[WINE REVIEW] 2001 Corison Napa Valley Cabernet

[review] Winegrower Cathy Corison might just produce the best Cab out of Napa Valley, period. It’s a bold statement that she lives up to by producing artisanal Cabernet Sauvignon that speaks of place and legacy, sourcing great benchland vineyards between Rutherford and St. Helena in the Napa Valley.

The Corison Winery, in its timeless Victorian-style barn, is situated in the heart of Cathy’s beloved Kronos Vineyard. With eight acres planted exclusively to St. Georges rootstock, Kronos is a historic treasure. As one of the last old Cabernet Vineyards in the Napa Valley, it is one of the few vineyards to have produced world class fruit continuously for more than four decades. Farmed sustainably and growing on gravelly loam soils, the gnarly old veterans produce scant yields that result in wines of rare concentration and refinement. They are juicy with blackberry and plum fruit and complex with a mineral note and exquisite violet perfume.

Cathy Corison in her famous Napa Valley vineyards
Cathy Corison in her famous Napa Valley vineyards

Cathy Corison’s wines are noted for their consistency and impeccable balance. With tenacity and determination, Cathy has forged a life of wine that has spanned more than three decades, transcended formidable challenges and surpassed her wildest dreams.

This oenophile powerhouse discovered her passion for wine while pursuing a bachelor’s degree in Biology at Pomona College in Claremont, California. Inspired by the notion that wine is “alive at every level,” she went on to receive a Master’s in Enology from U.C. Davis in the mid 1970’s.

We had a chance to catch up with Cathy about the inception of the winery and how she got into this crazy business. “I was minding my own business, studying biology at Pomona College nearly 41 years ago, when I took a wine appreciation course on a whim. Wine grabbed me by the neck and ran with me and I’ve never looked back. On graduation two years later I was in the Napa Valley within two days. After a brief detour to get my Master’s degree in winemaking at UC Davis I was back in Napa. I was the winemaker for others for many years, most notably at Chappellet Vineyard. After a while there was a wine inside me that needed to get out and I started making the Corison Napa Valley Cabernet. My first vintage was 1987, 27 years ago. There was a wine inside me that needed to be made!”

Though it’s Cathy’s name on the label, Corison is a true family winery. Cathy’s husband, William Martin, a winery Renaissance man, designed the barn, keeps all the equipment humming and manages the day-to-day details of running the business.

Corison sources their grapes from one little tiny corner of the world, the bench (alluvial fans) between Rutherford and St. Helena. Cathy told us “I believe this terroir can make Cabernet Sauvignon as well, or better, than anywhere in the world. I’m involved in every phase of the winegrowing, knowing that I cannot make a wine that is any better than the grapes the come into the winery.

World-famous Corison Winery vineyards in Napa Valley, California
World-famous Corison Winery vineyards in Napa Valley, California

My winemaking is very traditional. Great grapes make great wine- I just try to stay out of the way!”

We sat down to taste the 2001 Corison Cabernet…what a beauty. It is the natural acidity in a wine that gives it the liveliness to be refreshing and the longevity to reward patient cellaring. Fleshing out this sturdy framework are rich, complex flavors and aromas. The redfruit notes include plum, blackberry and black cherry with hints of chocolate and a dash of spice for interest. A beautiful floral perfume of violets and an unmistakable mineral quality, often called “Rutherford dust”, complete the package. All of the components converge in just the right place; everything is in balance. This wine will enjoy a long, distinguished life.

Cathy commented on the intensity of the wine, telling us “What has become clear to me over the years is that the most important factor in a great vintage is the weather during the ripening season; the interval between veraison (softening and the onset of color development) and picking. Warm days and cool nights result in the darkest color, the most complex flavors and the best balance. The spare rainfall during the winter months favored a smaller than average crop, contributing uncommon intensity to the wine.

Great wine  speaks of place and I hope my wines have something eloquent to say about the benchland (alluvial fans) between Rutherford and St. Helena in the Napa Valley. A great wine is alive on many levels…It has terrific balance between all the components and is packed with flavor and aromas.”

Corison Napa Valley bottle shot