Cornerstone Cellars dates from 1991 which is when they released their first commercial vintage. This is one of the older Napa Wineries you may not have heard about although with their new open to the the public tasting room in Yountville they will certainly receive additional exposure. Two Memphis physicians Michael Dragutsky and David Sloas founded this winery (both are still practicing medicine). Check out how this winery began! It all started with a trip to see the “wine master of Howell Mountain”, Randy Dunn during the 1991 harvest and crush. Randy had a surplus of high end Cabernet Sauvignon grapes that were above and beyond what he had capacity for at the time. He offered to sell them to David Sloas who called his friend Michael back in Memphis to make the final decision. As it was, they ended up purchasing almost 5 tons of Howell Mountain Cabernet Sauvignon grapes.
This first vintage received excellent praise and publicity from wine writers and collectors and they decided to continue making wine commercially. They have been sourcing from the same vineyards since day 1 – today the vineyards are under ownership of another winery but Cornerstone has long term contracts to continue using the same fruit. These are all hillside vineyards at elevation, around 1700 to 2000 feet with nice red mountain clay that is so characteristic of the Howell Mountain Appellation.
Cornerstone is extremely careful about its vineyard sources – three noted Napa area winemakers are involved closely with any vineyard sourcing decisions and low yield high quality vineyards are a must. The highly sought after Celia Welch is the primary winemaker. We have tried most of the wines she makes for various Napa wineries; she doesn’t make a bad wine and her wines well represent the terroir where the grapes were grown. Cornerstone grapes are fermented in small lots, typically aged 20-22 months in French Oak, 90% of which is new.
Today they concentrate on 100% Cabernet Sauvignons, one from three vineyards throughout the Napa Valley and the other strictly from Howell Mountain. The 2005 Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon contains about a third fruit from three vineyards; Howell Mountain, Rutherford and Oakville. Fruit aromatics dominate the bouquet followed by a soft entry with a palate showing blackberry, cherry and hints of dark chocolate. The finish is slightly smoky and well structured.
The 2004 Howell Mountain Cabernet is a winner – this wine is typically released a year later then their Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon. The grapes for this wine come from a prominent vineyard with an eastern facing exposure on the back side of Howell Mountain. The elegant bouquet shows hints of cedar, spices and a mossy almost earthy characteristic. The entry is soft, focused and round – the rich, layered palate is all about berry type fruits; blackberry and raspberry. The finish is well structured. Great acidity, fruit and tannin structure will ensure excellent ageability to this wine. As Craig their general manager says, their wines “have that classic Napa Valley fruit but also have power with acidity”. They are food friendly wines. Note that at their tasting room, you can often taste an older vintage for comparison to their current release.
In mid 2009 along with Page Wine Cellars – Cornerstone Cellars opened a public tasting room called “Yountville Tasting Station”. This is located on the corner directly across from the Yountville Post Office. They have a VIP room, a library room and a small shop containing other food items. Currently they sell a fine chocolates, artisan olive oil, flavored vinegards and a number of spices. Based on one of the owner’s culinary background they will offer sit down tastings paired with various foods.
Look for their second label called Stepping Stone; this wine allows them flexibility as the grapes for this label are from various high end vineyards sources in Napa Valley. These are also red varietals, the vineyard sources vary from year to year and often they become available right at harvest. One year you may have Zinfandel, the next Cabernet Franc. Visit: www.cornerstonecellars.com
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