2011 Cornerstone Cellars Cabernet Sauvignon Black Label Stepping Stone Cuvée Napa Valley
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Cornerstone Vineyardw A Howell Mountain Call from the Windy City

In the summer of 2012, after two years of pounding on Craig Camp's door, we finally pried open the entrance to one of Napa Valley's cult Cabernet cellars. Of all the wine marketers we've met over the last seven years, Camp is one of the most savvy, somehow deftly navigating even the most challenging markets. Even during the crisis years, Cornerstone skated right through the storm, somehow avoiding the overstock problems that afflicted so many of the winery's Yountville neighbors.

It would be on the humid morning of July 12th, 2012, that Camp finally threw WineAccess a bone. Celia Welch — one of the most celebrated Cabernet-makers in Napa Valley and fresh off her 100-point performance at Scarecrow — authored a knockout 2007 Cornerstone Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon. The offer took off like a rocket ship and never slowed down. Even Camp, after a 30-year career in the wine industry, was stunned by the buying power of the WineAccess membership. Three days later, we met Camp for lunch at Thomas Keller's Bouchon, just down the street from Cornerstone tasting room. Camp told us in advance: Lunch was on him.

After smoked salmon appetizers, duck and boeuf bourguignon all around, and two bottles of Cornerstone reds, we were feeling pretty chummy. Camp, a Chicagoan known around the valley for his blustery Wrigley Field persona (common among fans of a team that hasn't won the World Series since 1908), couldn't have been more solicitous. The ice had been broken. Mentally, we were already scheduling a half-dozen Cornerstone offers for the years to come.

So much for counting chickens before they hatch.

Since Celia Welch's 2007 earned a whopping 90 perfect five-star ratings, you've read very little about Craig Camp or the powerhouse Cornerstone Cabernet Sauvignons. As Camp gritted his teeth during the Giants' championship run in October 2010, the harvest off two of Cornerstone's "go-to" vineyards — Ink Grade on Howell Mountain and Oakville's To Kalon — was one of the smallest in memory. The Cornerstone cellar was bare soon after release day. Craig could only apologize. "I can't sell what I don't have to sell," he lamented.

With the 2011 harvest even smaller the 2010 — particularly on Howell Mountain — the Bouchon levity was all but forgotten. All those Cornerstone Cabernet entries on the WineAccess calendar had been erased. That is, until last Monday, when we got the call from our friend from the Windy City.

As was reported so succinctly by The Wine Advocate, the story of the 2011 vintage in Napa Valley had much to do with the vineyards from which the valley's Cabernet Sauvignons were drawn. While vineyards planted on deeper soils in the southern part of the valley were challenged, high up on the nosebleed slopes of Howell Mountain, the likes of Abreu, Lokoya, Outpost, Hundred Acre and Tor Kenward crafted magnificently concentrated, piercing Cabernets, all earning 94-98-point scores from The Wine Advocate.

But despite the magnitude of their success, with all the critical hoopla surrounding the release of the 2012s, and now the 2013s, even the greatest mountain wines of 2011 were often left out in the cold. Many of those 2011s continue to languish in cellars — few more surprisingly than Craig Camp's 2011 Cornerstone Black Label Cabernet Sauvignon.

The 2011 Cornerstone Black Label drawn from Ink Grade Vineyard and Beatty Ranch on Howell Mountain, with a splash of Oakville's To Kalon, is deep, dark purple to the rim. Like all the fine Howell Mountain Cabernets of the vintage, the aromas are more high-toned than in 2010, featuring a luscious mix of mulberry, mountain blueberry, and black raspberry, tinged with dry flowers. Rich and richly textured — surprisingly supple for the vintage — the attack is packed with crushed black- and red-fruit preserves, finishing with sturdy Howell Mountain cut. Drink now (if you're terribly impatient) through 2022.

Tasting Notes

2011 Cornerstone Cellars Cabernet Sauvignon Black Label Stepping Stone Cuvée Napa Valley
"Craig Camp's 2011 Cornerstone Cabernet Sauvignon Black Label is a knockout. Drawn from Ink Grade Vineyard and historic Beatty Ranch on Howell Mountain, the color is brilliant dark purple to the rim. Plush and sumptuous aromatically, infused with a luscious mix of mulberry, mountain blueberry, and black raspberry, tinged with dry flowers. Rich and unusually supple on the attack, packed with crushed black- and red-fruit preserves, drizzled with sweet crème de cassis, still finishing with the signature Howell Mountain muscle and backbone. Drink now-2022."
-- WineAccess Travel Log


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