California's Next Super-Consultant
Interview with Mark Aubert, winemaker
for Peter Michael and Colgin
(May 28, 1999) Mark Aubert is an easy choice for Napa Valley's man of the
As winemaker for Peter Michael Winery, he crafted some of
America's most acclaimed Chardonnays for nearly a decade. Then this spring, he scored a
smash with Cabernet Sauvignon. Sure, the 1994 Peter Michael "Les Pavots" was
terrific -- but the 1996 and 1997 are off the charts. They're among the top wines I tasted
this spring, of any variety, from anywhere.
1996 PETER MICHAEL "LES PAVOTS" has just been released
and it's well worth the search.
If that weren't enough, Mark recently announced that he'll
be leaving Peter Michael and taking over the winemaking for Napa Valley's ultra-cult-Cab
Colgin. He replaces Helen Turley, who quit Colgin at the beginning of April.
But Colgin is just one of several new projects. Clearly,
he's of a mind to become Napa Valley's next super-consultant and his timing looks pretty
good. Reigning stars Turley and Tony Soter both seem to be throttling back, in order to
concentrate more on their own labels.
On May 10 and 21st, Mark and I talked about all the above
and how he got there.
You may want to read this interview in several sittings,
so I've broken it up into bite-sized sections. You can read it all the way through or hop
to the parts that catch your interest.
Click on any heading below to jump to that section:
1. What's in store at Colgin?
2. Coming soon...the next cult red?
3. The next great region for California Chardonnay and
4. Teen life in 1970s Napa Valley: "We didn't
drink beer, we drank Champagne!"
5. Plotting a wine revolution at the "University
of All Seasons"
6. How to make a great unfiltered Chardonnay:
"Basically, you do nothing. But..."
7. The new vineyards at Peter Michael
8. The story behind the new Les Pavots Cabs
9. Report on the 1998 vintage
10. Clone vs. terroir. What's more important?
11. POSTSCRIPT: August 2001 Mark Aubert
Part 1. What's happening at Colgin?
APJ: First of all, congratulations on your Colgin appointment. When do you start
MA: I've already started. Helen left April 1 and we bottled the 1997 Colgin mid-April.
I supervised the bottling for that. No filtration. It was done in about a day.
APJ: So this will be the second time you've succeeded Helen Turley as winemaker.
MA: Everyone's saying that! But yes, she was the winemaker at Peter Michael before me.
She hired me.
APJ: How did the Colgin job come about?
MA: Ann Colgin and I have been talking on and off for some time now. Since last summer.
Then Helen left on the first of April and things moved fast. I had to hit the ground
APJ: Will there be any changes of direction?
MA: Ill try to bring the ripeness up just a little bit more. One of Ann
Colgins complaints to me was that she thought Bryant [another Napa Valley cult Cab]
was getting more attention from Helen.
So were going to pump up the ripeness, maybe a few
tenths higher. Maybe get to a potential alcohol of 14.5%, as a mind-set.
It will depend on vintage conditions. But 14.5% is achievable.
The Herb Lamb vineyard is a bit older, so the fruit matures at a slower rate. It
shouldnt be a problem.
APJ: Please tell me 1997 is a big vintage for Colgin!
MA: Well, we bottled, what -- 420 cases? Not bad. The size will get better, dont
APJ: 95 was tiny.
MA: 1995 was minuscule. 96 was no big deal. Quantities in 98 are going to
be really bad. Theres about half as much. But then Tychson Hill will be coming on
APJ: Tychson. That's Colgin's new estate vineyard, right?
MA: Yes, and I'm really excited by it. Tychson Hill will be Colgin's first estate wine
and the site is just beautiful for Cabernet. It's a real rock pile and the vines are
spaced really tight. Meter by 6 feet.
APJ: And David Abreu planted it?
MA: Yes, he's the vineyard manager. Part of the team. David will deliver the fruit and
Ill make the wine.
APJ: Nice team!
MA: And with Ann Colgin doing the marketing, its a powerhouse. A lot of fun with
this group! Shes the most warm and courteous person in this business.
APJ: Tell me again where Tychson Hill vineyard is?
MA: Tychson is off Highway 29, about two blocks up from the Grace Family Vineyard 29
Rockland. Kind of across the street from Freemark Abbey winery.
APJ: On the mountain side of the road.
MA: Yes, and the soil is great there. It's a volcanic composite called Aiken.
APJ: Where is Herb Lamb?
MA: Its over East on the other side of the valley. The base of Howell Mountain,
off Deer Park road. I would guess the elevation is about 800-1,000 feet with a northeast
APJ; Do you anticipate different vinification problems with each site? I mean, would
the Herb Lamb fruit be intrinsically a little more tannic?
"Herb Lamb is planted on AXR rootstock...the phylloxera will get
in there eventually..."
MA: Well, one problem is that Herb Lamb is planted on AXR rootstock, which will have to
be addressed eventually -- the phylloxera will get in there eventually.
I would guess that the Tychson is going to be a little softer.
Because of the tighter vine-spacing. So there will be a smaller crop load per vine, which
lets us fine-tune more easily.
APJ: What are Anns eventual goals for production levels?
MA: Tychson Hill is small. Its going to produce about 500 cases. And the Herb
Lamb is 500.
But there will be another vineyard too. I cant give you
particulars about it until next year, but I assure you its a great location.
Part 2. Coming soon...the next cult red?
APJ: I also hear youve got another new winemaking venture.
MA: Yes. Its a new Cab called Sloan. The owner is a Seattle businessman named
Stuart Sloan who has a residence here in Napa Valley. He has a 15 acre vineyard up above
Auberge de Soleil in Rutherford. Its on Auberge road up in the high bench in the
Stuart wants to come in and do it right from the get-go. David
Abreu planted the vineyard. Its spaced meter by 6 feet.
He hired me as his winemaker. I was very intrigued by the
property. I really believe in these single-vineyard appellations and I saw this as an
APJ: So what is the Sloan vineyard planted to?
MA: The four Bordeaux varieties -- Cabernet, Merlot, Cab Franc and Petit Verdot.
Were going to do them like nobody else has done. With emphasis on the vineyard and
incredibly low yields. The vineyard is basically sitting on a bunch of rocks. Stuart wants
the small yields and he's planted the right way to achieve them.
We anticipate 750-1,000 cases. Our first harvest will be the
year 2,000. And its an incredibly exciting project because I think this is one of
those places that will be admired much like Screaming Eagle, Colgin, Araujo, Harlan...
Well be using the long macerations like Harlan does. And
with David on board managing the vineyard, were going to have an amazing repertoire
of fruit to work from.
The house is beautiful. A true Chateau, with the winery
underneath. I think well be producing some very substantial and influential wines.
[UPDATE: Mark saw Sloan through the 2000
vintage and has since gone on to other projects. See our August
2001 Mark Aubert Update]
Part 3. California's greatest region
for Chardonnay and Pinot Noir?
APJ: But that's not all you have going. You're going to have your own label, yes?
MA: Right, Aubert Wines.
APJ: I hear youll be making your own Pinot Noir....
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