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Copyright © 2018
Forkmedia LLC


by Fred McMillin
for November 3, 2000


Winery of the Week

Where Are the Women?


Corison Wines 
In the late 1960s, if a woman was seen in a Napa Valley winery, it was usually behind a typewriter. A few got behind sales counters, then into the labs. There were a few pioneering women who became winemakers, including Cathy Corison at the Chappellet winery.

...James Conaway's book titled Napa

How did it go for Cathy during her decade at Chappellet?

Historian Charles Sullivan—Critics complained of a lack of consistency at Chappellet until Cathy Corison took over in 1981.

Napa Expert Jame Laube—The 1984, 1985 and 1986 Cabernets are rich and concentrated. Chappellet is fully back on track.

This Is NOT Your Boutique of the WEAK!

With that track record, Cathy launched her own Corison Cabernet in 1987. How did she manage to acquire a vineyard and a winery so abruptly?

She didn't. She knew the central Napa growers well, and where there was excess winery capacity. So, she bought her grapes and rented the use of a winery. At less than 2,000 cases, it was clearly a boutique effort, but just as clearly, NOT a boutique of the weak. She made only Cabernet from prime Rutherford-area grapes, complemented with 100% French oak. Professor John Baxevanis' appraisal of her first vintages is typical of the critical reaction: "This former cellar rat at Freemark Abbey and winemaker at Chappellet, now makes her own wines and they are getting better and better year after year, hopefully forever."

Recent Vintages

1992—Kathy wrote me about this vintage four years ago (see signature). My panel gave it a HIGHLY RECOMMENDED.
1996—The panel moved this one up to EXCELLENT.
1997—They just gave this one Best of Tasting and a rating of EXCELLENT.

And here is some of that promise of further improvements: Cathy has bought a 9-acre Cab vineyard in the heart of the valley. We understand that before too long she will be creating those wonderful wines in her own winery.

Just the Facts

Corison Wines
Owner—Cathy Corison
Winemaker—Cathy Corison
Address—P.O. Box 427, St. Helena, Napa Valley, CA
Contact—Susan Achtman, (707) 963-0826, FAX (707) 963-4906
Character of Her Cabs—Full-blown, concentrated, nothing-held-back, demand one's attention.
Purchases—Ideally, buy at least two, one to drink this year and one in 2006. Also, a glorious gift for the holiday season.
Price—$50 range


After earning degrees first in biology and then enology (U.C.-Davis), this pioneering female had some of her very first experiences with Rutherford-area Cabernet grapes at the venerable Freemark Abbey Winery.

How appropriate, since the timbered floor of the Freemark Abby Winery gift shop was once the ceiling of the 1886 winery of Josephine Tychson, the Napa Valley's first female winemaer!

Research Assistance—Dr. Judith Taylor


About the Writer

Fred McMillin, a veteran wine writer, has taught wine history for 30 years on three continents. In 1995, the Academy of Wine Communications honored Fred with one of only 22 Certificates of Commendation awarded to American wine writers. For information about the wine courses he teaches every month at either San Francisco State University or San Francisco City College (Fort Mason Division), please fax him at (415) 567-4468.



This page created November 2000