF: A nicely roasted ‘gamey’ leg of lamb.
RED: Please share one thing about yourself that few people know
WINEMAKER: My wife and 2 kids keep me sane in this profession.
RED: What is your favorite ‘everyday’ or table wine?
JEFF: Being in this industry I count myself very lucky that I am surrounded by many great wines that I can enjoy everyday. So… many favorites, but I am always on the look out for new wines from new producers and regions.
RED: How would you recommend that people approach your wines, or wine in general?
JEFF: I would recommend people approach these wines with great enthusiasm and don’t hold back…sorry that was the sales person in me…With wine in general…don’t be afraid to try new wines, new winemakers, new regions / new experiences. Let your own intuition guide you.
RED: If you could choose any one wine to drink (regardless of price or availability), what would it be?
JEFF: Not this question please…my answer to this question is always based on who, what, where and how…Who I am with, friends, family…What am doing, something, nothing…Where I am, inside, outside, hot, cold and how I am feeling…party or reflective…
RED: What is the one question that I should have asked you, and what is your answer to that question?
JEFF: Where and what is Waiouru…middle of the North Island of New Zealand, close to Lake Taupo…and not a vineyard to be seen in any direction.
RED: Thank you so much for your time. We learned a lot about you – and about your wine. Keep up the great work, we are big fans!
JEFF: A successful mission I hope, thank you once again for this opportunity it was great to talk with you. Is your name really agent red…
Wine Spies Vineyard Check:
The location of the vineyards where today’s wine was born can be seen in this satellite photo.
What the Winery Says
About This Wine:
I have always loved the high-strung, aromatic Cabernet Franc wines of the Loire Valley like Chinon and felt the cool Carneros climate perfect for echoing some of those traits. Winemaker Jeff Keene has long experience working with Carneros fruit and his light touch shows in the blend of 90% Cabernet Franc and 10% Merlot that he selected for this wine. The aromas are very high-toned and minty and on the palate it is voluptuous with a hint of oak and a racy touch of wild herbs. Long and firm on the finish this elegant wine is ideal with lamb or pork.
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 Team
A New Era at Cornerstone – 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.
A New Era with New Wines – This September saw the release of our new Stepping Stone wines: 2008 Napa Valley Sauvignon Blanc ($20), 2007 Carneros Cabernet Franc ($30) and 2007 Red Hills-Lake County Grenache ($20) all of which were produced by our new winemaking team. Our mission with Stepping Stone is to craft wines of exceptional value and we have achieved that goal in our new releases. The Sauvignon Blanc is steely and crisp, the Cabernet Franc is fragrant and elegant and the Grenache is powerful and peppery. Production of all of these wines was limited and I expect them to sell out before the end of the year.
We’ve just harvested our first Cornerstone Cellars white wine, a single vineyard Sauvignon Blanc from an exceptional block in the St. Helena AVA. This new wine will be released next Spring and will help introduce more consumers to our wines. Our traditional Cabernet Sauvignon portfolio remains unchanged, except that our 2008 Napa will now have some Cabernet Franc in the blend from our Casanova Vineyard on the rocky hills at the eastern edge of the Oakville AVA. With this vintage we are taking all the fruit from this tiny, but exciting vineyard. Our flagship wine, Howell Mountain Cabernet Sauvignon, will continue to come from the Ink Grade Vineyard and is made with 100% organically certified grapes, as it has been since 2004. The current releases are 2006 Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon and 2005 Howell Mountain Cabernet Sauvignon.
Our new tasting room and hospitality center in Yountville is now open and we invite you to visit us when you are in Napa.
Appellation: Napa Valley
Varietal: Cabernet Franc 90%, Merlot 10%
Production: 500 cases produced