Colgin Cellars: A Retrospective and the 2018 New Releases

The Colgin Winery and the IX Estate Vineyard

© Photo provided

The Colgin Winery and the IX Estate Vineyard

The Colgin Winery and the IX Estate Vineyard

© Photo provided

“I beg of you, please do not call us a cult wine,” pleaded Paul Roberts as he introduced Colgin Cellars. “Because when you are a cult, you are hot, then you are not. And we have just made our 30th vintage.” Roberts is a master sommelier and chief operating officer of Colgin Cellars and he had a message to get across: that despite the hype and the prices – a three-bottle-case of any 2018 Colgin new release retails at £1,425/US$1,608 plus excise duty and tax – Colgin bottles are not mere fashion must-buys but wines with a past, present and future.

Rare success

Roberts described the estate’s founder Ann Colgin as “a Texas girl who got into wine in London” when she was working in the art department at Christie’s. She then changed over to Sotheby’s for whom she ran the US West Coast wine department in the late 1980s and early 1990s and discovered the wines of Napa Valley at an auction in 1988. This led to her founding her own estate – initially with bought-in grapes – and a first wine release in 1995. It was in 2005 that American critic Robert Parker named Colgin Cellars as one of the “Fifty Greatest Wine Estates in the World,” giving several wines his top scores. Since then, the reputation as a “cult” wine has certainly stuck. The small production of just 40,000 to 45,000 bottles a year does nothing to diminish it, either.

Three pillars

When Colgin was scouting for her ideal vineyards, Napa Valley was still a region in transition and most plantings were still on the valley floor or much higher up on the hillsides. Inspired by some classic European regions, Colgin was looking for vineyards that were mid-slope: “She wanted to capture the fruit of Napa Valley but do it in an elegant and fresh form,” Roberts said and noted there were three pillars at Colgin Cellars: “we want to craft wines of perfume, freshness and minerality.” He emphasised how easy ripeness was to achieve in Napa Valley and that natural freshness was a key aim. This was achieved by favouring eastern or western exposures of their vineyard sites rather than full south exposure.

The vineyards

Roberts presented wines from three single vineyards: Tychson Hill, Cariad and IX Estate. Tychson Hill is a historic vineyard just outside the town of St Helena, originally planted in 1860. In the 1880s it was sold to Josephine Tychson – the first female winery owner in Napa Valley. Phylloxera later destroyed the vineyard and if lay fallow until it was replanted by Colgin. The site is very hot in the day and very cold at night, its soils is of weathered volcanic rock. The Tychson Hill wines were the most ethereal and elegant of the three sites. The second site, Cariad, planted in 1980 on volcanic soils with round gravels from a former riverbed uplifted by geological movement, gives a rounder, richer expression of fruit with pristine notes of dark berries. The IX Estate – the home vineyard surrounding the winery – is at an elevation of 375m/1,230ft and 200,00 tons of rock (approx, 181,000 metric tons) had to be removed to plant this 8 hectare/44.5 acre vineyard in the early 2000s. For years, Roberts said, the site with its subsoil of old lava flow had been “considered to cool and too rocky.” Its wines are characterised by structure, firmness, density and an exquisite, layered savouriness with some maturity.

Complexity and balance

Colgin Cellars’ stated aims of freshness, perfume and minerality were certainly achieved – so was the aim of absolute site expression and character. Astonishingly, all the wines have alcohol levels between 14.9% and 15.6% ABV – but none of this sticks out. On the contrary, there is a rare balance and despite all the power also real elegance. The mature vintages show that it is worth laying these wines down.