- Rating: 95 out of 100
- Tasting Fee: $50
- Accepts Reservations: Yes
- Reservation Required: true
St Helena, CA 94574
One of the very first female winemakers and at 5’1”, Cathy was laughed off by her female professors when she said she wanted to make wine. But thanks to fortunate circumstances, she got her start at Freemark Abbey, transitioned to working at Chappellet after a while and eventually worked with the vines that became Lokoya on Spring Mountain. After she accumulated enough experience and capital, she found some great land that spoke to her in St. Helena and the rest is history. She produces a Gewurztraminer and three different Cabernets at Corison, whose fruit comes from the valley floor and are all dry farmed.
Kronos is her old vine Cabernet that grows on unique loam that is basically gravel after a 1-2 foot layer of clay. The Napa Valley and Sunbasket wines are old cabernets (planted in the 90s) that don’t quite meet the unofficial “old vine” definition, but are also high quality. In addition to the dry farming and earlier harvest date, the spacing between the vines is huge because they were planted back in the day when machinery was bulkier and require more spacing between vines. All of these circumstances combine to produce wines that are very complex, concentrated, intense, elegant, higher in acidity, and consistently have an ABV below 14%, which is almost blasphemy for Napa Cabernet. No need to worry as there is no residual sugar in the wines. Cathy also makes sure to soften the tannins so consumers can drink the wines earlier in their life too.
Visiting the winery is very personal. There are no more than 2-3 groups of visitors permitted on the grounds at any time. When you arrive, you are greeted with the Gewurztraminer, then brought through the barrel storage room and out the back into the vineyard where the wine ambassadors talk about Cathy’s background, her winemaking style and the vineyards. Once you are finished asking questions, you are brought back into the barrel storage area to your table where you are presented with the wines you will be tasting. I was lucky and happened to be visiting on a Library Tasting day, meaning that instead of tasting the current release of Kronos, I was able to taste a library vintage (2008 in this case). The full wine lineup looked like the following:
- 2016 Corazon Gewurztraminer ($35)
- A ripe Gewurztraminer that has all the characteristics you want and also medium acidity, which doesn’t let the wine fall off a cliff or finish flat like many other Gewurztraminers do. It also avoids that slightly off-putting finish, which basically means that this is a Gewurz with all the things people love about the varietal but with none of its negatives. That sounds like a winner to me, especially at the price point…
- 2014 Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon ($95)
- Bright but with aromas of black/blue fruit, some cocoa, and good minerality that tingles the nose, but still takes a back seat to the juicy fruit. No hints of alcohol heat on the nose, which is her style. Medium+ body that gives the wine texture instead of a juicy body. And the palate has all of the notes described for the nose, but in a subtle fashion. This withheld intensity differentiates this from other wineries. The tannins are very subtle again with a tingling medium+ acidity.
- 2014 Sunbasket Cabernet Sauvignon ($175)
- The name of this wine is an homage to Andre Tchelistcheff, the “maestro” who made Beaulieu and the Georges de Latour Private Reserve into household names and who mentored many of Napa’s early winemakers. Cathy purchased the 9.5 acre parcel this wine is made from and named it “Sunbasket” after how Andre would refer to the plot. Compared to the Napa Valley Cabernet, this wine has a nose that seems to be a mix of red/blue fruit and is just as fresh with no alcohol heat and the right intensity of fragrance on the nose. The palate has a bit more acidity and minerality with some light notes of terroir also entering the picture. The body has just as much texture as the Napa Valley and also a weightlessness that is so intriguing. The finish goes on for quite a while as well.
- 2008 Kronos Cabernet Sauvignon ($260)
- The nose resembles the Sunbasket, but with a little more depth, black fruit, and integration. The wine is also less bright with lower levels of blue fruit and cocoa. The palate reminds me of a great Bordeaux – present red/black fruit, tertiary characteristics with some salinity and less spice, but with a finish just goes on forever at a solid intensity. The lingering feeling of the acidity and integrated alcohol feels amazing too… At 10 years old, it trades the bright nose for a great mouthfeel and more intense/present flavors on the palate that continues to last. Similar, but slightly different than other Bordeaux-like reds from the valley, such as the Inglenook Rubicon.
If you are a little tired of the intensity and huge fruit of many Napa wineries, you owe it to yourself to give Corison a try. It is definitely smaller than many other wineries off the main highway and does not have the lavish look or branding of others, but there is some much energy and care put into these wines. It would be so easy to let these wines be 15% ABV, black fruit, heavy wood spice powerhouses; it takes much more effort, finesse, and expertise to craft wines that are so complex and enjoyable.
Although I did not purchase wines on my first visit, I definitely plan on acquiring some in the future to serve as a contrast to other Napa Cabernets at future tastings. Their library vintages are also available for purchase by non-members which is a pleasant surprise and will definitely have me considering paying $25-$50 more to try the wines after they’ve undergone sufficient aging. In a way, you need to taste these wines to believe it. So the next time you are driving up Highway 29 into Napa, consider giving Corison a try. I guarantee it will be worth your while and may start you along the path to trying Bordeaux Super-Second Growth wines. Cheers!!
Rating: 95 out of 100