20 November, 2010

Stepping Stone by Cornerstone Cellars

Craig Camp is the General Manager and Managing Parter of Cornerstone Cellars. He is also my brother. Well, not literally, but, like my recent post about my other brother, Mick Unti, I KNOW Craig gets it. What's IT?

Before we can talk about IT, we need to talk a bit about Cornerstone Cellars and their label Stepping Stone.  Cornerstone is a label that's been around for around 10 years in the Napa Valley as well as now having a presence in the Willamette Valley. They built their name on solid Napa Cabernet Sauvignon, but also do a nice job with several other varietals including a Sauvignon Blanc on the white side. Craig Camp joined Cornerstone around 18 months ago and has done a great job.

So, while Cornerstone was focused on their premium brand, Craig now uses the Stepping Stone label to reach a wider audience and share the love of some great fruit. Stepping Stone also affords them the opportunity of making wines from a wider choice of grape varietals. We like that....ALOT!

Recently, Craig invited me and Thea Dwelle of the wine blog Luscious Lushes to the Cornerstone tasting room in Yountville, CA for lunch and a tasting session of their full line.

While we tasted thru several wines, the following were Stepping Stone selections I found to be most interesting and on target for the price point of our readers.

First, the 2009 Stepping Stone Cuveé Musqué. This is 100% Musqué clone of Sauvignon Blanc with 95% of the fruit from Napa and 5% from Red Hills Lake County. While I'm not the biggest fan of most Sauv Blanc, the selection of the Musqué clone really removes most of my typical SB objections. Gone are the big grassy, green, grapefruit driven aromas. They're replaced with wonderful fuji apple, green herbs and of course, the wonderful Valencia orange flavors that are the keynote of Musqué. It's a lean wine, no doubt, but don't over chill or the delicate notes will disappear. I'd serve this no cooler than 48F.

2009 Stepping Stone Cuveé Musqué
Retail: $16
Grade: B

Next, the 2009 Stepping Stone Corallina Rosé is a good example of how well rosé can pair well with food or is happy to stand on its own. While Stepping Sone likes to call this a Provençal style rose, I find it much more California in style. It's brilliant flavors of fresh strawberry and cranberry are very evident and of course, pleasant!  Its name, corallina, for coral in Italian is a reference to its color and it's nice to note that this wine is not saigneé, but purpose built rose. Thumbs up for that. It is, in my opinion, the only way to make rose!

With 100% of the fruit from nearly 3000' elevation in the Red Hills Lake County AVA, winemaker Jeff Keene blends equal parts of Grenache & Syrah to provide supple tasting fruit that's been whole cluster pressed and cool fermented in stainless steel tanks, then aged in puncheons. Normal Burgundy style barrels are much smaller (60 gallons vs. 132 gallons) so by using a larger barrel, the amount of wood contact is reduced, providing for some richness from the barrel. It's love to pair this with escabeche, oil poached tuna Niçoise salad, or even a rich pulled pork sandwich with spicy sauce!

2009 Stepping Stone Corallina Rosé
Retail: $16
Grade: B+

Finally, if you like a metered, less powerful example of Syrah, the 2008 Stepping Stone Napa Valley Syrah should be something you enjoy. While it's not as lean as I prefer such as a Côte Rôtie Northern Rhone blend, it's most certainly not the typical California Syrah we've seen in the past 10 years. While Syrah's popularity is now seemingly on the decline, this is one that's different and could buck the trend. With Syrah fruit from the Carneros AVA in Napa Valley but then rather than the typical Viognier co-ferment, a bit of Grenache from Red Hills Lake County is blended for mouthfeel and suppleness. It's quite a different idea and I'd like to try more blends using Grenache.

It's very even front to back with a wide and soft mouthfeel and finish. Not overpowering to food, the muted notes of blackberries, cedar and mint are playful and are anything but sloppy or slow. I'd pair this with lamb shank with mint or a braised pork shoulder with savory French herbs.

2008 Stepping Stone Napa Valley Syrah
Retail: $20
Grade: B

...so, getting back to Craig and IT, I think the easiest example I can offer is directly from the Stepping Stone website, that reads: "Our mission with Stepping Stone wines is to make memorable, exciting wines that are affordable enough to drink at home with a simple Wednesday night supper, yet exciting enough to pair with your best dishes...........We craft out Stepping Stone wines to be both exceptional wines and exceptional values."

It's one thing to say that, and quite another to deliver on the promise. Craig Camp is focused on ensuring that while Cornerstone makes excellent super premium wines, Stepping Stone makes excellent wines that are good examples of their varietals and styles, pair well with food, are restrained and are not following any fad or trend and they're delivering on that at affordable prices. It's not just something he says, but truly something he believes.

1 comment:

  1. Jason - Many thanks for your kind comments on our wines. I agree with your comment on the Corallina Rosé as as I meant that the wine was inspired by Provence not that it tasted like it. Indeed it is is California in personality - as we would hope it would be!


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