Sunday, March 13, 2011

Corte Riva Vineyards - award-winning wines from a Philippine family Napa Winery

Some Napa winemakers are continuing a family tradition started by their parents or grandparents.  Others are descended from generations of winemakers originally from Italy or France.  And others made a boatload of money in other industries and purchased a Napa winery to enjoy later in life.  But one of the unique wineries in Napa was started by a couple friends who emigrated from the Philippines in the late 1970’s.  They did not bring with them a winemaking tradition, but they did come with a strong philosophy of hard work, dedication and a belief in the American dream. 

Lawrence Cortez and Romel Rivera initially arrived in different parts of California but began a friendship in the Calistoga region of Napa County, where they both were literally starting from the ground up working the vineyards tending grapes.  These friends eventually became family with the marriage of Lawrence to Romel’s cousin Nieves.  As Lawrence and Romel were working the vineyards they began to experiment making their own wines drawing upon their combined experiences and extensive knowledge they picked up working in the industry.  They knew that the grapes from Napa were special due to the volcanic soil stressing the vines resulting in small, tight, well-structured berry clusters. 
Friends and family encouraged them to create their own winery.  The name Corte Riva is from their two names, Cortez and Rivera.  Friends and family have been extremely important to these two friends during their adventure.  Visiting with them at the home of Lawrence and Nieves, the friends and their family were constructing the magnificent home themselves.  Remember that at the same time, they were building their own winery and each working their other jobs, Lawrence as cellar master at Pride Mountain Vineyards, and Romel as their assistant winemaker.  This hard work and dedication is what allowed them to achieve their American dream. 

At a recent tasting event, they served four of their wines.

The 2005 Merlot is from three high-end vineyards in the Calistoga area.  In reference to the movie Sideways, I remember once seeing a sign at the entrance to Napa Valley that said, “Miles evidently never tasted a Napa Valley Merlot!”   This Merlot definitely shows you what a Napa Valley Merlot can be.  It has an intense nose of dense fruits including blackberry, black cherry and cranberry, along with toast and leather notes.  As you taste the wine these same flavors shine through with spices and a touch of chocolate.  You will love the full bodied style and juicy jammy qualities that lead to a nice long finish.  
This wine won 91 points from Robert Parker and has a price of $50.

Corte Riva 2006 Cabernet Franc is produced with grapes from both Sonoma (65%) and Napa (35%).  This is a wine that provides the flavors and pleasures from the beginning to the end.  Starting as a deep ruby/purple color, you will enjoy the dark fruits, black cherry, menthol and cedar on the nose with a touch of milk chocolate.  As you taste the wine you will experience a wine with a great mixture of dark fruit, spice, pepper, and texture.  The spice is a bit milder than you would normally find on a Cab Franc giving it better balance and complexity than normally found in similar wines.  The long finish continues to provide you with additional flavors.   The price is $50.

The 2005 Corte Riva Cabernet Sauvignon also has a blend of Sonoma (29%) and Napa (71%) fruit.  The Napa grapes are from the Cargile Vineyard and Sonoma grapes come from Carneros.  The powerful nose delivers a nice blend of dark fruit, spice, earthiness and a bit of herbaceous notes.  The complexity of flavors continues to deliver, leading to a medium plus finish.  This wine was rated 93 points from Robert Parker and has a price is $65.

We finished up the night with a 2005 Petite Sirah.  This wine is a blend of grapes from Lake County (70%) and Napa’s Solari Vineyards (30%).  Lake is well known for producing Petite Sirah grapes that result in high class wines.  This is another wine rated highly by Robert Parker who gave it 92 points.  While the nose was not as intense as this reviewer has found for other Petite Sirah’s, it really came through on the palate with raspberry, black cherry, blueberry, licorice and smoke.  The spiciness was very rich and really struck the back of your throat, delivering pepper, cinnamon, clove and even some leather.  It has a complex finish and a price of $50.

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  1. I recently tried two of their wines, a Merlot and a Cabernet. All I can say is they were wonderful. Very balanced. Nothing was too overpowering. I work as a live sound engineer as a hobby, and drinking Corte Riva wine was like listening to a really good live concert. After living in the Sonoma Valley for over 20 years...I think I may have found my favorite wine makers!

    JP M.

  2. wines are now appreciated by filipinos. they have online ordering system called