By Tim Carl Nov 15, 2018 for the Napa Valley Register
Cornell Vineyards is physically located in Sonoma, just a mile or so beyond the Napa Valley’s Spring Mountain American Viticultural Area off St. Helena Road. But given the team’s pedigree and the style of wine — big, voluptuous yet elegant Cabernet Sauvignons — one might just assume this is a new high-end, small-lot Napa Valley wine producer.
Over nearly 20 years, the creators, Henry and Vanessa Cornell, have quietly built a foundation that might not only produce exceptional wines but may also hold a key for creating an ethos where care for both the land and the people working on it go hand in hand.
“We purchased the first property here back in 2000, which was 115 acres, but we’ve been fortunate enough to add to that and now own about 250 acres, 20 of which we’ve planted in grapes,” Henry Cornell said. “But we believe that the first vineyards were planted here back in the late 1800s, when a stagecoach road traversed the property. When we got here those vineyards had laid fallow since Prohibition.”
Although a few well-known wineries are near the Cornell Vineyards — Fisher, Pride and Philip Togni — the area remains less explored than the valleys on either side.
“The western slope of Spring Mountain is largely undiscovered territory,” Cornell said. “And every year, our experimentation reveals new insights — one of which is that we can create an environment that is both conducive to growing the finest wine grapes but also a place where the people working here can have improved lives, take care of their children, have healthcare and find a balance between living and working.”
Beyond purchasing the property, the Cornells set out to find the finest winemaking and vineyard teams to help them design and plant their vineyards and make their wines.
Most recently, they’ve hired winemaker Françoise Peschon (former winemaker at Araujo Estate and consulting winemaker at Accendo and Vine Hill Ranch) to oversee a complete makeover from the prior winemaking team. Peschon brought in Elizabeth Tangney (viticulturist and winemaker who worked formerly with winemaker Aaron Pott) and vineyard expert Phil Coturri, who created the plan to redevelop the property and convert the estate to organic farming.
Today, all farming is certified organic and done in-house, guided by the team that includes Armando Hernández (formerly at Terra Valentine), the vineyard manager who lives on the property with his family.
“We have plans to build a winery that is sensitive to the environment — we’ve designed a water system that actually puts more water into the aquifer than it takes from it, which is important to us and our neighbors,” Cornell said.