Article By: Harvey Finkel
And we are better for it. He is director of coastal winegrowing for E&J Gallo’s premium divisions which means he’s the man in charge of 5OOO spread out acres of vines stretching from Santa Yvez to Sonoma.
One might also call him a go-between. On one hand he’s acutely conscious of the need to fit the grape variety to the terroir and of the obligation to nurture the land and the environment. Gallo has made a massive commitment to what’s come to be known as sustainability. On the other hand Collins works closely with the winemakers, so that they receive the fruit they need in the condition they want. Besides the distance and diversity, among other complexity of Collins’s responsibilities are the health and welfare of his workers. I would guess that César Chávez is resting easy.
Collins, now age 5O, has been master of Gallo’s coastal California vineyards for six years. He is a native Californian. After studying agriculture and economics at California Polytechnic State University in San Luis Obispo, he ranched and grew grapes in California, Texas and Washington before taking this job.
A major focus of Jim Collins’ empires is Frei Brothers, centered in Healdsburg in Sonoma County, with vineyards, all in Sonoma, the Russian River Valley, Dry Creek Valley, and Alexander Valley. This is a property with a bit of history. In 1885, a gold miner named Charles Dunz established a large vineyard in Sonoma County, planting mataro (mourvëdre), riesling, zinfandel and others. Health failing, Dunz sold to Andrew Frei, a San Francisco furniture merchant, in 189O. After ups, downs, and ups, in 19O3 Frei turned his wine business over to his sons, Walter and Louis – thus Frei Brothers. Continuing to produce grapes of high quality, its produce was purchased in toto by Julio Gallo after the 193Os. E&J Gallo bought Frei Brothers in 1978.
Frei Brothers now makes six wines, all designated as reserves (Italian winegrowers might wonder how there a riserva absent a normale.) The Syrah is grown at MacMurray Ranch, another prime Gallo Sonoma property. Much of the Pinot Noir is supplied by independent growers in the very cool Green Valley subdivision of the Russian River Valley. The rest are grown in Frei vineyards. Jim Collins is the unifying force, integrating these and the other coastal properties.
SAUVIGNON BLANC 2OO7 RUSSIAN RIVER VALLEY
A polished wine, with citrus highlights, grassy halftones, abundant full fruit, and long finish. $2O
CHARDONNAY 2OO6 RUSSIAN RIVER VALLEY
Cool barrel fermentation and oak aging for five months on the lees, with full malolactic fermentation. Contains 4 percent Sauvignon Blanc. Oak nicely integrated with fruit in nose and mouth. Good balance and finish. Very tasty fruit. $2O
PINOT NOIR 2OO5 RUSSIAN RIVER VALLEY
Contains 3 percent Syrah. Oak aged two years. Fragrant. Balanced, long; very tasty fruit, which grows in the glass. $3O
MERLOT 2OO5 DRY CREEK VALLEY
Contains 7 percent Cabernet Sauvignon. Six months in European oak barrels. Fruity and long. No hint of green or vegetal under ripeness. Not complex. $3O
SYRAH 2OO6 RUSSIAN RIVER VALLEY
Contains 3 percent Petite Sirah. Aged more than seven months in mixed oak barrels. Dark. Concentrated fruit, with some spice (probably from the oak). Plenty of soft tannins. $24
CABERNET SAUVIGNON 2OO5 ALEXANDER VALLEY
Contains 3 percent Merlot. Mixture of oak barrels for 14 months. Fine fruit, with good oak integration, good balance and finish. Has complexity. $25