Cathy Corison has been making wine for over 40 years. She graduated from UC Davis (the renowned Enology school in California) and worked at Chappellet Winery until 1987 when she left to start Corison Winery with her husband William. Corison believes in the power of Cabernet Sauvignon to express terroir and dynamic, full flavors. Her wine farm is sustainable and employs a number of principles to propagate a rich cycle of life: they have built nesting boxes around the property to encourage birds to reside amongst the vines. The birds, in turn, consume insects and grasshoppers and also hunt vermin, thus protecting the vines.
Each year California faces drought conditions, so Corison has moved to dry farming. This encourages the root systems within the vineyards to extend deeper into the soil. Drip irrigation and water stress tests judge the exact moment the vines need water. The intricate workings of vineyard management coupled with complex canopy management techniques yield fully ripened grapes that are able to maintain acidity and balanced sugars. The wines are then put into small oak barrels to age for 20 months.
The grapes at Corison Winery are sourced from 3 different vineyards that sit along an alluvial fan (a triangularly shaped deposit of sediment, gravel, and silt). These “benches” naturally hold water that allows the vines to grow through the warmer spring and summer months. In 1995, Cathy and William purchased the Kronos Vineyard, the last “old vine” vineyard left in Napa Valley. The vines are 45 years old and have a very low, but intensely concentrated juice.
I met with Cathy at the Hotel Arena in Amsterdam on Christmas Day to talk about family and wines. “One thing we learned during the fires [that caused significant damage to much of Northern California’s wine region in October 2017] is that vineyards make excellent stop fires,” she says, her humble and gentle demeanour a contrast to her wines, which are bold and have a daunting elegance to them. “It was harrowing to be sitting in my office watching the fires crest over the hills and roll along. We were very lucky.”