Cornerstone Cellars in Napa Valley is undergoing a shift from the top-dollar Cabernet Sauvignon they have been known for in the past. Under the guidance of managing partner Craig Camp, they are broadening the spectrum of the main label, while also producing the Stepping Stone line aimed directly at the millennial consumer.
Cornerstone’s branch office in Oregon is the result of Camp’s desire to produce quality Pinot Noir and Chardonnay for the labels. In grape growing, as in real estate, it’s location, location, location. The different growing conditions required for Cabernet and Pinot Noir prompt Camp to say “if you have a Cabernet vineyard next to a Pinot vineyard, one or both of them are in the wrong place.” Knowing Napa was the right place for Cab, he sought out the right place for Pinot.
Camp collaborated with Oregon winemaker Tony Rynders. Rynders' talents brought him notice at Washington’s Hogue Cellars, then at Oregon’s Domaine Serene. All the Cornerstone/Oregon wines are grown, produced and bottled in Oregon.
Both the wines tasted for this article are from the 2010 vintage. Camp says, “While this may have been a difficult vintage to work with, I could not be more enthusiastic about the wines. Wines like this is why I am making wine in Oregon.”
The 2010 vintage was cooler than the typical Oregon growing season. It was the sort of year that might cause a lot of sleepless nights in Napa Valley, but in Oregon a late-blooming summer is just what they wanted. That’s the sort of weather that allows fruit to be harvested at lower sugar levels for a higher acidity.
Cornerstone/Oregon Willamette Valley Pinot Noir 2010
This Pinot comes from the grapes of six AVAs in the Willamette Valley. It aged for 15 months in French oak, 62% of which was new. 498 cases were produced. It has an alcohol content of 13.5% abv and retails for $50 per bottle.
Medium ruby in the glass, this beautiful Pinot offers aromas of ripe wild cherry with an undercurrent of nutmeg. It really is a nice olfactory package for the holiday season. Raspberry and cherry flavors pop on the palate, while a hint of orange tea provides a great complement. Acidity is nearly perfect, and the wine is very fresh tasting as a result. It is restrained without seeming wimpy, vibrant without overpowering. Put it next to a turkey or a holiday ham and it's right at home.
Stepping Stone by Cornerstone/Oregon Willamette Valley Pinot Noir 2010
The wine is also made from the grapes of six AVAs in the Willamette Valley and has a moderate 13.5% abv number. Aging occurs over 13 months in French oak, only 35% of which was new. 137 cases were produced, and the retail price is $30.
It's a fairly dark looking Pinot, with an abundant nose. Raspberry and cranberry aromas are right up front, with cherry cola and pepper close behind. The palate is fruit forward as well, with a peppery flavor lacing the main thrust of black cherry and raspberry. An earthy edge comes through and provides a nice counterpoint to all those flavors. This is not a dainty or delicate Pinot Noir - it's deep and rich, and there's a boatload of acidity here, so have it on the table with smoked ham or sausages.
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