Colgin Cellars - Press - Expectations are high at the top for wine producers

Expectations are high at the top for wine producers

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Wednesday, August 07, 2013

Most of us live in a world where our daily plonk rarely exceeds $15. Maybe on a special occasion, we may spend $50 for a French champagne or a crus bourgeois from Bordeaux. The thought of paying $200 or more for a prestigious wine is out of the question. And, could anyone weaned on $15 plonk appreciate the difference anyway?

Those thoughts crossed Tom's mind as he sat before a vertical tasting of five Colgin's heralded IX Estate Red wines from Pritchard Hill in Napa Valley. A bottle of the current vintage cost $490 and there are 2,000 people on a waiting list to get it.

The wine is unquestionably extraordinary - among the best Tom has ever tasted. But in order TO appreciate this wine, one needs to first understand how it is made and what Ann Barry Colgin and her staff are aiming to achieve: "the best of the best."

Colgin and her husband Joe Wender, an investment banker, launched their 20-acre vineyard in 1992 on an improbable mountaintop site overlooking Lake Hennessey near St. Helena. It took dynamite and 12 pieces of heavy equipment to clear the site of huge rocks. Elevation ranges from 1,150 to 1,350 feet.

Getting the soil fertile enough for perfect grapes did not come quickly or easily. Although the amount of capital they invested is undisclosed, the profits from the sale of their high-priced wine probably has yet to cover their costs.

Colgin says, "Great sites produce great wine. Even in a bad year we can make great wine, just less of it."

The vineyards are the most meticulously maintained vineyards we've ever seen. They are managed by well-respected David Abreu. Dr. Alain Raynaud of France is a consultant and her talented winemaker is Allison Tauziet. The production of grapes is gravity-fed in a unique facility so attractive that it would appeal to a bride-to-be.

Colgin is an art collector, which is evident in the creatively decorated facility that overlooks the vineyards and accommodates special tastings. She also worked for Christie's where she gained an understanding of the high-end wine market. It is not a coincidence, then, that her appreciation for fine art and wine prompted her to aim high in making her own wine.

She is very relaxed and confident when she greeted a group of winemakers. Her two dogs joined her at the table but were more interested in posing for cameras than tasting what was in the glass.

All of this gloss could be a facade in the hands of someone else, but the proof of the investment can be found in the glass. Since it's first vintage, five Colgin wines scored a perfect 100 by Robert Parker's Wine Advocate. Among them were the 2006 and 2007 IX Estate Red that Tom tasted. "IX" represents Parcel 9, the name of the property Colgin purchased for their vineyards.

Colgin operates on a level of its own and we would love to say the wines aren't worth the money. But it's all perspective. They are worth what the market will bear and with a waiting line at the door, Colgin has proven they are worth a lot of money.

As Colgin says, "My husband says I'm not a cheap date."

Colgin doesn't like to think of her wine as "cult," but it is exclusive. You'd be hard pressed to find it locally. For well-heeled collectors that scarcity is all the more reason to own it. Most likely, you'll find it in fine restaurants - Colgin's primary target.

We know most of readers are unable to afford these wines and may wonder why we even write about them. But for us they redefine quality. Were they that much better than some of the Bordeaux we tasted? Absolutely. Colgin's IX Estate Red is as good as many first-growth Bordeaux that we have enjoyed over the years. It isn't surprising that Colgin enjoys Bordeaux and is committed to achieving the same quality in her own wines. Her personal cellar contains top-drawer French wines, like La Tache, Latour, Lafite-Rothschild and the like.

The oldest IX Estate we tasted was from the 2005 vintage and it could still use a few more years of cellaring. But its exquisite, complex character and perfect balance revealed a pedigree we rarely see in wine.

Colgin's challenge is not making just good wine, but making consitently good wine year after year. When you reach the top, the expectation is high no matter how bad the vintage. The challenge is for Colgin is to remain on top.

 By Tom Marquardt and Patrick Darr