is late and Cathy Corison has put her daughters to bed before walking
back to the winery she built from a dream on her property in the Rutherford
bench of Napa Valley. You would probably see the light on on any given
night if you drove past Corison winery (an unassuming, charming gray
barn right off Highway 29) as Cathy has mastered the art of working
Now it is Harvest 2003, and this is the most challenging time of the
year for Cathy. She needs to walk the perfect balance of her life
as a winemaker, mother, business owner and wife. She also needs to
leave time for her non-wine passions, hiking and theater. For Cathy,
however, being a winery owner, working right alongside her husband
who works with
her to run the business, is actually quite a perfect place to be,
the work doesnt go away, but it can be done at any time.
This built-in flexibility is key for her and she feels lucky.
She also feels lucky that she never had to flounder to find her lifes
passion. It came to her after taking a class in wine appreciation
on a whim in her sophomore year at Pomona College in Claremont. It
was love at first taste, I really never looked back. Days after
I graduated from college I made a Beeline to Napa Valley and I have
lived her ever since [since 1975]... I am almost a native.
Some could argue that the spark for wine may have started even earlier
when her father would allow all children over the age of 14 one glass
of Gallo hearty burgundy at Thanksgiving and one glass at Christmas.
In any case, there is no question that wine is Cathys passion
and the thing that she does well with a very singular focus.
Cathy Corison knows exactly what she wants from a wine and not from
just any varietal, but from the king of red grapes, Cabernet Sauvignon.
Her laser-beam-like vision in winemaking has made her one of the best
consistent winemakers through great and not-so-great vintages, and
that is her claim to fame. You know exactly what you are going to
get when you buy a Corison Cabernet and it can best be described by
Cathy herself, ...walks the line between power and elegance.
The essence of Cathys wine is an ideal balance of power and
elegance. In that way, her wines could never have been any different
because they are an expression of Cathy herself. She knows, and always
has known, how she wants her wines to be.
So, what is different from the 70s when she started? Now I am
a better winemaker, but my style has not changed. Cathy made
wines starting in 1978 with Freemark Abbey and spent a decade (the
1980s) as head of winemaking at Chappellet on Pritchard Hill. My
timing was good, I was running a winery within a year of getting out
of Davis which was crazy, but it was good for me. Some kids went to
winemaking jobs right out of school... because of that Ive got
a lot of vintages under my belt.
Experience, in Cathys estimation, taught her better winemaking
skills, but an artistic, intuitive sense for wine provides her with
her unwavering signature style one that, in part, comes from
her appreciation of many "old world" wines.
Her old world influences are Saint Julien in Bordeaux, France and
Tuscan Chianti Riserva, This may sound contradictory but my
two models for the way wines are built are the wines of Saint Julien
which have that wonderful balance of elegance and power in the same
glass. I also love the wines of Tuscany, especially the Riservas...
when you can find a good Chianti Riserva from a good vintage... wine
doesnt get much better. They [the Tuscan winemakers] get it.
For Cathy the winemaker, it is very important to be in tune with wines
created by winemakers from all over the world. In order to maintain
a beat on the world of wines, Cathy and her family travel abroad to
various winemaking regions. At home, they do a little "virtual
touring" as well, with their ritualistic "blind tasting".
Her husband helps her keep her palate in tip top shape by choosing
a wine every single night that they have the opportunity to sit down
together for dinner, and brings it to her in a brown paper bag. Cathy
has to guess varietal, winemaking region, and even vintage. They have
been doing this ever since they got married.
Helios is a special wine that Cathy is very proud to present. She
chose the name because of its connection to ancient symbols of life.
Helios is the sun god in Greek mythology and as you may know it takes
a lot of love, care and sun to make great Cabernet. Helios is also
special to Cathy because of its connection to life sciences. As a
card-carrying biologist, Cathy appreciates wine as a celebration
of life every vintage - life that fits in a glass and reminds us why
we love wine in the first place. It is the tie-in of life, celebration,
power, elegance, balance and the embodiment of the earth.
Biology is the study of life and wine is a life my avocation
and vocation all in one place."