All Our Yesterdays
Cathy Corison was a natural choice to be interviewed, because not only are her wines excellent and great representatives of their varieties, she represents, to me, the struggle that women winemakers have had to overcome to be respected in the world of wine.
She might not be the first woman, but she is certainly the person who is recognised as one of the premier Cabernet Sauvignon makers in the Napa Valley.
Like a lot of people who I have interviewed, my knowledge of them is almost drip fed into my brain. It might start off with a sentence in a magazine, or a mention on a YouTube documentary or I might here's somebody talking about them on television. Then it always seems to happen the same; within a couple of weeks I keep hearing more and more about them, I start hearing them linked with places I enjoy, winemaker's I respect, and this continues until there is no way you can ignore their contribution. It was like this with Cathy Corison. Firstly I was in the Napa Valley, and I remember asking somebody about their favourite Cabernet Sauvignon. Corison was mentioned. Next I was in the tasting room of a small winery in Sonoma and asked where I should visit next. The name of Corison cropped up again. This continued until I felt overwhelming pressure to find out more about this place called, 'Corison'. When I researched deeply, my respect for Cathy grew, and I found a mixture steely determination and kindness come through all that I read. This meant that she was a natural to be interviewed by one from this magazine.
What I love about this interview is what's inbetween the wine talk that really grabs my attention looking back. Of course, talk of varieties and growing conditions are really great, but as you read you will see a woman who is bursting with questing enthusiasm for knowledge, an enthusiasm that goes beyond wine.
I was lucky to meet her about a year after this interview. You often have an idea of someday in your mind. Will they be like the picture you've built up, will they be a little bit of a let-down? I've gotta say Cathy does not disappoint.
Look behind the glasses, and into the eyes of Cathy Corison, and you see a steely determination. The sort of viticultural determination that makes her a top choice to be featured in this edition's '15 Questions'.
Not only does she make one of the most terrific Cabernet Sauvignons you can get your hands on, but she refused to take no for an answer when others thought that a woman's place was nowhere near the winemaking area of a Napa Valley vineyard.
She has worked in most areas of the wine industry, from selling in a wine shop to pouring wines in the tasting room at Sterling Vineyards, before becoming an intern at Freemark Abbey. Finally making it as the Head Winemaker at Chappellet Winery. All this despite one of her first tutors telling her that women didn't make wine in Napa!
Never one to stand still, Cathy founded her own winery, Corison in 1987, with the help of her husband William. At first she purchased the grapes for her wine, but longed to produce a single estate wine that could compete with the best. With the purchase of the Kronos Vineyard (great name) in the south end of Saint Helena in 1995 she was able to produce the sort of fruit for which her wines had become famous. Her sturdy, powerful beauties are so well put together, thanks to some of the oldest Cabernet vines in the Napa Valley, that I imagine Cathy Corison walks through her vineyards talking poetry and saying beautiful things to the vines as payment for them providing such educated fruit.
When I drew up a list of people I wanted to answer '15 Questions' there was no doubt in my mind that Cathy Corison was a must, and as you read her answers I'm sure you'll agree that she's the sort of winemaker who you want to listen toall day.
Winefulness Magazine: When you first decided to build a Corison Winery, did you decide on Cabernet Sauvignon because soil samples told you it would grow the best, or did you hunt for land that would be best suited to growing Cabernet?
Cathy Corison: We didn't build a winery until 13 years into the project. Until then it was all done with smoke and mirrors, using other peoples facilities. We bought the best grapes and barrels money could buy and did all the work ourselves. I make Cabernet Sauvignon because I live in the Napa Valley, which has been making world class cabernets since the 19th century. I believe we can make Cabernet Sauvignon as well, or better, than anywhere elseon the planet.
Winefullness: Do you ever feel the weight of being one of the leading women in the Californian wine industry?
Cathy: I certainly feel a responsibility to be the best I can be and to help other women along.
Winefullness Magazine: In Stephen Brooks book 'The Finest Wines of California', he says that you look more like a New England school teacher than Napa Valley wine maker. What would you have done with your life if you hadn't have become a wine maker?
Cathy Corison: I might have worked in a zoo. I might have become a stage manager in a regional theatre or a marine biologist.
Winefullness Magazine: was the decision to produce Gewürztraminer made because you thought everybody would expect you to work with Chardonnay as your second varietal in the Napa Valley?
Cathy: The Gewürztraminer is inspired by the wines of the Alsace. I've always loved them for their singular use of Germanic aeromatic varieties made with French sensibilities. It's generally too hot for aromatic white varieties in the Napa Valley so I source the Gewürtztraminer from the Anderson Valley in Mendocino County, well to the north. Alsatian wines are terrific with an outstanding range of food.
Winefullness Magazine: How does Cathy Corison relax when she's away from the vineyard?
Cathy Corison: I hike, cross -ountry ski, garden, cook, read, knit and see theatre.
Winefullness Magazine: Paul Draper has said that you are one of the people he most admires in the wine industry. Who are the people you most admire in the wine industry and why?
Cathy: Paul is one of them. Ted lemon at Litterai because of his integrity and bio dynamic farming. Great wines too
Winefulness Magazine: You've added Sunbasket Vineyard Cabernet to your portfolio of wines. How does this differ from the Kronos and the Corison cabernets?
Cathy: Though Sunbasket is a mere stone's throw from Kronos, the soils are even gravelly are and sandy alone. The Corison Cabernet is a blend of three benchland (alluvial fan) vineyards all located between Rutherford and Saint Helena. Complexity is the Corison Napa Valley Cabernet' strong suit.
Winefulness Magazine: You've had to fight for your place in the world; when you were at college, and then when you wanted to become a winemaker. Do you feel a struggle has made you harder?
Cathy: I have had to develop a thick skin. I was once called scrappy by a close friend. But I don't know which came first, the chicken or the egg.
Winefulness Magazine: What is the best piece of advice that you've ever been given?
Cathy Corison: Don't take no for an answer.
Winefulness magazine: What is a typical day like for Cathy Corison?
Cathy: There is no typical day. I grow the grapes, make the wine and run the winery (with a lot of help). My work is very seasonal and varied.
Winefulness Magazine: Are there any other varieties that you've thought about growing?
Cathy Corison: I love most of the wines of the world so I'm often tempted to branch out, but I've chosen to focus on a few things in the hope that I might do them well.
Winefulness Magazine: Which vintage of Kronos really stands out as Cathy Corison at the top of her game and why?
Cathy: 2001, but it's not me, it was Mother Nature. Everything aligned that year.
Winefulness Magazine: What's your favourite tipple?
Cathy: Wine, but to name a favourite would be impossible. There are so many great wines in the world.
Winefulness Magazine: What are you reading at the moment?
Cathy: I just finished 'Educated' by Tara Westover and 'Becoming' by Michelle Obama. I'm also reading several books about evolution and the Galapagos islands in preparation for a trip there this summer. That has been on my bucket list since I wrote a paper on them when I was a junior in high school.
Winefulness Magazine: How do you see corison Winery progressing in the future?
Cathy Corison: I hope they get better and better.
And with that the questions are over and Cathy Corison can go back to tending her vineyards and producing wine that is arguably among the best out there. Don't just take my word for it, look at the mountain of awards that have been given to her and her wines. In a world where critics can be fickle, the constant consistency with which she is honoured shouts loudly of epic success.