Cathy Corison Podcast 43 MINUTES

A new podcast series from Doug Shafer about the people behind the food and wine you love.

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Doug Shafer and Cathy Corison

Cathy Corison discovered her passion for wine almost by accident when she was a biology major in college. She went on to study winemaking at UC Davis and ventured into the wine business, which in the 1980s was not always eager to hire a woman. Undaunted, she pursued a personal vision for wine produced at the intersection of power and elegance – and has succeeded. Enjoy!

For more visit: Corison.com


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FULL TRANSCRIPT

 

Doug:
Hey everybody, it's Doug Shafer, welcome back to another episode of "The Taste," we've got a, a long-time dear friend of mine, and I had to pull her out of the fields to get her in here, Cathy Corison.

Cathy Corison:
Totally.

Doug:
Welcome Cathy.

Cathy Corison:
It's fun to be here.

Doug:
Glad to have you.

Cathy Corison:
Yeah.

Doug:
And I've ... before we get going, I want everyone out there to know what type of person Cathy Corison is, so I'm gonna tell a little story, hopefully I won't embarrass her. But, going way back in time, it was the winter of '83, late winter '83, I'd just started at Shafer Vineyards, as winemaker. I'd walked into a mess and was busy trying to clean it all up and I was up to my ears in alligators and not really sure what to do, getting help from people like Randy Mason, other folks I knew in the valley. And I was at the monthly Wine Tech meeting in Calistoga. Now Wine Tech was where all the winemakers and cellar rats would get together once a month, and, ah, at this ... What was it, what restaurant was it?

Cathy Corison:
It was at Alex Dierkhising's Silverado Tavern. Yeah.

Doug:
It ... Silverado, it was Silverado Tavern or something like tha- ... Yeah. And we'd, ah, we had the hanging beef, and we drank a lot of beer, well we drank a lot of good wine, and there'd always be someone giving a talk, a technical talk, or a little, a quick little tasting. But it was mostly a chance to get together and, and see each other. And I ran into Cathy, who I knew, didn't know well, but I knew her a little bit. And she knew, and ... my, think you were at Chapallet at- at that time, '83, '84.

Cathy Corison:
Yep.

Doug:
And, and Cathy comes up to me and she says, "Doug, how you're doing?" 'Cause she knew I'd just started at Shafer. I said, "Cathy, I don't know." I think, I don't know if I ... I didn't start to cry, but I was just like, the panic was there. And I'd never forget, you looked at me, you put your hand on my arm, you said, "Doug, just get through one year." I said, "What?" She goes, "Just get through one year, you've gotten through one- one year cycle." And she says, "It's you're ... it's you're home free from then on." And it was just like, it was the most comforting thing I've ever had, so thank you for that. Because (laughs)-

Cathy Corison:
You're so welcome. I was a- ... I was just a little tiny bit ahead of you.

Doug:
Oh.

Cathy Corison:
And I probably had finished my third year about then, at Chapallet.

Doug:
Well, there you go. Alright so I really, I want us to go way back, 'cause there's a lot of things about you I don't know. You were born and raised, Southern California.

Cathy Corison:
Riverside, California.

Doug:
Riverside.

Cathy Corison:
Orange country.

Doug:
Orange country. And folks were in the business, or?

Cathy Corison:
Oh, heavens no, my dad was a- a lawyer.

Doug:
Okay.

Cathy Corison:
Suburban Southern California.

Doug:
Got it. And, um, so you're growing up in Riverside, siblings?

Cathy Corison:
Three sisters, all younger. I grew up in Riverside, and got all the way to Claremont, about a half hour away, to go to college.

Doug:
You went to Pomona?

Cathy Corison:
Pomona College. In Claremont. Just down the road.

Doug:
But then-

Cathy Corison:
Studied biology.

Doug:
Studying biology. High- high school sports, anything noticeable?

Cathy Corison:
I was ... I was a springboard diver most of my life.

Doug:
Okay.

Cathy Corison:
Um, starting at about age seven and when I got to high school there was no- no women's swimming team and no diving team, so I became a gymnast for my high school years.

Doug:
Got it. And then what about diving in- in college?

Cathy Corison:
I- I have a- a Letter in men's springboard diving from Pomona College. Hugely we were right in there with, ah, Caltech, but there was no women's team, and I wanted to keep- keep diving, so I did.

Doug:
Good for you. So you got on the men's team. What was that like?

Cathy Corison:
Well it's pretty small time athletics. But it- it kept me ... kept me moving.

Doug:
Great, so, you still dive?

Cathy Corison:
No.

Doug:
Okay.

Cathy Corison:
I would hurt myself, (laughs) I'm sure.

Doug:
(laughs)

Doug:
So you were ... you're at Pomona, you're studying biology, so what happened? Where ... How'd the wine thing happen?

Cathy Corison:
It was a complete fluke. On a complete whim I took a wine appreciation class. Non-credit from a ... ah, the Anglo Francophilic Chinese professor.

Doug:
(laughs)

Cathy Corison:
Does that sum up, um, small liberal arts education or what?

Doug:
Right.

Cathy Corison:
Um, and he was a ... a Francophile, so it was all French wines, and I just fell in love with wine. Grabbed me by the neck and ran with me, and I've really never looked back. You know I- I love it for all the usual reasons, it's delicious, you share it with friends and family. Um, it makes food taste better, but for me, what layered in on top of that was the fact that it was a whole system of living systems, of a whole series of living systems, that conspired to the alchemy in- in your glass.

Doug:
Neat, so you got the bug, so- so-

Cathy Corison:
I'm still studying biology.

Doug:
You're stil- ... you're ... I know you are. You- you got the bug, grabbed you by the neck, to quote you. What you do with it?

Cathy Corison:
Well two day- ... two years later I graduated, two days after that I was in Napa, all the other small wine growing regions all over the state hadn't happened yet. This was in 1975.

Doug:
Okay.

Cathy Corison:
I was in Napa, and, um, with this vague notion that I wanted to make world class wine. I'm not (laughs) sure I even knew what that meant.

Doug:
(laughs)

Cathy Corison:
And times were very, very different, there were 30 wineries here in the Napa Valley.

Doug:
Right, right.

Cathy Corison:
1975, June. And so, I worked in the Valley. First at a wine bar, wine shop, um, The Wine Garden.

Doug:
Right.

Cathy Corison:
And it closed while I was there, so I went up to Sterling and worked in the tasting room up there. All the while I was running over to Davis and cleaning up the chemistry I had managed to avoid, and starting to take the wine classes as a concurrent student.

Doug:
Okay, so you were-

Cathy Corison:
And then the next year I was in the master's program.

Doug:
Okay, so June '75, so I was in between freshman and sophomore years, I was at Davis, so I was-

Cathy Corison:
You were?

Doug:
... living here. I was working ... I worked two summers at Hanns Kornell Champagne Cellars, just south of Sterling.

Cathy Corison:
In the summers?

Doug:
In the summers.

Cathy Corison:
Yeah, what's ... back in the day.

Doug:
Yeah (laughs).

Cathy Corison:
When- when it existed.

Doug:
Oh yeah, he was a great guy.

Cathy Corison:
Yeah.

Doug:
I don't know if you ever met him, he was a wonderful man.

Cathy Corison:
Not-

Doug:
Yeah.

Cathy Corison:
Not more than just knowing who he was.

Doug:
A great story, he escaped Auschwitz when he was nine years old.

Cathy Corison:
Wow.

Doug:
And got himself ... he got himself to New York, he got himself to Sonoma, ended up in Napa on Larkmead land, which is now Frank Family Cellars. Then he was making sparkling wine there, and w- ... ah, a couple of college guys, Dave Pirio was one of them, Dave Pirio being a manager at Chapallet to this day, who Cathy's recognizing, knows him well. He was one of the three or four college guys working with Hanns Kornell.

Cathy Corison:
Amazing.

Doug:
He'd call us all professor.

Cathy Corison:
Oh.

Doug:
Because he- he was known for being real- really, really tight, so he didn't pay. I mean my first jo- ... I think I was 2.50 an hour. This is in 1975. And, ah, he didn't pay very well, so the people that worked there, were kinda derelicts, there was just like ... it was just a ... it was a ... it was a ... like a bunch of thieves and, ah, he loved us, the college guys, 'cause we were like ... you know, we worked!

Cathy Corison:
You'd work for nothing.

Doug:
Yeah, we worked, yes, but we had a couple of really fun summers.

Cathy Corison:
My first, my first job was at ... an internship at Freemark Abbey in '78 and I made $4 an hour.

Doug:
$4.

Cathy Corison:
Yeah, $4 an hour.

Doug:
Okay, so you're going ... so you started, you were working at Sterling, going to Davis to do chemistry stuff, and then you started your masters. Did you move off to Davis, or you still living in Davis?

Cathy Corison:
I ran back and forth.

Doug:
Okay.

Cathy Corison:
You know I was ... I- I rented a- a room, um, in a hou- ... the second year with, um, Jack Stuart. He and his wife owned a house there, and rented out rooms, and I- I would live there with- with, um Dan of Morgan.

Doug:
Dan Morgan, from-

Cathy Corison:
Dan-

Doug:
Morgan, um-

Cathy Corison:
No, Dan Lee.

Doug:
Dan Lee from Morgan Winery.

Cathy Corison:
From Morgan. Yeah. He had one of the rooms. I had a room and then when we ... there was a botany student, or something in the other one, and then Jack had the fourth.

Doug:
That was in Davis?

Cathy Corison:
Yeah.

Doug:
Okay, this is good. So, so you're at ... 'cause I remember I had a class with you in Davis. You probably don't remember this?

Cathy Corison:
No.

Doug:
Okay. It was, um ... So I was a sophomore, and it was Dr. Cook.

Cathy Corison:
Mm, Viticulture.

Doug:
Vit- Vit 116, A and B, and it was about 50 kids in a class, it was a long rectangular class, and I was sitting in the ... I remember these things, I was ... I sat in the back. I was ... 'cause I was an undergrad, and I was kinda studying grapes and wine, but it hadn't, you know, it hadn't like become my thing, which, because in this class ... I'm in the back of the classroom with Bryan Nobanio, Rich Chelsey, Kim McPherson from Texas. Remember Kim McPherson?

Cathy Corison:
I remember him well.

Doug:
A wonderful-

Cathy Corison:
His daughter's here in Napa working at Compline.

Doug:
Oh, that's nice, it's good to hear. Good exc- ... 'cause I want to call him. I want to get him in here, if he's up here. And we used to ... we were kinda cutting up, we'd paid attention, but we were kinda joking around a lot. And up at the front of the classroom, in the very first row ... we were all like, "Look at those red hots up there, who are those red hots?" And it was you, and I think, Tony might have been in the class, and maybe-

Cathy Corison:
Was it John Kongsgaard, for sure.

Doug:
John Kongsgaard was in there. Was Randal Graham in there, maybe?

Cathy Corison:
Very likely.

Doug:
Might-

Cathy Corison:
You know, in a blue velvet jacket.

Doug:
But we had class together (laughs).

Cathy Corison:
I had no idea.

Doug:
Oh yeah. Um, alright, so you mentioned Freemark Abbey, so was that after Da- ... So, after Davis, you got your masters in enology.

Cathy Corison:
Right. It was a two year program and I wanted to do the internship the year between the two years, but I didn't. Larry Langbehn offered me the job, but then it was later taken away, because they wouldn't have a woman, in the cellar.

Doug:
Wait, wait, wait, let me get this straight. So Larry Langbehn was winemaker at Freemark?

Cathy Corison:
Right.

Doug:
And you had an internship there?

Cathy Corison:
Right, in 1977, was the year I wanted to do it, and he actually hired me to do it, but then it was taken away, so I just went back to Davis and finished my master's degree.

Doug:
But if he actually, this is tough to say, but he actually said you don't get the job because I don't want a woman in the cellar? They actually said that?

Cathy Corison:
It wasn't him, it was the owners-

Doug:
Okay.

Cathy Corison:
... of the ... of the winery.

Doug:
That's too bad.

Cathy Corison:
No, Larry hired me, he did want to hire me.

Doug:
Yeah, and wh-

Cathy Corison:
And he hired me the next year.

Doug:
Great, so you did go work there, 'cause I remember that, 'cause, was Nikko Schoch working there?

Cathy Corison:
He was indeed.

Doug:
Nikko Schoch, was, I think was Larry's assistant.

Cathy Corison:
Indeed.

Doug:
Because, he was ... he ... Dad hired Nikko to be our first winemaker.

Cathy Corison:
Yeah.

Doug:
I know it was 1980 he started working with Dad.

Cathy Corison:
Nikko took great pleasure in tightening things down so tight, that I couldn't loosen them. So, I just took to always having this big wrench in my pocket.

Doug:
Oh, that's too bad.

Cathy Corison:
Rest in peace.

Doug:
Yeah, rest in peace. Well you can do that, you know, on those, the- the big gate valves on a tank, you can crank those things pretty hard. Ao you're there and then, um, after Freemark Abbey, you went up to Spring Mountain?

Cathy Corison:
Right. I went out to Yverdon.

Doug:
Yverdon?

Cathy Corison:
Up to Yverdon, um, for the harvest of '79 and '80.

Doug:
Okay.

Cathy Corison:
Little tiny winery. Crazy, crazy man owned it and he was building this stone winery around it and carving- carving the tables and making the stained glass windows and- and we crushed 60 tons, um, but we shoveled every grape into the crusher, and then we shoveled every skin out of the press.

Doug:
Question, did you feel like a winemaker?

Cathy Corison:
Yes.

Doug:
Yeah. That's-

Cathy Corison:
I mean you talk about the, sort of, deer in the headlight-

Doug:
Right.

Cathy Corison:
... when all of a sudden it's your responsibility and that's ... was the first time I encountered that. And in those days the ladders were short, because the industry was exploding so fast, that there ... a lot of us were running wineries way before we should have been.

Doug:
Okay.

Cathy Corison:
I think.

Doug:
Right.

Cathy Corison:
You know, in today's world, you- you intern and you ... and you, um, you know, be an assistant for a while.

Doug:
Four or five years, six years, something like that.

Cathy Corison:
A lot of us were coming out of Davis and running wineries right away, so that was a very steep leaning ... learning curve.

Doug:
Well that was the class, that was the group, you and Jack Stuart and John Kongsgaard and-

Cathy Corison:
[inaudible 00:15:40]

Doug:
Yeah.

Cathy Corison:
Yeah.

Doug:
Interesting. Yeah, it changed really quickly, 'cause- 'cause you guys were the guys, I mean going to Wine Tech, you were -

Cathy Corison:
So we- we learned a lot on the job.

Doug:
Yeah. And then after Yverdon, was Chapallet?

Cathy Corison:
I went to Chapallet for all the 80's. Yeah.

Doug:
For all the 80's.

Cathy Corison:
Yeah.

Doug:
And hired there as winemaker?

Cathy Corison:
Um, yup.

Doug:
So, 'cause I was thinking about Chapallet, 'cause I was thinking about you last, and, 'cause at Chapallet, I think before you, was Joe Cafaro, I think Randy Mason after Joe, or flip-flopped I'm not sure.

Cathy Corison:
No, Randy Mason was the vineyard manager.

Doug:
He was vineyard manager, okay.

Cathy Corison:
So-

Doug:
And Joe Cafaro was a winemaker for a while.

Cathy Corison:
Right.

Doug:
And then did Tony ... it was Tony after Joe?

Cathy Corison:
Joe took ... Tony took over after Joe.

Doug:
Got it.

Cathy Corison:
And Joe took over after ... Spring Mountain ...

Doug:
Oh Philip Togni.

Cathy Corison:
Philip Togni.

Doug:
Philip Togni.

Cathy Corison:
So, it was Philip Togni, then Joe Cafaro, then Tony Soter, and then me.

Doug:
And, so you're up there in the 80's, that's when you help my hand, and told me to just hang in there for a year, and then you've had some wonderful people working under you ... Well I know Mia was up there, Mia Klein.

Cathy Corison:
Yeah, my first assistant was Phillip Titus.

Doug:
Okay.

Cathy Corison:
He left for a while to, um, be a winemaker somewhere else, but when I left, we brought him back in to be the winemaker, and he's still there.

Doug:
He's still there.

Cathy Corison:
Yeah.

Doug:
Wow.

Cathy Corison:
And then Mia Klein was my second assistant winemaker, and sh- she helped me, oh, feels like three or four years.

Doug:
Right.

Cathy Corison:
And then went off to do wonderful things.

Doug:
Yes, she makes great wines. Super, so you're there for the 80's.

Cathy Corison:
Yeah. Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Doug:
Then what happens?

Cathy Corison:
It's hard to explain yet again, there was this wine inside of me, that needed to get out. I was making Cabernet from some of the best Cabernet vineyards anywhere. And I had grown very, um, attached to wines that I think of as being both powerful and elegant, and Cabernet Sauvignon is gonna be powerful no matter what you do, no matter how you grow it, no matter how you make it. But, it's especially interesting to me, at the intersection of elegance, and so I'd had the- the good fortune to make some Cabernets from the Rutherford Bench area.

Doug:
Okay.

Cathy Corison:
During the years I was making wine for other people, and I knew that, that's where I needed to go to make this wine that was in my head.

Doug:
Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Cathy Corison:
And so, toward the end of my tenure at Chapallet, I started to buy grapes in barrels, instead of cars and houses, as a very young adult. And it's-

Doug:
A dif- ... a different path.

Cathy Corison:
So, after a few years it became very difficult to do both, and so I left Chapallet at the end of that decade and, um, started to focus on my own project, and I- I- I was in six different locations before we built the winery, um, I wa- ... I was a vagabond, and basically, every move I made was to a slightly better situation-

Doug:
Got it.

Cathy Corison:
... for the wine. And, um, so- ... started to focus on my own project, but then to make ends meet, I- I was doing some consulting on the side. First with the Staglins for a couple of years.

Doug:
Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Cathy Corison:
And then for, um, for York Creek, for Fritz Maytag.

Doug:
Okay.

Cathy Corison:
That was really fun. And then, um, a little bit later for Ted Hall.

Doug:
Okay.

Cathy Corison:
Up at Long Meadow Ranch.

Doug:
Okay.

Cathy Corison:
I made ten vintages for him as well.

Doug:
Yeah, I remember that.

Cathy Corison:
Before I finally, finally, um left to do only my own wine-

Doug:
Right, 'cause you-

Cathy Corison:
... in 2003.

Doug:
'Cause you're ... But your first vintage for Corison, was '87 is that right?

Cathy Corison:
Exactly.

Doug:
So you were-

Cathy Corison:
I was still at Chapallet.

Doug:
Still at Chapallet, doing that. Was that, that probably was challenging, so, as I'm sure, the Chap- ... Don, Chapallet knew about that, was that-

Cathy Corison:
Oh, of course.

Doug:
He was-

Cathy Corison:
And Don was always very, very, um, supportive, and he's really ... he really nurtured a bunch of people that have been very successful on their own. All of us really.

Doug:
Mm-hmm (affirmative). Right, the whole gang.

Cathy Corison:
Philip Togni, Joe Cafaro, Tony Soter and me. You know, so there was something about Don that was- was very supportive.

Doug:
Mm.

Cathy Corison:
And, but, it became logistically very hard, the first of the vintages, I did both. I ... the- the vintages were very separated. I picked really early at Chapallet, and my grapes came in later.

Cathy Corison:
The second year, I wasn't so lucky, and everything came in at once, so it was very difficult to be everywhere.

Doug:
Be everywhere.

Cathy Corison:
And so after that I headed out.

Doug:
That's smart, smart. But boy, you were up on Pritchard Hill with some of the most ... your era up there, Pritchard Hill wasn't known as Pritchard Hill and the top Cabernet quality that's coming out of there now.

Cathy Corison:
Uh-Uh (negative).

Doug:
But it's still the same grapes. Were you aware that it was pretty special fruit?

Cathy Corison:
Oh Yeah.

Doug:
Yeah.

Cathy Corison:
Chapallet was some of the best Cabernet being made back then.

Doug:
Yeah.

Cathy Corison:
It was such an honor to be able to go there.

Doug:
So you're consulting, you're starting your own place, you're making wine at six different places, custom crushing, which must be a challenge. 'Cause you're dealing with cellar staff who's ... aren't your people, and-

Cathy Corison:
And you can never be the top priority in someone else's place.

Doug:
Yeah.

Cathy Corison:
It's just, it's as simple as that.

Doug:
Yeah so you start mak- ... you're making your own wine and then you- you met this guy, William Martin, 'cause all of a sudden-

Cathy Corison:
Yeah.

Doug:
... you know, Cathy's got this guy William Martin. Well, who is he? We don't know, she met him on the east coast, who, what, tell-

Cathy Corison:
He was in Boston, and I- I, um, was selling my first vintage, it was in 1990. I crushed it in '87 and it was time to sell it.

Doug:
Time to sell.

Cathy Corison:
And, so, I was, for the first time in my career, I was on my own nickel. When I would travel for Chapallet-

Doug:
Right.

Cathy Corison:
... someone else was paying for it. But I had spent the previous summer at, ah, in Ashland, Oregon, and taking a Shakespeare class, for a week. And it turned out to be mostly school teachers, who were taking it with me, and most of them were quite a bit older than I, but there was one other younger woman there, and we became very friendly. Turns out she was William's housemate in Boston, and they had a third bedroom, and so when I f- traveled-

Doug:
Traveled on the road.

Cathy Corison:
... to Boston, that very first trip. I stayed with Connie, and there he was. Connie and I have a lot in common, but it isn't food and wine, she doesn't care much about food and wine.

Doug:
Right.

Cathy Corison:
But, William, on the other hand was already nuts about food and wine, and so, um-

Doug:
I never heard that story, so-

Cathy Corison:
... he showed me around.

Doug:
He showed you around Boston.

Cathy Corison:
Yeah, and then I left to New York. You know, I was on-

Doug:
Yeah. On-

Cathy Corison:
... the first circuit.

Doug:
Right.

Cathy Corison:
Yeah.

Doug:
Um, so, your first road trip, Boston. And so, you're right on to New York. Who, who knows how many stops, you know, you had to take after that, but that had to be a, kind of a shock because you, you were a wine maker then you became a, you know, a Bingham person and wine maker, and then you bottled your own wine and now you gotta go out and sell it. What was that all about?

Cathy Corison:
Well, that's the hard part. It's different kinds of people are good at those things.

Doug:
(laughs)

Cathy Corison:
You know, there's certain people that are really good at selling things and other people are good wine makers. And, they're often not in the same person. And so um, I always like to say that I never got the memo that I should've had a degree in business. And um, and sales, you know, I just had to learn it the hard way. And frankly, I'm not that good at it.

Doug:
Oh, come on. Yes you are, Cathy. Do you know why you're good at it? Because you, you tell your story and you're straight up.

Cathy Corison:
R- right.

Doug:
You say, "These are the wines I make." And that, that speaks volumes.

Cathy Corison:
But, but, many decades later I got help from people that know how to sell. And, it really helps. (laughs)

Doug:
Okay.

Cathy Corison:
Yeah. (laughs) But if, I'm still, you know, I still do a fair amount of travel. I mean, when we, you know, I'm always in New York once a year and-

Doug:
Right.

Cathy Corison:
... basically, it's, it's easy to sell it because it's part of me.

Doug:
Right.

Cathy Corison:
Yeah.

Doug:
Yeah. Well, good. So, you're, but you're still on the road a little bit?

Cathy Corison:
A little bit.

Doug:
We all are, yeah. What- wha- ... I gotta stop from that. So, it's summertime, and you go to Ashland, Oregon, to take a week long Shakespeare class. Tell me about that.

Cathy Corison:
I've always been a theater buff.

Doug:
Got it.

Cathy Corison:
It started in college really, when the summer between junior and senior year I was ... I was studying marine biology and I spent the summer at a marine biology station-

Doug:
Okay.

Cathy Corison:
... in Coos Bay, Oregon.

Doug:
Neat.

Cathy Corison:
And on the way back, um, stood in line for tickets that were returned and- and saw some great theater up there, and it literally turned me into a theater nut. I had not studied English.

Doug:
Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Cathy Corison:
I was a biology major.

Doug:
Yeah, you ... 'cause I, yeah, that's why I was trying to figure out the literature thing.

Cathy Corison:
And I- I'd done the minimum.

Doug:
Okay.

Cathy Corison:
But it all happened later, and I've been a nut ever since. I mean one of the first couple of years I was in the Napa Valley, Berkeley Repertory Theatre did-

Doug:
Right.

Cathy Corison:
... a, um, a repertory at Robert Mondavi. And, after that I've- I've been a- a subscriber since the early 80's. William and I subscribe to ACT Berkeley Rep, we're in Ashland two or three times a year.

Doug:
Fantastic.

Cathy Corison:
Yeah.

Doug:
I never knew that, but I do remember one time I ran into you somewhere on the road, and I've- I've calmed down a little bit, but I used to ... it almost was like I think a badge of honor, it's like I can do six cities in five days, you know, that type of thing. And I was ... I was just a little bit nutty about that, but, you know -

Cathy Corison:
You were young.

Doug:
I was young, and you know, but I also had young kids, and, um, and I remember we were having ... we were at a tasting and, you know, having a beer between sessions, or something, and I was telling you my schedule, and you looked at me and you said, "Doug, why don't you just calm down a little bit?" I said, "What do you mean?" She goes, "We're in New York, you know, instead of going home on the 6:00 a.m. flight, you know, go home-"

Cathy Corison:
Go to the Met.

Doug:
"Go home and go to bed. Go home on the 6:00 p.m. flight, and- and catch a matinee tomorrow." I said, "A matinee, yeah, yeah, yeah, um, yeah."

Cathy Corison:
Go to the Met. Yeah, then do something.

Doug:
I was like-

Cathy Corison:
You're in New York.

Doug:
I was like, "No, I've got to get home, one of my had a ... has a soccer game at 2:00. I can make it." And so it was, just different, different perspective.

Cathy Corison:
Yeah.

Doug:
So William, so you met William, so that began a relationship, I'm assuming?

Cathy Corison:
It did.

Doug:
Okay.

Cathy Corison:
And a couple of years later we got married and he moved to Napa, in 1992, and, um, he's been involved in the winery ever since.

Doug:
Well he's ... I- I know he has and I was going to ask you about that, 'cause I've never kne- ... I know he's- he's ... all day long, every day. What's he do for Corison? He's the-

Cathy Corison:
Well there wouldn't be a Corison Winery without William Martin.

Doug:
Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Cathy Corison:
Um, and it's very difficult to list all the things he does. We're a Ma and Pa operation. He designed the winery and made it happen. You may not know that?

Doug:
I didn't know that, no.

Cathy Corison:
Um, he did the renovation of that ... the vi- ... the, ah, vineyard house, that's so beautiful.

Doug:
Yeah.

Cathy Corison:
He's- he's the CFO, he's the accountant and bookkeeper. He is the IT department.

Doug:
(laughs)

Cathy Corison:
He's the, um, maintenance department, he's the best forklift driver I've ever met. Grew up on a lumberyard and truly is the best forklift driver I've ever met.

Doug:
He grew up on a lumberyard? I didn't know that either.

Cathy Corison:
Yeah, in upstate New York.

Doug:
Wait till I see him next time.

Cathy Corison:
Yeah.

Doug:
Okay. That will get things to talking.

Cathy Corison:
So, ah, what else does he do? His also, you know, if we were bigger and corporate, he would probably be called the Vice President of Development.

Doug:
Okay.

Cathy Corison:
You know, he- he identified and located the property that the winery is on now in Kronos Vineyard. Um, came a point where our business was mature. We were selling what we were making.

Doug:
Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Cathy Corison:
Many years after starting and we were debt free and the-

Doug:
Wow.

Cathy Corison:
... the economy was bad, and I thought this might be a small window of opportunity and sent him off looking for bale gravelly loam between Rutherford and St. Helena. I don't ask for much. He found it, and procured it.

Doug:
Wait, wait, wait. Bale gravelly loam between Rutherford and St. Helena.

Cathy Corison:
Rutherford and St. Helena.

Doug:
Not (laughs), not a small task, for those who ... that's- that's tough, that's tough to find.

Cathy Corison:
Yeah, that's the little part of my life that I've spent my adult life, um, working in.

Doug:
'Cause that's the soil, that's the soil you wanted.

Cathy Corison:
Yeah.

Doug:
Yeah.

Cathy Corison:
So, so he identified it and procured it, and so that property, it's a wonderful vineyard, it was already an old vineyard.

Doug:
Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Cathy Corison:
Now it's almost 50 years old, and, um-

Doug:
And that's your ... that- that's-

Cathy Corison:
It was also 10 acres, so we knew that if we ever could, we could build a winery on it.

Doug:
Could build a winery.

Cathy Corison:
And so he designed the winery, and several years later we broke ground in '99. But he designed the winery and then made it happen, and, um, and then slowly over time we've been very fortunate. You and I used to share a vineyard, the Zunz Vineyard, which, um I sourced through three different owners over 30 years, and we- we had the amazing good fortune to purchase it three years ago. And William made that happen.

Doug:
I didn't know about that, until yesterday, when I was reading up on you.

Cathy Corison:
Yeah. It's a small miracle.

Doug:
That's a great vineyard.

Cathy Corison:
It's very exciting. It's a great vineyard.

Doug:
It was[inaudible 00:28:20] 's vineyard.

Cathy Corison:
And that's William.

Doug:
Krishoni then Zunds, and then someone else.

Cathy Corison:
Yeah, there's somebody in between-

Doug:
Yeah.

Cathy Corison:
... that didn't have it for very long.

Doug:
But the original property was where the Kronos Vineyard is, that's ... that's where- where- where the winery is.

Cathy Corison:
Well that was the first vineyard we owned.

Doug:
Then, that's the first one.

Cathy Corison:
Yeah.

Doug:
And that's your ... that's the Kronos bottling.

Cathy Corison:
And we've been farming that for almost a quarter century.

Doug:
Wow.

Cathy Corison:
That's hard to believe.

Doug:
That is hard to believe. So you bought the cr-, you guys bought the Kronos Vineyard, and you know, it's, it'd been planted, what type of shape was it in, how'd it look?

Cathy Corison:
Well it was old Saint George.

Doug:
Okay

Cathy Corison:
And it had been planted in 1971. So in those days the Napa Valley was very poor.

Doug:
Yes.

Cathy Corison:
And still scratching its way out of Prohibition. And so in those days, uh, grape vines were planted much more widely spaced. The tractors came over from the Central Valley and they were enormous and uh, the land was cheap and the, most of the wine went to the co-op and most of that went to Gallo.

Doug:
Mm-hmm (affirmative). Right.

Cathy Corison:
Um, so it didn't look like other vineyards. It was sort of California sprawl or what these Australians would call bush vines. And they were very far apart and they had been watered badly for a long time.

Doug:
Okay.

Cathy Corison:
Very f-, very frequently and shallowly from a hand-dug well on the property. They would hook up all eight acres in one set to this shallow well. So they were, it was as though they were growing in pots, so even though it was Saint George and it's wanted to be deeply rooted, it took many years for me to get the roots back down where they belonged so that they sort of acted more like Saint George and could mostly be dry farmed. Um ...

Doug:
And it's still that, it's still that plant, you haven't re-planted since?

Cathy Corison:
No, I so value those old vines. Oh, old vines, um, you know, everywhere else in the world they know how important the old vines are and we were just starting to learn that here in the Napa Valley when phylloxera came back through.

Doug:
Right.

Cathy Corison:
So it's a great gift to me as a winemaker to have those, those old gnarly ladies.

Doug:
Nice.

Cathy Corison:
Um, one and a quarter tenths the acre doesn't make any business sense, but it's a gift as a winemaker.

Doug:
Cool. So you guys are growing grapes, sourcing grapes. You're, you've been making wine forever. William's helping you out. He's the one that found the property, did the deal. You said he, he designed the winery, built the wine-, did he, did he build himself? No, he, or he was, he was, he was ...

Cathy Corison:
No, and in fact he's, he designed the winery. He had been involved in building things all his life.

Doug:
Okay.

Cathy Corison:
And in fact had worked in architects' offices in Boston, had been, had loved barns all his life. His grandfathers built barns in upstate New York.

Doug:
Oh, neat.

Cathy Corison:
And then that morphed into the lumberyard I mentioned earlier.

Doug:
That's where he worked, okay.

Cathy Corison:
And so he always loved barns, he, as a school project, he built a model of a barn that I think his mother had until she died. And um, I always knew, I didn't think I would have a winery, but I always knew if I did it would be a barn because we're farmers.

Doug:
Right.

Cathy Corison:
And so it just, there was this synchronicity that um ... So he designed the barn. He actually made a model of it and that was handed over to the architect. There needed to be an architect to get the use permit and, and all the, uh, building permits and things. And then because he'd been involved in, he wasn't the general, we had a general, but he was there every day.

Doug:
He was there every day. Yeah.

Cathy Corison:
Yeah. He was the co-general.

Doug:
Well, it's a beautiful building and it's, and it's incredibly unique.

Cathy Corison:
Thank you.

Doug:
And it is a barn and ...

Cathy Corison:
Well the farm had been a farm since the late 19th century and over time it had been in prunes, walnuts, and grapes that entire time without a break and the, in fact the old farmhouse was built in 1898 and so we wanted the barn to look as though it had been there since Victorian times. So he looked at all the beautiful Victorian-age barns in the valley. There's Far Niente, there's, there's the CIA Greystone, there's Trefethen. They were all designed by the same architect and he went around stud-, and studied those and basically sized the barn to our needs.

Doug:
Smart guy.

Cathy Corison:
He's a very smart guy.

Doug:
By the way, I, I don't see him enough by usually do see him on, it's either Saturday or Sunday morning running with Rosemary Cakebread on the trail. Annette used to run with her but she not running anymore.

Cathy Corison:
In those tights, yeah.

Doug:
In those tights. Well, I wasn't going to bring them up, but (laughs)

Cathy Corison:
He has, he has to custom order those because he's so tall. And so he designs those and has them made. They're pretty flashy.

Doug:
They're incredibly fla- ... I wish we had a picture of that. We should post that, but he's got the most wild colored tights and he's 6'5", so he's got really long legs.

Cathy Corison:
His legs are really long.

Doug:
Really long. He's got those tights. Well, it's good that he's wearing those because he's running along the trail. He stands out and that's, that's important.

Cathy Corison:
Nobody's gonna hit him.

Doug:
No one's going to hit that guy. (laughs)

Cathy Corison:
It's true. And then, um, then he's also, um, procured a lease on a contiguous four acres, ah, at Sunbasket, and we'll be replanting that from Syrah to Cabernet Sauvignon. So he's ... so it's- it's more than meets the eye.

Doug:
He does it all.

Cathy Corison:
Yeah.

Doug:
So, Sunbasket, that's adjacent to the Kronos?

Cathy Corison:
If you had a really good arm, you could throw a rock at it.

Doug:
Got it.

Cathy Corison:
You can see it from the winery.

Doug:
Got it.

Cathy Corison:
It's on Inglewood, so it's-

Doug:
Okay.

Cathy Corison:
I don't know.

Doug:
And, ah-

Cathy Corison:
A few hundred feet away.

Doug:
But the Criscione Vineyard, which is the one that you and I used to share, years ago, you guys were able to purchase that.

Cathy Corison:
Yeah, we've renamed it Sunbasket.

Doug:
Sunbasket.

Cathy Corison:
'Cause I remember Andre Tchelistcheff call that little corner of the world, a sun basket. You know sunny St. Helena, it's hotter there than it is any other ... any place else in the valley. The fog burns off and goes north. The fog and then goes south, and it's sunny St. Helena and, um ...

Doug:
That name came from Tchelistcheff, I didn't know that. It was-

Cathy Corison:
It came from Tchelistcheff, in is ... I can hear him say it in his broken English, The Sunbasket. So the minute we owned it, I knew what we would call it.

Doug:
Fantastic, I love that story. But talking about that vineyard, it was owned by a guy called Criscione, Joe Criscione, who was a great grower, and Cathy bought half the vineyard, Shafer bought the other half, and we'd ... we had it divvied up, so you get these rows, I get that ... those rows. And a couple of things, kind of clicked here, when I was thinking about talking with you, because I got this email from you the other day.

Cathy Corison:
You have a better memory than I do.

Doug:
And no, no, no, no, this email from just two days ago, so not a big memory. But you said ... basically your tagline underneath Cathy Corison, Corison Winery, is, "Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon 33 years of power and elegance." What you mentioned before.

Cathy Corison:
I've been chasing that all my adult life.

Doug:
And you have and you need to know, and I've told you this before, but I love your wines, I love your style.

Cathy Corison:
Thank you.

Doug:
They are unique. They're sleek, they're focused, they're racy, they are very different than your typical big rich brawny Napa Valley cab.

Cathy Corison:
Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Doug:
I think I can say that, and, um, that's your style, that's what you've been after. But I'll just-

Cathy Corison:
And I'm sticking to it.

Doug:
Yeah, and you should, 'cause it's fantastic. But I will never forget, we're, you know, 6:00 a.m., 7:00 a.m., we're out sampling grapes and, you know, I ... you and I would run into each other Criscione Vis- Vineyards ... the Sunbasket Vineyard, you know, "Yo Cath." "Hey Doug." You know, walking up and down the rows with our Ziploc baggies, picking grapes. You know, it's a nice morning, it's foggy, it's sunny. "Well if it's getting warm, getting cool, what do you think, what do you think?" And then you're like, "I'm probably gonna go, probably gonna go tomorrow, the next day, Uh, gonna pick, how about you?" And I'll be like, "Oh we're like ten days-

Cathy Corison:
Weeks.

Doug:
... two weeks away." And you would look at ... I love you, but you'd give me a look, like, "Shafer, you just don't get it." (laughs) But you wouldn't say anything, you'd say, "Okay, cool." I'd say, "Okay, cool." I knew, you know, we just had a difference of approach, and focus and style, and it was great. But I've ... adore your wines, and I adore you, and respect you and I've felt nothing but the same back from you. That was so cool.

Cathy Corison:
Well, we just have different-

Doug:
Yeah, because it's- it's ... would, it's ... But we're taking the same fruit and making totally different styles of wine, and that was cool.

Cathy Corison:
That's why wines are so interesting, is because-

Doug:
Yeah.

Cathy Corison:
... it reflects the hand that makes it.

Doug:
Yeah.

Cathy Corison:
And it's, we ... it wouldn't be so interesting if- if we all made the same thing.

Doug:
No.

Cathy Corison:
No.

Doug:
I love it. So t- ... what else are you guys making? You make ... so how many Cabs? You make-

Cathy Corison:
We're ... we- we focus, um, so founded the project with the Napa Valley Cabernet, and like I mentioned, the business was- was mature and so we kept doing that.

Doug:
Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Cathy Corison:
And layered in, on top of that, a Kronos Vineyard designate.

Doug:
Okay.

Cathy Corison:
From the very beginning, we closed escrow on that property the last day of 1995, um, I knew it would make great world class wine someday, but it did right out of the chute.

Doug:
Wow.

Cathy Corison:
And so '96 was the first vintage of the Kronos Vineyard, and it really wasn't until the 2014, that we can ... were single bottling, single vineyard bottling a little bit of the Sunbasket.

Doug:
Okay.

Cathy Corison:
It's still the core of the Napa's, so I can't, I can't take much.

Doug:
Take much, right.

Cathy Corison:
But, I've always loved that vineyard, and it's really fun to let it come out and play.

Doug:
And, ah, other varietals? Did you play with Gewürz or Rosé?

Cathy Corison:
Well, when- when we took over the vineyard from you, there was a little tiny bit of Franc.

Doug:
Okay.

Cathy Corison:
So we've been making that ever since, and now that we own it, it's a Sunbasket Vineyard does it make too, it's-

Doug:
Nice.

Cathy Corison:
... you know, something like 6 barrels. And then I make a little tiny bit of totally dry Alsation inspired Gewürztraminer from Anderson Valley. You may not even know about it.

Doug:
I don't know about that.

Cathy Corison:
It's, if you have haven't been to the winery, you don't know about it. It's only 150 cases, fun to make, fun to drink. Um, I love the wines of Alsace for the combination of the Germanic, um, aromatic white varieties, made with French sensibilities, their cultures ... their cultures a hybrid between Germany and France, their food is a hybrid, their language is hybrid, they've been traded back and forth forever.

Doug:
Hah.

Cathy Corison:
And, ah, the wines are just fabulous. They're aromatic, but they're ... they gravitas and they're great food wines.

Doug:
And they're ... and you make it dry?

Cathy Corison:
Totally dry.

Doug:
Nice.

Cathy Corison:
Of course, yeah. And, um, that's it, that's all we do.

Doug:
Nice. Focused.

Cathy Corison:
Focus.

Doug:
You mentioned, Andre Tchelistcheff.

Cathy Corison:
Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Doug:
Who, I never knew. I met him ... I'd meet him a couple of times in passing, but he didn't know who I was. Um, Elias had a chance to get to know him a little bit. Did you have a chance to work with him, and get to know him?

Cathy Corison:
I can't say I worked with him, but John Kongsgaard grew up next door to him in Napa.

Doug:
Okay.

Cathy Corison:
And, so when we would have tastings, and parties at Davis, Andre would come. Especially when it was in Napa, at John's place.

Doug:
At John's house.

Cathy Corison:
Um, Andre would come. So, I can't say I knew him well, but-

Doug:
Yeah.

Cathy Corison:
But I remember him fondly. He was a chain smoker.

Doug:
Chain Smoker.

Cathy Corison:
And he would make me feel tall.

Doug:
He's a-

Cathy Corison:
He's a little guy.

Doug:
He was a little guy.

Cathy Corison:
Yeah, and, um, he was brilliant.

Doug:
Ellia- Elias has his tuxedo.

Cathy Corison:
Oh, they're the same size.

Doug:
Same size. Isn't that cool.

Cathy Corison:
How did he get it?

Doug:
Well Andre's wife kne- knew him, and knew he adored Elias, and they were ... so.

Cathy Corison:
Ah, that just gave me the chills.

Doug:
Yeah. And so she gave him his tuxedo.

Cathy Corison:
The other thing we learned about Sunbasket, is that Andre Tchelistcheff planted it originally and- and farmed it, he ... the owner of the piece was a Russian friend, and Andre Tchelistcheff planted that vineyard. I didn't find this out until two years ago.

Doug:
You've got to be kidding me. I never knew this.

Cathy Corison:
I'm not kidding. And the grapes went to BV forever. It probably wasn't Cabernet. But we don't know what it was.

Doug:
That's wild.

Cathy Corison:
Isn't that ... and that gives me the chills. That's another reason to call it Sunbasket.

Doug:
By the way, since you've are ... have become a literary student I gotta ... if you haven't read ... Have you read, ah, Heidi Barrett's father's book?

Cathy Corison:
No.

Doug:
Richard, Richard Peterson?

Cathy Corison:
But it's on my list.

Doug:
Richard Peterson was Heidi Barrett's ... when Heidi was here we talked about ... I've got to get him in here, he's a great guy. He wrote a book, it's called, "The Winemaker." And it tracks, basically, his career from like the 50's to the 60's, starting at Gallo, ending up being Tchelistcheff's, um, or Tchelistcheff's heir apparent.

Cathy Corison:
Assis- an assistant,-

Doug:
Assistant.

Cathy Corison:
... probably for a while too.

Doug:
Well he chose him to say you're gonna take over, 'cause I'm going to retire. So he walked into BV, and it was-

Cathy Corison:
Wow.

Doug:
... held together with duct tape, and bailing wire. They had no money into it. And look who's making those fantastic wines.

Cathy Corison:
And those incredible wines.

Doug:
Incredible wines. You see, you've got to read that book.

Cathy Corison:
I will.

Doug:
You'll cry, it'll crack you up. And especially those stories about what they were doing in the, in the laboratory at Gallo. 'Cause it had all this Thompson Seedless bulk wine. What we're gonna do with it? They came up with a recipe for Thunderbird.

Cathy Corison:
I'm sure it was successful.

Doug:
And they, ah, they figured out how to make Sherry. You'd take a 100,000 gallon-

Cathy Corison:
Doesn't matter what the base wine is.

Doug:
... tank of Thompson's Seedless and you cook it for two weeks and you've got California Sherry. It was incr- crazy.

Cathy Corison:
That's amazing.

Doug:
Crazy, crazy stories. You've got to read that.

Cathy Corison:
I will.

Doug:
Good, and so, you're- you're daughters, who I watched dancing as they grew up, and now they're in their mid to young twenties, and they're still dancing.

Cathy Corison:
Their young twenties, they're 21 and 24.

Doug:
Okay.

Cathy Corison:
And the younger is still in college. I had my children very late.

Doug:
Yes.

Cathy Corison:
She's a senior studying acting at Syracuse University.

Doug:
Syracuse?

Cathy Corison:
Yeah.

Doug:
Great.

Cathy Corison:
And the- the elder graduated from Harvey Mudd a couple of years ago with a degree in engineering.

Doug:
Wow.

Cathy Corison:
And she, but she's been dancing, as you know, since she could walk.

Doug:
Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Cathy Corison:
And she's a very good dancer, and so her first year of college she studied ballet at the Dance Theatre of Harlem, in New York City. Last year she studied at Alvin Ailey in New York City. Now she's- she's back in New York and, ah, ready to- to get a gig.

Doug:
Wow, congrats.

Cathy Corison:
Starting ... She's starting to- to, ah, audition.

Doug:
And loves living in New York, probably.

Cathy Corison:
She does.

Doug:
Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Cathy Corison:
I love New York.

Doug:
Very cool. Um, how can people find your wines? What's the best way?

Cathy Corison:
We don't make a lot, it's only 2500 cases.

Doug:
Okay.

Cathy Corison:
3000 in a big year. Um, but it's ... we spread it out pretty, pretty widely.

Doug:
Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Cathy Corison:
You know, it's ... New York's a big market for us. Northern California is a big market for us. We sell a lot of wine direct to consumers.

Doug:
Do you?

Cathy Corison:
Between visitors and the internet and club, we sell a lot of wine, so-

Doug:
Great.

Cathy Corison:
... corison.com is a-

Doug:
Corison.com.

Cathy Corison:
... is a good place to look.

Doug:
Good.

Cathy Corison:
Um, we export quite a bit, we're in 13 markets right now. This is fun, to be part of the wine world.

Doug:
So, we're about to start picking grapes, what's your, um, ... One last question, what's your favorite part about making wine?

Cathy Corison:
I love being out in the vineyard, as the sun comes up, and starting to pick the grapes.

Doug:
Yeah.

Cathy Corison:
And it's almost as good, starting about 10 days ago, maybe two weeks, now every morning at the crack of dawn I sample a different vineyard. I was out there this morning.

Doug:
Right.

Cathy Corison:
And to be out there as the sun comes up is just magical.

Doug:
I'm with you. I love that one. My favorite's down in Carneros, where we grow Chardonnay, and, ah, when the sun comes up down there, it's just beautiful.

Cathy Corison:
Yeah.

Doug:
'Cause you have the sweeping panorama of the whole valley, lower valley.

Cathy Corison:
And the fog's either just about to burn off, or just really atmospheric and-

Doug:
Right.

Cathy Corison:
Yeah.

Doug:
Okay. Well let's go to bed early and get up early and go do it again.

Cathy Corison:
Yup.

Doug:
Thanks for coming Cathy.

Cathy Corison:
So good to be here, thanks.

Doug:
A lot of fun, thanks.