Someone hadn't received the memo that ever since 2008 when I penned an editorial slamming the bold Californian wines, I had been banned from a number of West Coast-centric tastings. And so believe me I was appreciative when I received an invitation to celebrate and examine Cathy Corison's 25 -years of history under her own label. I said, "Thank you!" before anyone could change their mind.
But, Cathy, actually never read the memo about how California was supposed to taste, and instead she followed her own vision, very much owning her vigneronne voice, never paying attention to the style of the moment and very much intent on having her wine be the best it could be within the parameters of the vintage.
With the knowledge that this was going to be a very special event, I headed to taste through her vinous history, from that first solo vintage of 1987 to her most recent release of 2011.
sorry for the crappy foto: Cathy at March Skurnik office tasting in March.
In view of the industry's love of following trends, from concrete eggs to cold soaks to whatever, Cathy has remained true to one grape ("I'm a cabernet chauvinist."), the same vineyards and one way of making wine. Her wines were true reflections into the vintages, a window into the year's history and changes in the vineyard, just the way it used to be when people embraced vintage instead of fearing the differences. Here were some of the highlights. But wait! After browsing them, don't stop there. In honor of her anniversary, I have reprinted a copy of her email interview to me, of 2010.
Some selected wine impressions
1987: Her first attempt. A very remarkable nose, and a taste of sanded down stones. Gently, with a touch of old-fashioned Napa mint. Refreshing, as it should be as this was a long and cool season with no heat spikes. An easy birth for her first child.
1988- More of a plummy aroma with a nice tang of acid on the Kenya coffee made in a French Press. Good bit 'o tannin and a patchouli finnish which I like on wine and dislike on people.
1989-- At first there's the pencil shaving and tired nose then it goes all gentle and sleek even though faded Bordeaux-like with black Nyon olive and oregano. The critics said forget the vintage. Idiots.
1990- lots off flat and snuffed on the nose but inside, there comes the savory and a superpacked blackberry finish. Surprise!
1992: Exotic touch of coffee, the tannin evident, the fruit muted, but lots of wine.
1993: Milk chocolate sweetness, never overpowering yet a little one or two notes.
1998- Touch o' funk on top of a power-fruit foot forward of raspberry.
2001: It's not just the youth, but something is different and continues through the rest of the wines. the rootstocks? Big. Complete. Young. Classic. Culty cab stand in, but one done by a pro with style. Tannin and fruit dance with savory, pepper and a happy finish. Let's see it in another ten.
2004: Fruit and ash and acid with a long, grippy dusty finish and medium Napa fruit sensibility.
2006: This was picked late, near November, but the wine is balanced power and a touch of orange-like acid.
2008: Fruit reigned in balance with acid, elegance, long finish with vibrancy of young muscles. look for that long roasted heirloom carrot painted in raspberry flavor.
2009: A cool season package that is tight, silty classic.
2010: Also a lot going on here, with chocolate and cocoa but with balance. Has quite a lot in common with 2004.
And......here's the interview.
All is well here. I'm expecting a terrific vintage with all this cool weather. Thank you so much for the Portland connection. I've come to love the serendipity of Twitter.
I've been observing the maelstrom of the 'natural' wine discussions from the corner of the room. Like most everything, the truth often sits in the gray area between black and white. (And the truth is different for each person.)
In a day when I am shocked by the manipulation I see in winemaking everywhere, I wonder what happened to growing grapes well in a great vineyard, crushing the grapes and letting Mom Nature do the rest. Our roll should be one of shepherding; we don't want our charges to go over the edge of a cliff.
For me the less manipulation the better. I think of a winemaker's bag of tricks like a doctor's black bag. You hope you don't ever need to use them, and you seldom do, but you're glad they're there. Sadly the tricks have become a routine part of much winemaking.
I don't think anything precludes me from being considered a 'natural' winemaker.
As to specifics, I have not acidulated a Cabernet for nearly 30 years. Fresh out of UCD, over 30 years ago (!), I had been taught that no sound wine could have a pH higher than 3.3. I quickly learned that that was rubbish. That said, I believe that good acidity is one of the most important components of a great wine, both from a winemaking standpoint and wine enjoyment. There are far fewer technical pitfalls in making a wine with a healthy pH. For me, it boils down to growing the grapes well on a great site and picking properly. If I need to wait for flavors to come arounduntil 25°+ Brix and the natural acidity has plummeted, I've failed in the vineyard (or I'm growing the wrong thing in the wrong place).
SO2 seems to be the other bugaboo. First of all, every cell in most people's body produces SO2 as a byproduct of metabolism, so most of us have enzymes in place to deal with it. It is also produced by yeast during fermentation. Some yeast strains produce more than others- a possible tool for winemakers. There IS widespread over- and misuse of SO2 all over the world. One of the things I took away from my academic background in enology is an understanding of how it works. People always say it's added as a preservative. That's true sometimes, but such high levels are sometimes necessary to inhibit microbial activity that the wine is ruined. Making wine from sound grapes and monitoring the health of the wine at all stages allows very minimal SO2 use. For me, the most important reason for SO2 use is to bind up aldehydes that are a byproduct of fermentation (and can occur during cellaring if practices are sloppy, mostly lax topping regimes). High aldehyde levels in wine mask fruit.
Personally, I do something that results in very low total SO2 in the bottle but is frankly very risky. I don't use ANY SO2 at all until after the malolactic fermentation is complete. SO2 added to must to inhibit wild yeasts, gets bound up by acetaldehyde as it is produced during primary fermentation, resulting in a new wine with a basement of significant total SO2 but no free SO2. It is free SO2 that protects the wine in the barrel from spoilage organisms, notably Brettanomyces. This is very risky because of the possibility of a "ferocious" Lactobacillus spoilage (by species related related to the benign ML bacteria) that can produce so much VA during alcoholic fermentation that the wine is spoiled before it goes dry. Again, my best defense is picking sound grapes that don't come into the winery already spoiling. That said, someday I will likely encounter a Lactobacacillus spoilage and need that bag of tricks I mentioned. (Though maybe not- I've been doing this for over 30 years.)
This is turning into a tome and I'm out of time. Natural wine is a big subject. After harvest I should have more leisure to elaborate if you want.