Colgin Cellars - Press - Rare Vintage

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Tuesday, January 22, 2002

Former Neopolitan Ann Colgin's wines are so sought after, even she can't provide them past their vintage years

How's this for a trade, Ann? I'll give you one new Mercedes sports utility vehicle for one case of wine.

While the invoice of the Mercedes exceeded $35,000 and the initial price of the wine was around $1,000, this wasn't just any wine. It was the 1994 vintage of Colgin Cellars' Cabernet Sauvignon from the Herb Lamb Vineyard, Ann Barry Colgin's Napa Valley operation. Wines from Colgin Cellars are some of the most sought-after bottles made in California.

Ann Colgin in her Tychson Hill Vineyard during the 1999 harvest

Colgin couldn't make the trade, however. She didn't have any wine available to give the Mercedes owner. That's because the annual production of this wine usually runs about 300 cases and there are more than 4,000 people waiting to get on the mailing list — which is now closed — to get hold of one of them.

In addition to enjoying terrific wine, the owner of the Mercedes wouldn't have fared too badly on a monetary basis in the long term. About four years ago, a case of the 1994 Colgin sold for $16,100, a record price for a California wine at a commercial auction at the time. It's no doubt worth much more today.

Colgin will be in Naples next weekend to act as the auctioneer for the second annual Winter Wine Festival at the Ritz Carlton at Tiburon. Not only does Colgin run her Napa Valley, Calif. winery, but she also serves as a consultant for Sotheby's Wine Department.

Last year, the Festival raised $2.2 million for the two principal charities of its Naples Children and Education Foundation, the Boys and Girls Club of Collier County and Youth Haven. The Festival's $2.9 million in gross bids for lots of wine and other luxury items made it the second highest grossing charity wine auction in the country in just its first year.

Colgin says this accomplishment is "totally remarkable. They really know how to throw a party."

As an auctioneer, Colgin says she has "never been involved in an event where there has been so much excitement in the (auction) tent and so many bidders. When you look at most charity events, there are a small percentage of buyers compared to the whole event. Naples was really smart in getting the right people to come to the event, limiting the numbers so the tent wasn't completely filled with people who just came to party."

Colgin adds that the people are so "generous in Naples that they all got on the band wagon last year and bid those lots up to huge levels. The reason people are spending so much money at this event is because it's for children."

About 450 people are expected to attend the celebrity vintner/chef dinners held Friday at the homes of the 18 Naples families who founded the event. Among the vintners are names like Dick Grace of Grace Family Vineyards and Jean Phillips of Screaming Eagle; the celebrity chefs include such names as Thomas Keller of The French Laundry, Norman van Aken of Norman's, Coral Gable; The auction will follow on Saturday with 67 lots up for auction that include the world's finest wines, and luxury trips, dinners and cars. A $5,000 donation is required to participate in the event.

One of those lots is a 1992-1997 vertical magnum collection of Colgin Cabernet Sauvignon. Last November, a 1992-1997 vertical of the regular .750 liter size bottles was auctioned in London for $5,100. It is expected that the vertical magnum collection offered at the Winter Wine Festival will go for anywhere from four to 10 times that amount.

Colgin is no stranger to the Naples area. An avid arts and antiques enthusiast, Colgin was president of a local fine arts company from 1985 to 1997. Born in Waco, Tex., Colgin earned her undergraduate degree at Vanderbilt University and received her Masters of Arts from New York University. She also completed the Sotheby's Decorative Works of Art Course in London, England.

She founded Colgin Cellars in 1992. Colgin's first vintages were made by famed Napa Valley wine consultant Helen Turley. In 1999, Mark Aubert, who made his reputation at the Peter Michael Winery in California's Sonoma County, took over for Turley, who had consulting commitments at other wineries.

"I wanted a winemaker who would be very focused on my particular project," says Colgin in explaining the change of winemakers. "Mark is unbelievably talented."

Colgin Cellars' Cabernet Sauvignon was an immediate hit with wine critics and consumers alike. Robert M. Parker, Jr., publisher of The Wine Advocate and perhaps the world's most influential wine critic, gave Colgin's 1993 vintage 95 points, the 1994, 1995 and 1996 vintages 97 points, and the 1997 bottling 99 points.

Parker described the 1997 Colgin as being "saturated black/purple with a knock-out nose of blackberries, blueberries, lavender, licorice and toast. This is a profound, full-bodied Cabernet Sauvignon. It displays a seamless, velvety texture, layers of concentrated fruit, and a 45+ second finish."

With comments like these, Colgin Cellars joined the ranks of California's "cult" red wines that include Harlan Estate, Screaming Eagle, Araujo Estate Wines, Bryant Family Vineyards and Abreu Vineyards. As this tiny production wine could only be purchased from the mailing list, it became nearly impossible to get, although it does appear on the wine lists of a few select restaurants.

The 1999 vintage of the Colgin Herb Lamb vineyard Cabernet will cost $150 a bottle upon release to the fortunate people on the winery's mailing list. Many purchasers buy it for investment purposes, often re-selling the wine for much higher prices on the eBay website or at auction. Other bottles go into private collections to be admired and showcased to friends, rather than consumed and enjoyed by true wine lovers.

Does this bother Colgin?

"It's not really a problem or something a producer should dwell on. Once out in the marketplace, they have a life of their own," she says.

Colgin adds, "It's unfortunate that people do sell them because they are missing out on an opportunity" to drink a great wine. "I would prefer people on the mailing list buy them to drink them, particularly because of our extensive waiting list."

While agreeing that her wine is higher priced than many others in the marketplace &#151 although quite a bit less than other cult California Cabernets like Harlan and Abreu &#151 Colgin insists that it is a "bargain in terms of quality" and is very fairly priced relative to wines being made and sold in other regions, notably Bordeaux.

Amidst reports of a large amount of unsold wine backing up in the market due to a softening economy, recent vintages that have been less than stellar and high retail prices, Colgin reports there is no lack of demand for "wine on the high end" nor a reduction in prices. Limited-production wines with the reputation of a Colgin are simply "not affected by what's going on in the economy."

Colgin Cellars wine lovers, and those who want to be, will have a better chance to secure wine from this producer. A new Cabernet Sauvignon (300 cases) from the Napa Valley's Tychson Hill Vineyard is being made and the 2000 vintage will be released shortly. Colgin feels an affinity for this vineyard, having recently rebuilt a historic home in St. Helena, Calif., once owned by Josephine Tychson. Tychson is Napa Valley's first female vintner and the founder of the Freemark Abbey Winery.

Colgin also has purchased 20 acres on Pritchard Hill in Napa. That property has recently been cleared of rocks and boulders to facilitate planting. She also is building her own winemaking facility to "have all of her production under one roof and total quality control."

While Colgin Cellars is one of the most well-respected wineries in California, if not the world, Colgin says her business is an "extremely costly endeavor. There's no profit in this game whatsoever. I will not live long enough to see a profit from this."

Hopefully, that won't be the case. But those who drink her wine in the coming years can count on a a handsome return on investment.

Meet the vintners

One of the unique features of the Naples Winter Wine Festival, now in its second year, is its pre-auction evening of elegant dinners at private homes for which food from selected chefs around the country is partnered with wine from selected vintners or vintner duos. These dinners give patrons the opportunity to sample wines from vintners with a long heritage of wine development or a following so strong their boutique wines aren't often available. A number of the vintners from the inaugural festival have returned for the 2002 festival, as have a number of the chefs. Vintners this year include the following from California, France, Italy and Spain:

Bart and Daphne Araujo: Known for intensely flavored Cabernet Sauvignons, the couple's Araujo Estate Wines has been producing wine in the Napa Valley for more than 30 years.

Pablo Alvarez: Owner of Vega Sicilia in Ribera del Duero, Spain, Alvarez commands a customer base three generations deep. By choice, less than 35 percent of his wines are exported.

Ann Barry Colgin: Owner of Colgin Cellars in Napa Valley, has won a reputation for her hand-crafted Cabernet Sauvignon and a waiting list for her vintages.

Rosa and Norman de Leuze: ZD Wines, their family vineyard in the Napa Valley, has taken 342 awards for its vintages.

Grace and Ken Evenstad and Jean-Noel and Marketta Fourmeaux: Owners of Domaine Serene, an Oregon vineyard, the couple, who recently purchased a home in Naples, have honed their winemaking skills on Pinot Noir After their move from France to Napa Valley in 1980, Jean-Noel and Marketta Fourmeaux built their American reputation on their Zinfandel, Cabernet Sauvignon and two whites, Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc.

Dick Grace: With his wife Ann, Grace is owner of Grace Family Vineyards, with a long history, numerous accolades and a reputation for sharing the harvest with charitable causes. He was the honored vintner at the festival last year.

Bill and Deborah Harlan: Proprietors of Harlan Estate, founded in 1984, they specialize in classic varietals such as Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc and Petite Verdot on their 36 Napa Valley acres.

Bob and Pat Long and Robert Pecota: Long Vineyards, their successful small winery in the Napa Valley specializes in Cabernet Sauvignon, Pinot Grigio and Sangiovese. Founder of Robert Pecota Vineyards in the Napa Valley, Pecota is involved in every aspect of his winery from tending the grapes to production and sales.

Michael Mondavi: Son of the famous winemaking Robert Mondavi family, Mondavi has been part of its introduction of French Oak to American winemaking, its decision to go public and its pioneering of cold fermentation.

Giovanni Manetti: The Italian vintner, owner of Fontodi Winery in the Panzano region, produces wines that Wine Spectator magazine calls "the future of what Chiantis should be."

Count Stephane von Neipperg and Jeff and Valerie Boyd Gargiulo: Chateau Canon La-Gaffeliere and La Mondotte near St. Emilion in France are owned by von Neipperg's family, which has been in the wine business since the 13th century. The Gargiulos have just begun to produce Bordeaux varietals developed through the developmental help of viticultural wizard Laurie Wood.

Gil and Beth Nickel: Proprietor of Far Niente in Napa Valley, conducted research, Gil Nickel made wine at home, enrolled in enology courses and spent three years restoring the historic land on which his vineyard is based. Nickel is the honored vintner at the festival this year.

Shari and Garen Staglin: Founders of the Staglin Vineyard, a 62-acre estate in Rutherford, Calif., the couple and their children specialize in Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay and Sangiovese vineyards, which they have nurtured for the last 16 years.

Clarke and Elizabeth Swanson: Part-time Naples residents, the Swansons' goal has been make Napa Valley's best red table wine, and their Alexis wine, according to Wine Spectator magazine, is a success that "defies varietal definition."

Alexandre and Francois Thienpont: Between Francois Thienpont's handling of all Grand Crux Bordeaux from France and Alexandre Thienpont's attention to Les Pin and Vieux Chateau, the two are full immersed in the best French winemaking tradition.

Delia Viader: At one time a philosophy student at the Sorbonne University in Paris, her Napa Valley vineyards and winery won Wine Spectator's designation as Cabernet No. 2 in the world last year.

 By Marc Posner