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Cult Cabernet Winemaker Shakeup

Photo by: Greg Gorman

Posted: Feb 16, 2007 2:01pm ET

Two of Napa Valley’s cult Cabernet producers rotated winemakers this week.

Mark Aubert, who had been consulting winemaker at Colgin since 1999, is leaving and will now be overseeing the winemaking at Bryant Family Vineyard, according to owner Don Bryant. "I consider [Aubert] the top winemaker in California," Bryant told me.

Allison Tauziet, who has been Colgin's assistant winemaker, is taking over for Aubert at the winery. That makes the change merely an extension of the "Colgin team," proprietor Ann Colgin said.

She did not comment explicitly on why Aubert departed, but it may be a result of Aubert taking on Bryant as a client. “I think having a consulting winemaker was great," Colgin said, "but now we're a bigger winery and we need a full-time winemaker." Colgin makes several top Cabernets and a Syrah from both estate-grown and purchased grapes.

Aubert also has his own self-named label, under which he makes Sonoma Chardonnays and Pinot Noirs that consistently earn classic and outstanding scores.

At Bryant, Aubert rejoins David Abreu (who also worked at Colgin), who is returning as vineyard manager. Additionally, Aubert continues to follow the trail of Helen Turley, who he replaced at Colgin in 1999. He was also her successor earlier at Peter Michael, where he spent a decade crafting its highly regarded Chardonnays and Les Pavots Cabernet-based blend. Turley had been Bryant's winemaker from the early days, helping to create one of the state's greatest Cabernets, until she departed in 2002 in a high-profile dispute that ended up in court.

Aubert is replacing Philippe Melka, a Bordeaux-born and -trained winemaker who took over at Bryant immediately after Turley's departure. Melka consults for several Napa wineries (his clients have included Caldwell, Hundred Acre, Lail, Marston, Quintessa, Seavey and Vineyard 29) and produces his own wine under the Matisse label.

"I needed to give Philippe a chance, but I think he has 20 clients," Bryant told me. "Twenty clients is too many, in my opinion. And our vineyards and winery need more attention, and he understands that."

Melka acknowleged, "We had a difference of opinion in winemaking style, which is fine. It just didn't work out."

David A Zajac
February 16, 2007 4:58pm ET
Rotating winemakers doesn't surprise me, its too bad Mark is leaving Colgin, I love his wines and have been on his as well as the Colgin list for some time. I dropped off Bryant's list as the wines he had been making over the last several vintages (at least since 1998) have not been up to snuff for what he charges and to be fair, he should have declassified 2001 entirely. Oh well, I will miss his skills at Colgin, hopefully he was a good teacher and Allison a good student.
Roy Piper
Napa, CA. —  February 16, 2007 8:36pm ET
Melka does not consult for Quintessa and has not for more than three years. I know this because I work there.
David Nerland
Scottsdale —  February 16, 2007 10:12pm ET
I would like to see Mark Aubert at Screaming Eagle. He is one of the top winemakers in the US, I think he could improve Screaming Eagle. But that decision is up to Mr. Banks. The Aubert/Abreu combination at Bryant is a win/win deal. Bryant is very fortunate to have both of them on board.
Charles Banks
February 17, 2007 1:35pm ET
David, Mark is an excellent winemaker and we did interview him (he was one of the first calls I received after we closed). I have an excellent relationship with Andy Erickson and I put him in the same class as Mark. Abreu and Andy also have a good relationship, so give us some time to make you feel better. In the meantime (and as a consumer), I am looking forward to the future of Bryant Family! CB
Bryan Bucari
Baton Rouge, LA —  February 17, 2007 2:40pm ET
Roy read what James wrote again...it says have included; it doesn't say still includes.
Roy Piper
Napa, CA. —  February 17, 2007 11:11pm ET
Ahhhh, thank you Bryan! My error.
Arshavir Kouladjian
Los Angeles, California —  February 19, 2007 1:01am ET
Bryant family seems to be a mean winery.
The case with Turley was awful, since she did make the 1996 and 1997, which are the greatest cab's ever made.
I don't want to see Bryant Family come back to the top cult status. Bryant Family and Maya have been both knocked off the list and should stay that way.
David A Zajac
February 19, 2007 10:12am ET
Arshavir, I tend to agree, but won't go that far. I have to say, their 1994 - 1997 wines were simply stunning, probably as good as any Cali Cabs ever made. From 1998 - 2001, the last vintage I tasted, they were disappointing from a price/quality standpoint. At $200+ per bottle, I expect classic every year. In my humble opinion, the 2001 was a complete bust and should never have been bottled and sold for $250/bottle or whatever it sold for. I was an original member of their mailing list, and got kicked off after not taking my 2001 allocation, so I don't feel sorry for them either and their fall from grace in recent vintages doesn't exactly hurt my feelings. Not taking one vintage and getting booted, that is disgusting, especially for what they put in the bottle that year. I can live without them, but those 94 - 97's are really something!
Robert Yett
Walnut Creek —  February 19, 2007 11:30pm ET
Charles, great choice in getting Andy Erickson. He's very impressive as I became aware of him at Staglin and Hartwell. Probably an "unfair" comparison but I tasted 2003 Screaming Eagle since it was near the 2002 Opus table at a trade event. I have to admit that I was very impressed with the Opus - not Screaming Eagle. With Andy at the helm, you've scored a major coup. He's passionate and very capable. Can't wait...Best of luck!!
Mr Randy Beranek
Napa, CA —  February 20, 2007 4:18pm ET
Robert let me join you in congratulating Charles on his selection of Andy Erickson. His track record stacks up well with anyone making in the valley today. I had a chance to visit with him (and taste!) at a recent visit to Ovid. He clearly has great vision but also a candor and humility one doesn't always expect to see among today's elite winemakers.
Joseph Byrne
Gardiner NY —  March 19, 2007 4:46pm ET
Its odd that Don Bryant mentions Philippe Melka has 20 clients when Bryant's other consultant Michel Rolland "might" have a little more. Sounds like Philippe Melka is probably right in saying its just a difference of opinions. I hope Mark Aubert works out there okay and can continue making great wine on his own terms. Joe

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