Monday, August 01, 2011
Napa Valley's Ann Colgin revels in the art of winemaking and a passion for giving back.
"I had no desire to make a lot of wine," Ann Colgin says. "I just wanted to make the best wine possible."
As we walk through the property on Napa Valley's Pritchard Hill, it's obvious she has succeeded in accomplishing both goals. The production of Colgin Cellars is tiny, no more than 3,000 cases in a good vintage. The elegant, intensely crafted reds have become some of Napa's most sought-after cult wines, with a waiting list of wine lovers seeking a spot on her coveted mailing list.
For more than a decade, the headquarters of Colgin Cellars has been at IX Estate - named for the ninth parcel of the Long Family Partnership, which came up for sale in 1998. Ann and her husband, Joe Wender, were married on September 9 (or 9/9), adding a romantic tinge to their attachment to the property. The 125-acre estate benefits from the cooling effect of nearby Lake Hennessey, with the surrounding mountains protecting it from high winds.
"I had always been looking for a pristine piece of mountain property," she says. "This location allowed us to carve out a 30-acre vineyard on an east-facing slope that is perfect for red wine varieties, such as Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Petit Verdot and Syrah."
To Naples residents, Colgin is best known for her support of the Winter Wine Festival. She was familiar with the area, having done business in Naples during her previous career as an art dealer. When friends approached her during the initial planning stages of the event, she became involved immediately. Although she participates in other charitable causes around the country, the Naples Winter Wine Festival has a special meaning for her.
"They had the vision of taking a wine auction and turning it into something that focused on the best of the best around the world," she explains. "At the same time, they were committed to making a real contribution to the community by giving back."
She has served as auctioneer under the tent since the Festival's inaugural year in 2001, and anyone who has seen her in action has memories of her dynamic performance. Colgin is a master at extracting the maximum from bidders, cheerfully goading them and playing them off against each other to achieve the highest sums for the area's underprivileged children. As an experienced auctioneer, she's continually amazed by the generosity of the Naples bidders.
"The competition among friends is one of the most remarkable things about the event," she says. "At most charity auctions, other bidders will back off if they see someone is really interested in a particular lot. In Naples, they egg each other on and drive up the bid - they all really want to write a check that will benefit children in need."
Back on Pritchard Hill, Colgin presides over a facility where her four wines are aged and bottled; they include Tychson Hill Cabernet Sauvignon (from her vineyard named for Josephine Tychson, California's first female winemaker), the IX Estate and Cariad Napa Valley Red wines (both blends), and the IX Estate Syrah. The gravity-flow winery was meticulously designed to ensure a graceful and natural product, and the emphasis is on selection - the grapes are sorted twice before being fermented, "to give the wine clarity and focus." The 16,000-square-foot facility includes space for entertaining guests, as well as two cellars - the Colgin Library cellar and the couple's personal collection - which house dozens of large-format bottles earmarked for donation to charity events.
The roster of Colgin's team reads like a Who's Who of the wine world. Her vines were planted by celebrated vineyard manager David Abreu, and Bordeaux consultant Dr. Alain Raynaud works on an exclusive basis with the property. The wine is made by Allison Tauziet, who trained in France before stints at Domaine Chandon and Far Niente.
During our visit in February, we were fortunate to taste both the 2008 IX Estate Syrah and Napa Valley Red wine, neither of which has been released. The blended red displayed powerful tannins and a range of rich, dark fruits, along with a distinct herbal edge. The Syrah was virtually perfect - concentrated yet seamless, with good acidity and remarkably ripe and attractive fruit.
As the Wine Festival approaches its twelfth year (January 27-29, 2012), poised to break the $100 million barrier in total money raised, Colgin is optimistic about the future. She's continually impressed by the way the Festival monitors and manages the funds it raises.
"It's been a difficult two or three years," she acknowledges, "but the people who come to the Festival understand the need to continue what they started. The most important thing is the way the trustees make sure they get results for their donations. For me, the heart of the Festival is Friday's 'Meet the Kids' tour and grant luncheon. Donors have the opportunity to meet the recipients, and witness the impact their contributions are making. Collier County is very much a place of haves and have-nots, and the Festival has changed the lives of so many children.
"Meeting the children makes you realize that many of them come from homes where there is no future, and a lot of them now have a future because of what the Festival is doing," Colgin says. "This is extremely important today, when many people are being more careful with their charitable dollars, and it's one of the reasons the Festival will prosper through its second decade."