Napa Valley AVA
Site-driven wines that express the essence of the vineyard and region
Almost thirty years ago, noted Memphis physician Mike Dragutsky received a phone call from another doctor (David Sloas) about a potentially buy-able lot of grapes from Howell Mountain that he had found in Napa Valley. Dragutsky was keenly interested in the wine business and immediately took action. The pair purchased five tons of the prized fruit and Cornerstone Cellars became a reality. That was back in 1991 and the total production for the new entity was something under 300 cases.
Vault ahead to the present and Cornerstone Cellars is one of the paramount entities in the high-end wine world that is the Napa Valley. Its ownership has swelled to over fifty investors, many of whom are Dr. Mike Dragutsky’s close colleagues in the Memphis area. Such a business ownership model is most certainly unique in the wine industry and it has proven that their investment in Cornerstone Cellars has been rather rewarding.
One reason for the continued success of Cornerstone Cellars is the fact that the company has continued to use their original sources for grapes, mainly from the revered slopes of Howell Mountain. Long considered one of the pillars for vineyard success in Napa Valley, the area in Napa’s northeastern sector around the town of Angwin even boasts its own Howell Mountain Vintners and Growers Association and is the home to the likes of Dunn Vineyards, La Jota Vineyard and numerous other luminaries.
“We have been faithful to the grape sources that made us successful,” pointed out Angelica de Vere recently, Chief Executive Officer of Cornerstone Cellars. “Even though the ownership of the vineyards changed, we weren’t about to leave our source. Our long term grape contracts protected us. These vineyards are at elevations of between 1,700 and 2,000 feet and are planted in the desirable red mountain clay for which Howell Mountain is noted. These vineyards are low yield, high quality vines that produce superior fruit each vintage.”
Today, Cornerstone Cellars produces some 10,000 cases and has reached a comfort level that it intends to maintain. “Right now we are not interested in volume growth,” de Vere continued. “We remain focused on producing great Cabernets and developing the unique terroirs these vineyards are able to offer us.”
Another unique approach is Cornerstone Cellars’ use of two acclaimed winemakers for their portfolio. Both are highly regarded winemakers and bring more than four decades of winemaking experience to the operation. Charles Thomas has been labeled “one of California’s best winemakers” by the Wine Spectator’s James Laube and was formerly winemaker at the likes of Robert Mondavi Reserve, Opus One Winery, Rudd Oakville Estate, as well as launching Lokoya Wine and Verite Wines for the Jackson Family of Wines. Additionally, Winemaker Kari Auringer has been credited as part of the team that produced the 100-Point star wines for Scarecrow Wines, Lindstrom Wines, Hollywood and Vine Cellars, and Keever Vineyards and Winery, and is considered among the most hands-on winemakers in California.
For several years, Cornerstone Cellars also produced an Oregon Pinot Noir, but has since ceased that part of their operation in favor of concentrating on the Bordeaux varietals of Napa Valley.
The company currently operates two tasting room facilities, one within the Village at Vista Collina Resort and one in downtown Napa Valley. Each location offers a warm, welcoming lounge setting for customers to enjoy Cornerstone Cellars’ small production, award-winning wines.
Cornerstone Cellars is also profoundly interested in the wine/food experience and is currently involved with the Napa Valley Kitchen Collective, the urban cooking club facility located on Napa City’s eastern side. Many of Cornerstone Cellars’ current selections are available for tasting as well as a few of the company’s older releases and can be paired with the Kitchen Collective’s professionally prepared Basque-based culinary delights.
Cornerstone Cellars’ continuing dedication to quality (as well as the numerous accolades and awards it has garnered throughout its existence) make this 2014 "Benchlands" Cabernet Sauvignon a most intriguing selection for our Platinum Wine Club members. It is our pleasure to bring this remarkable wine to your attention. Cheers!
Map of the area
Dear Platinum Wine Club Members,
I am Kari Auringer, the winemaker for Cornerstone Cellars and I am pleased to be sharing this beautiful wine with all of you.
Living and working in the Napa Valley gives us access to some of the best grapes in California, and possibly the world. Cornerstone Cellars has been sourcing Cabernet Sauvignon from Howell Mountain and producing award-winning wines since 1991.
The Benchlands Cabernet Sauvignon is my favorite Cornerstone wine to make. We select the best barrels from the best lots from our vineyards on the valley floor. We spend hours tasting and evaluating each barrel, taking notes and formulating blending plans. We set up a series of blend trials to determine which combinations of vineyards, blocks and individual barrels make the best wine. The 2014 Benchlands was created primarily from the St. Helena and the illustrious Oakville Station vineyards, located in the sweet spot of the Napa Valley.
I personally invite you to join us for a wine tasting for 2 people in our tasting room located in Downtown Napa. Reservations can be made Online or by calling us at 707-945-0388 ext. 1. Simply mention you are a Gold Medal Wine Club Platinum member to enjoy your complimentary tasting.
Dear Platinum Wine Club Members,
It is our pleasure to introduce you to Cornerstone Cellars and the 2012 Napa Valley Cabernet Franc Black Label.
Guided by early Napa luminaries like Randy Dunn and Philip Titus, Michael Dragutsky founded Cornerstone in 1991 to reveal the qualities ‘buried’ in select Napa Valley mountain and benchland vineyard sites - many in new or as-yet undesignated appellations. Starting with Howell Mountain, we have since expanded to include vineyards in Calistoga, St. Helena, Atlas Peak, Oakville, and Oak Knoll; most recently, we have begun to explore the two most exciting appellations, Coombsville and Pope Valley. Most of our production are ‘small lot’ wines, some as few as 75 to 100 cases.
Now in our 26th vintage, we have worked with talented (and celebrated) winemakers and growers from the start. Our current winemaking team - Kari Auringer and Charles Thomas - are inspired blenders, and we produce some delicate multiple-vineyard wines too. We experiment a little outside Napa - Mendocino, Willamette Valley, Santa Ynez Mountains, and Lodi for example - but these projects exist to support our focus on the Napa Valley, and single appellation, and in a few cases like the one offered, blended appellation wines, focused on a dominant grape variety.
Our 2012 Napa Valley Cabernet Franc is sourced from three outstanding vineyards in Oakville, St. Helena and Coombsville. This wine showcases how spectacular and developed Cabernet Franc can be when grown in the Napa Valley.
We invite you to experience our portfolio of wines the next time you are in the Napa Valley. Please call Amanda, our Member Services Manager, to schedule your tasting experience at 707-945-0388, ext. 1.
Angelica de Vere
Chief Executive Officer
Tony Rynders - Winemaker
Tony Rynders started in the wine business in 1989, taking a lab position at Mirassou Vineyards in San Jose, California. He worked his way up to the cellar and realized his calling was in making wine. After earning a Master's in Enology and Viticulture from UC Davis, Tony continued to gain winemaking experience in Napa Valley, northern Italy, South Australia, and Tuscany. His most notable position was the ten year stint at Oregon’s Domain Serene Winery, during which Tony became one of the most highly acclaimed winemakers in America. He obtained more 90+ Point scores from Wine Spectator than any other winemaker during this period of time. In addition to making wine for Cornerstone, Tony also consults for a number of brands and produces wines for his own label, Tendril Wine Cellars.