Thursday, April 01, 2010
When Ann Colgin, a private art-and-antiques dealer with a Christie's pedigree and a master's in arts from New York University, started producing Napa Valley wine at a custom-crush facility with her then husband Paul Schrader in 1992, she helped form a movement that would change California's standing in the wine world - and change the wine world along with it.
Alongside Bryant Family Vineyards, Harlan Estate, Screaming Eagle Winery and Vineyards, and Araujo Estate, among others, Colgin Cellars had the good fortune to hit the market with a few hundred cases of high-end Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet blends just as the dot-com movement was beginning to boom. Silicon Valley's successful young executives had money to spend and the same disdain for traditional wine valuations as they did for conventional corporate mores. Rather than first-growth Bordeaux or rarified Burgundy, they gravitated to these new bottlings from up Highway 101 that seemed all the more alluring because of their scarcity. (With her first vintage, Colgin started selling most of the wine from a mailing list). It didn't hurt that Robert Parker was handing out scores in the mid-to high 90s.
From a standing start, without a track record, these cult Cabernets soon ranked among the most highly valued wines in the world - the vinuous equivalent of Google, Yahoo!, and Amazon.com. Colgin was offered a Mercedes SUV in exchange for a case of Herb Lamb Vineyard Cabernet (she declined), and the auction price for a bottle of the most favored vintages soared to over $1,000. In recent years, the cult-wine phenomenon has spread to Spain, Italy, and even Bordeaux, but the California Cabernets remain the most visible evidence that the law of supply and demand can keep wine prices high and that Parker's clout with American consumers hasn't waned. Even in this difficult economy, Colgin's mailing list has a four-year wait.
Unlike many of the world's leading producers, Colgin is neither winemaker-oriented (it has employed three lead enologists: Helen Turley, Mark Aubert, and now Allison Tauziet) nor tied to any specific vineyard (it has sourced grapes from five different sites, only two of which are estate properties). Instead, its guiding force has been the unwavering vision of Colgin (she and Schrader divorced in 1997.) From the start, she believed it was possible to make wines that combined the sturdiness and class of great Bordeaux with the consistent ripeness of Napa fruit. Her first wines were criticized as being too fruit-forward to age well, but such criticism has diminished as the winery has accumulated a track record. "This year will be my 18th vintage," Colgin says. "I'm no longer the new kid." She now welcomes the opportunity to show off her earliest releases, which show no evidence of decline.