Earthquake and a New Harvest

The Cornerstone Cellars 2013 vintage is somewhere in there.

The Cornerstone Cellars 2013 vintage is somewhere in there.

In the pitch darkness of your deepest sleep a nightmare suddenly launches your bed into the air jarring you awake. But waking only makes it worse as you realize that it was not a dream, but reality that launched your bed off the ground. But that's just the beginning as your entire house has been tossed in the air. Even beyond that you finally understand it's not just the bed, nor the house that has been flipped into the air, but the very ground itself.

Before your can fully comprehend what has happened it's over and everyone is holding each other trying to regain some sort of belief that the floor beneath their feet has become something that you can actually stand on. Then the adrenaline hits and you spring into action. That action mostly involves mops, brooms and dealing with the shock. For the next eight hours we cleaned, first our house, then repeating the experience at our Cornerstone Cellars tasting room in Yountville. By noon we had the worst of the mess cleaned up. We were spattered with wine like we'd been working crush all day and our hands were filled with small cuts from all the shards of glass that covered everything.

That's an earthquake. A few minutes of terror followed by hours of the most mundane, yet adrenalin fueled housecleaning you can imagine. After a few minutes, through the daze of shock, it occurs to you, you may have lost a year of your life, perhaps more. Could the entire vintage be gone? Could all of our wine be gone?

Through the haze of shock and exhaustion the harsh reality starts to sink in. It did not really hit until later in the day, when I was asked about our wines and suddenly tears started to well in my eyes as if the potential loss was just too much to ever consider. We started out in 2007 to make wines with what we perceive as refinement, balance and elegance. Achieving the style of wines you want is not an overnight thing. In winemaking you only get one learning experience a year. The 2013s were not the result of just one year of work, but the result of six years of work. When you lose a vintage you don't just lose the wine from that year, you lose the wine you achieved through a lifetime of experience. For a small producer like us, the wines change each year influenced by the weather and our increased knowledge of each vineyard and the fruit that comes from it. When you make wines that are not manipulated you literally only make that wine once in your life as each year is unique. Not only does the weather change, but you change. So whatever wine we lose will be losing something truly unique. The intersection of nature and humans at one point in time.

A week has now passed and with each day you get a little less jumpy. The aftershocks continue and we even slept through a 3.2 quake last night. However, we still don't know the extent of the wine we lost. A few more days will tell the story. We have been lucky so far only suffering broken wine bottles, minor cuts, smashed dishes and jangled nerves. At this point I am clinging to the hope that our luck will continue as we dig our barrels out of the confused pile the once orderly barrel room has become.

With harvest upon us we are experiencing death and birth at the same time. While we have certainly lost some of our work from the 2013 vintage forever, the hope and excitement of a new vintage is also upon us. As forward is the only direction we can go we are choosing to focus on what are about to create rather than what has been destroyed. It's time to celebrate the new vintage not mourn for the old one.

I believe this will be an exceptional vintage in the Napa Valley, perhaps the Earth itself thinks so too.

A Beautiful Factory

It was majestic, breathtaking. It cost tens of millions of dollars. It was the most beautiful factory I'd ever seen. Such are the temples of wine in the Napa Valley. Shrines to people rather than agriculture. The days of Bottle Shock have long passed to be replaced by sticker shock. The Napa Valley is no longer the place a farmer can bring his winemaking dream to reality.

Today in the Napa Valley people build pyramids to their own memories just as the pharaohs did in ancient Egypt - and for the same reason. Immortality is expensive. Making wine is farming and it's hard to think of anything less glamorous. The choice for the ages is obvious - temples last longer than wines.

I was visiting one of Napa's new pyramids a few weeks ago and it was perfection. Majestic floor to ceiling windows filled with vineyard views, a winemaking facility loaded with the cutting edge technology and, of course, it was all integrated with equally cutting edge modern art. There was only one thing missing. There was no soul, no soul of the wine and no tie to the land. The connection to the land was lost as everything about the place was about people - nothing was about nature and dirt, which was nowhere to be seen except through perfectly clean, massive windows. It was there to see, but there was nothing to touch or that could touch you.

You can buy the land, the equipment, the art and the media, but in the end the wines will have no soul, no soil, unless it is really inside of you. Without that soul, no matter how much you spend, you just end up with a beautiful factory and like all factories you pump out an industrial product. Designer wines designed for points not people.

The marketing employed to sell these wines is as cold as the facility they're made in. Data points replace people and social media becomes a strategy not a conversation. You don't want to get your hands dirty.

Corison Winery

Corison Winery

On Route 29 in the heart of the Napa Valley is a plain gray barn where the wine, and only the wine, tells the story. There Cathy Corison has endured the pointless point-ridden decades for wine when only points mattered and pH did not. Today she has been magically rediscovered without changing a thing. It seems actually having a vision and a passion, not simply an ego and a bottomless checking account, have become fashionable again. This, at least, is something we can be thankful for in the Napa Valley

There are real wine temples, like that plain gray barn, out there in the the Napa Valley and across California, but as in Indiana Jones, you'd better choose wisely. Most people choose poorly forgetting that it's in the cup of a carpenter that you're more likely to find real wine.