Giving Thanks: Napa Cab, Willamette Pinot

November in Oregon's Willamette Valley

November in Oregon's Willamette Valley

Just in time for Thanksgiving I’m excited to share my new Cornerstone Oregon releases with you. Certainly there is no better match for the traditional cuisine of this American holiday than wines from America’s premiere pinot noir and chardonnay region: Oregon. With the 2014 vintage I passed my first decade making wine in Oregon and I am more convinced than ever that it is here in the United States that pinot and chardonnay can best show their true personality.

For this reason at Cornerstone Cellars we do not make any chardonnay or pinot in California as, while there are a few examples of wines that are true to these varieties, the vast majority of wines produced in California from pinot and chardonnay speak far more of winemaking than terroir. I believe in pinot and chardonnay grown in the Willamette Valley just as fervently as I do in cabernets, merlot, syrah and sauvignon blanc grown in the Napa Valley.

Very soon Cornerstone Oregon will be at the same production level as Cornerstone Cellars in the Napa Valley (about 5,000 cases each) and so these wines are of the highest priority to me.

As from the beginning of Cornerstone Oregon in 2007, our wines are a collaboration between myself and my friend and the Northwest’s premiere winemaker, Tony Rynders. The style of Cornerstone Oregon reflects my over three decade immersion in the wines of Burgundy and Tony’s two decades in the Northwest, which includes stints as the red wine winemaker at Hogue and a decade as winemaker at Domaine Serene. The wines of Cornerstone Oregon are a synthesis of our perspectives and together we are crafting wines with a classic structure intertwined with a vibrant New World personality. As always, all of the wines of Cornerstone Oregon are grown, produced and bottled in Oregon.

This Thanksgiving I am giving thanks for the privlege of making cabernet in the Napa Valley and pinot noir and chardonnay in the Willamette Valley. Certainly this is having the best of both worlds.

Isn’t That the Point

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It very strange how in winemaking you can end up at the same point in very, very different ways. "It is important to understand that a point is not a thing, but a place," notes the Math Open Reference. The point we are always trying to achieve is a pure expression of our three "V's": vintage, variety and vineyard.

To achieve this with varieties as transparent as chardonnay and pinot noir takes a clear vision of where you are going. To arrive at the same point in winemaking is not to make carbon copies vintage-to-vintage, but to arrive at the place you feel each vintage is taking you. Patient, careful winemaking allows wines of very different vintages to arrive at the place, the point, you are seeking as a winemaker. To arrive at this point you have to let the wine achieve its own natural balance for the year that created it. So in some years you have structured wines and in others a more natural richness and forward personality. Just because they are different does not mean they have not arrived at the exact point you are trying to achieve.

Two such vintages are 2011 and 2012 in Oregon's Willamette Valley. In 2011 rain and cool weather made fruit sorting an art form if you wanted to make exceptional wines. We rejected bin after bin and individually sorted and selected each bunch that made it into the fermenters. The end result speaks for itself in the beautifully lifted and structured 2011 Cornerstone Oregon Willamette Valley Pinot Noir, White Label. The wines from this year are naturally tight and are only now starting to reveal their delicate layers of complexity. As someone who cut their pinot noir teeth on Burgundy I particularly love this wine. Then there was the sunny, gentle 2012 vintage where there was hardly a thing to sort. In fact, the 2012 chardonnay fruit was the most beautiful and defect free I've ever seen in Oregon. The 2012 Cornerstone Oregon, Willamette Valley Chardonnay, White Label reflects this generous vintage, not by being soft, but with a rounded firmness that will develop for years to come. I think this is a perfect example of the extraordinary potential of chardonnay in Oregon and why I am convinced this is the best region for chardonnay in North America.

It is exciting to release such a distinct range of personalities with our Cornerstone Oregon releases this fall. For me such differences are the things that make wine so exciting and pleasurable. After all, isn't that the point.