Cathy Corison believes in the Bench. The Bench in question is the Rutherford Bench, that famous patch of Napa Valley land west of HWY 29 up to the Mayacamas mountain range, starting from the northern tip of Yountville, heading north through Oakville, then Rutherford, before ending at St. Helena. When Andre Tchelistcheff innocently referred to this area as the Rutherford Bench, we did not have the current AVA system, with arbitrary boundaries cutting across the valley from east to west. While Rutherford is a tiny town, the Rutherford Bench is a true terroir.
Cathy Corison’s belief in the Bench shows both in her wines and in her impassioned longevity, crafting her style without regard to current trends or fashion. While we stood in her organically farmed 8-acre Kronos vineyard, with 40yr old vines yielding a paltry 1.8 tons an acre, she pointed to the dirt and declared, “This is some of THE BEST land for Cabernet Sauvignon in the world!” And after tasting through a vertical of Corison Cabernets, I must admit that I believe, as well.
After acquiring a master’s degree from UC Davis in 1975, Cathy was one of the earliest female winemakers in the valley, eventually landing at Chappellet where she really made her mark, but all the while she yearned to make wines on her own terms. She wanted to make Rutherford Bench Cabernet with both power and elegance, which she’s now been doing with her own label for 25 years.
It’s pretty simple. Her Kronos Estate Cabernet is 100% from the 40yr old Kronos vineyard, which surrounds her winery. This lies in the heart of the Rutherford Bench. For her Napa Cabernet Sauvignon bottling, Cathy sources from 3 vineyards which also lie within the heart of the Rutherford Bench, with which she has long-term partnerships.
For many of us, the mark of the Bench lies in both the liveliness of cassis, plum, and blackberry flavors, but also in the supple texture as it’s delivered on the palate. The balance between that density of fruit, and a velvety, elegant tannin structure, are a hallmark of this area. Cathy does not want to make the loudest or brashest wines in Napa. Rather, she wants to make wines that are both ripe and elegant, which will be true to the terroir of the Rutherford Bench.
Cathy Corison is many things. She is the first female Winemaker-Proprietor in Napa Valley. She is the San Francisco Chronicle’s 2011 Winemaker of the year. But above all this, Cathy is a believer in the terroir of the Rutherford Bench. Taste her wines and believe for yourself.