Colgin Cellar's Ann Barry Colgin believes research and development is everything in the wine business. As the statuesque Texas native walks through her magnificent and incredibly well stocked wine cellar where she keeps her private collection, she points out wines from all over the world; from Burgundy and Bordeaux regions of France to Super Tuscans from Italy and wines from the Central Coast of California
. There are wines that date back to 1889 and there are large format bottles as well, including an enormous one that contains 18 liters of wine, which is the equivalent to two cases.
"I firmly believe that you need to know a great wine in order to make a great wine," says Colgin, whose background is in the art, antiques and auction world. "It is very important for our wine making team to get to taste wines from around the world, especially wines for which we produce like varietals. Every successful company should have a research and development component."
Not surprisingly, Colgin Cellars, which is located on a secluded mountaintop in the Pritchard Hill area of St. Helena, has a research and development program that would likely impress even a Fortune 500 company. Each bottle in Colgin’s cellar is labeled with a bar code that is programmed into proprietary software, including information on how much was paid for the wine; but even more importantly, its precise location in the cellar where more than 15,000 bottles are stored. Interestingly, the program does not include tasting notes nor does it reveal exactly when the optimal time is to open a bottle.
"Perfect maturity is a matter of opinion," says Colgin, who opened her winery in 1992. "People have different opinions about when to drink different wines. For example, the British like older champagne that most Americans are not partial to. So when you look at a chart about when to drink a wine, you are only getting that one critic’s opinion. Of course, we do miss the boat on some things. It is hard not to."
Colgin’s attention to detail is paying off. Her 120-acre winery, which she owns with her husband, investment banker Joe Wender, specializes in small production, hand-crafted ultra-premium red wines including Bordeaux-style blends and Cabernet Sauvignon, has developed a cult-like status among wine enthusiasts and collectors alike.
The four wines Colgin Cellars produces include 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 uses neo-classical winemaking methods such as producing in small yields, gentle handling, attentive sorting and meticulous blending, all under the direction of Winemaker Allison Tauziet.
Many of Colgin’s wines have received rave reviews, including a rare 100 point score from wine connoisseur and critic, Robert Parker on more than one occasion. In fact over the years, 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.
But don’t go looking for Colgin’s wines in your local wine shop. Unlike most other wineries that distribute to retailers, Colgin sells 70% of its production of 2,600 to 2,800 cases of wine each year to 8,000 clients on its mailing list. The remainder is distributed to select restaurants in the U.S., Europe and Asia with a small portion being archived in Colgin’s private library.
It should come as no surprise, then, that Colgin’s first-growth wines sell extremely well at auction. According to the Wine Spectator Auction Index, earlier this year the 2007 vintage of IX Estate Red, Colgin’s most recent release, sold for $610 per bottle and a low price of $363. Not a bad return, considering the wine is priced at $290 per bottle upon release. But since mailing list clients can purchase no more than three or six bottles during each vintage, few are ever willing to part with their tiny distribution even with the lofty prices the wine can fetch at auction.
If you aren’t already on Colgin’s mailing list, buying at auction or finding a restaurant that stocks it might be your only opportunity to taste these award-winning wines. While there are more than 3,000 people on a wait list to be on Colgin’s mailing list which, according to Colgin, can take as long as three years to clear, she encourages anyone interested to sign up immediately. No one gets to jump the wait list, however, including the Mercedes dealer who offered Colgin a new car in exchange for bumping him up on the mailing list.
One other way to buy Colgin’s wines is to attend one of the many charity auctions to which she generously donates. 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 more times, raising $1 million dollars for charity.
It is clear there are many other wine connoisseurs around the world who wholeheartedly agree with the esteemed Robert Parker who referred to Colgin’s IX Estate in The Wine Advocate
"as close to a viticultural nirvana as I’ve ever seen." Visit ColginCellars.com
to learn more.