Monday, October 17, 2011
St. Helena, Ca.-based Colgin Cellars, which specializes in small production, hand-crafted ultra-premium red wines, is a rare breed in the industry. Not only are its wines delicious to drink, but they are also an investment worth considering.
Colgin Cellars employs a rare strategy in the industry. Unlike most other wineries that distribute to retailers, this winery sells only to select restaurants and 8,000 individual clients who are fortunate enough to be on its mailing list.
The strategy works well for Ann Barry Colgin, who founded the winery in 1992. Indeed, Colgin’s red wines, which include Bordeaux-style blends and Cabernet Sauvignon, have developed a cult-like status among wine enthusiasts and collectors alike.
As the winery only sells its wine in very small quantities, it is no wonder there is so much demand. According to Colgin, clients on the mailing list can purchase no more than three or six bottles during each vintage. “And more than half of our production (about 70%) is sold to the mailing list,” she says. The rest is distributed to restaurants in the U.S., Europe and Asia with a small portion being archived in Colgin’s library. Not only does the winery sell out its production of 2,600 to 2,800 cases of wine each year, but there are 3,000 names on the wait list to be on the mailing list that will likely take as long as three years to clear.
The 120-acre winery, which Colgin owns with her husband, investment banker Joe Wender, is located at IX Estate, high above Lake Hennessey on a secluded mountaintop in the Pritchard Hill area of St. Helena. The winery produces four wines: Tychson Hill Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon ($290 a bottle), Cariad Napa Valley Red Wine ($290 a bottle), IX Estate Napa Valley Red Wine ($290 a bottle) and IX Estate Syrah ($175 a bottle). Colgin is known for producing its wine with neo-classical winemaking methods, small yields, gentle handling, attentive sorting and meticulous blending under the direction of Winemaker Allison Tauziet. It is easy to understand why Colgin’s wines are in such high demand. Many have receive rave reviews, including a rare 100 point score from wine connoisseur and critic Robert Parkeron more than one occasion. In fact Parker has given five of Colgin’s wines perfect 100 scores, including the 2006 IX Estate Red, 2007 IX Estate Red, 2002 Tychson Hill, 2007 Cariad and 2005 Cariad. Many others have received 97, 98, and 99 scores, as well.
At auction, Colgin’s first-growth wines are extremely sought after. This year, the 2007 vintage of IX Estate Red (Colgin’s most recent release), sold at auction for a high price of $610 per bottle and a low price of $363, according to the Wine Spectator Auction Index. Not a bad return, considering the wine is priced at $290 per bottle upon release. “2007 was a brilliant vintage,” explains Colgin, “It was a winemakers dream. The weather was very accommodating during the growing season which resulted in luscious, rich generous wines even at an early age.”
While Colgin is not producing wine specifically to be an investment for her buyers, it is likely there is no other winery owner who understands the auction business better than she. Colgin received a M.A. at New York University, before working for Christie’s in its client services department. She later served as president of Fairchild’s Fine Art and currently serves as a consultant to Sotheby’s Wine Department. In her spare time, she often serves as a wine auctioneer at charity events.
At the 2010 Auction Napa Valley charity wine sale, Colgin offered a rare vertical of every vintage produced thus far of Cariad (1999-2006) in magnum, along with a special tasting at her home. The lot sold for $250,000 before the auctioneer realized that there were three other interested bidders at that price. Colgin generously donated her lot three times over, raising $1 million dollars for charity. That’s an impressive investment considering the wine was bottled in 2004.
It should come as no wonder, then, that Robert Parker has described Colgin’s IX Estate “as close to a viticultural nirvana as I’ve ever seen.”