Colgin Cellars - Press - Red-Hot California Cult Wineries Fight Fakes With High Tech

Red-Hot California Cult Wineries Fight Fakes With High Tech

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Friday, March 30, 2007

March 30 (Bloomberg) — Colgin Cellars, whose over-the-top cabernets from California's Napa Valley sell at auction for hundreds of dollars, is the first "cult" winery to say it's fighting off potential fakes with new technology from Kodak.

Owner Ann Colgin just signed a deal with the company's security solutions division. Though the former Sotheby's auctioneer says she's not aware of any Colgin counterfeits out in the marketplace, "the problem has been an issue on my radar for some time."

In the growing concern about fake wines, most attention has focused on blue-chip Bordeaux and Burgundy and rare old bottles. But California's in-demand cult cabs and cab blends, such as Colgin, Harlan Estate and Screaming Eagle, are prime targets: They're made in minuscule quantities and sell for $200 to $500 a bottle only to subscribers on mailing lists, some of whom flip them for two to four times the price.

Kodak already has had discussions with other winemakers, though the company won't describe the details of Colgin's security system. (Ann Colgin also refused, citing signed non-disclosure agreements.) Kodak's Web site says the company's Traceless system, marketed as an anti-counterfeit solution to the drug industry, could be used to protect "premium wines." It uses invisible markers that can be mixed with printing inks or paper and are detectable only with proprietary portable readers. These are leased to clients and can't be opened without bein damaged.

Hard to Find

Colgin is one of a handful of cult wineries started in the flush 1990s, when their ultra-expensive, hard-to-obtain bottles were discovered by dot-com millionaires. Now more than 200 labels with tiny productions aim for similar cult status.

Today 3,000 people are waiting for a spot to open on Colgin's
mailing list of 2,300. The winery's 2,500-case annual production of five wines includes the much sought-after Herb Lamb Vineyard Cabernet. The 1997 is now trading at auction for about $800 a bottle...

... Whether cult wines are worth the high prices is another matter. I've been impressed with the exotic 2002 Colgin Herb Lamb Vineyard Cabernet ($650), and I've long been a big fan of the seamless, glossy Harlan Estate (2001, $1,000; 2003, $700). My rare encounters with Screaming Eagle haven't convinced me it's worth twice Harlan's price. On the other hand, at $2,000, the 2001 is cheaper than the Bordeaux cult 2000 Le Pin ($3,400).

But back to Colgin. Surely Kodak's challenge was to improve upon Ann Colgin's own marker. At auctions where she's been present, successful bidders often asked her to sign their Colgin bottle. Famous for her trademark bright red lipstick, Colgin started a tradition of kissing the label, leaving an impossible-to-fake lip print.

 By Elm McCoy