Colgin Cellars - Press - Robb Report - BEST OF THE BEST 2004

Robb Report - BEST OF THE BEST 2004

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Tuesday, June 01, 2004


A legacy of enduring taste and beauty

The pioneer spirit takes many forms, and pioneers themselves have many faces. One of Napa Valley's most intrepid trailblazers bore rather delicate, refined features; yet these incidentals belied the determined heart that beat beneath. Josephine Marlin was a native of San Lorenzo, Calif., who married a Danish immigrant farmer by the name of John Tychson. The couple's move to St. Helena in 1881 was, in part, inspired by their mutual dream of making wine in this sun-drenched setting, but also by a darker fact: John had contracted tuberculosis. For $8,500, the couple bought 26 acres with a few vineyards planted, and together, they worked to expand the concern. But these healthful influences did not slow John's decline, and he died before construction of the winery began. Josephine broke ground in 1886 on the modest building that would house Tychson cellars. The fledgling operation produced zinfandel, Riesling, and a blend that Josephine called "Burgundy" for eight years, after which she sold the winery. Eventually, the property was absorbed into what is now Freemark Abbey, but the original acreage, known as Tychson Hill, still bears the couples name, and Josephine remains the first woman ever to operate a winery in California.

Her legacy resonates in the careers of other gifted women who have followed her, but none more so than in Ann Colgin's. Born in Texas and educated at Vanderbilt and New York University, Colgin worked at Sotheby's as an art expert and antiquarian before founding Colgin Cellars in 1992. She combines taste, sensitivity, and a love of beauty with the determination that has enabled her to make her label one of the most sought after in America — qualities of which Josephine would no doubt have approved. Their spiritual kinship is reflected in Colgin's painstaking restoration of the nearly collapsed Tychson farmhouse, which she and her husband, Joe Wender, rebuilt from the foundation up. Yet Colgin's most fitting tribute to Josephine's achievements can be found in the small vineyard that adjoins the houses gardens, the first wine from which she released in October 2003.

The Tychson Hill Cabernet Sauvignon stands out for its compelling synthesis of strength and subtle harmonies. Despite difficult conditions in the 2000 vintage, the very best California producers (including Harlan Estate, Shafer Vineyards, and Sonoma's Vérité) nevertheless created spectacular wines — a fact that merely underscores Colgin and winemaker Mark Aubert's achievement. Tremendous yet balanced tannins provide the structure over which a bounty of flavors — black cherry, creamy vanilla, sprinklings of nutmeg, and wood-spice — unfurls like dark, rich, variegated vines. The experience lingers, lasts-but not as long as Colgin's own contributions to Napa's ever-evolving history will.

 By Brett Anderson