Founded in the early 1970’s, Conn Creek was among a small group of wineries leading a renaissance of the Napa Valley, and played an important part in establishing Napa Valley’s reputation as a fine wine growing region.
When Bill and Kathy Collins purchased 54 acres of Zinfandel vines in northern Napa Valley in 1968, there was not much of a market for fine wine in the U.S. But at the time they were content hauling the grapes down to their Los Altos Hills home and making wine in a friend’s basement. Little did they know that in less than a decade they’d make a wine that Robert Parker would call “one of the great classics of the seventies, as well as a testament to what heights California Cabernet Sauvignon can achieve."
That was the 1974 Conn Creek Eisele Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon, and it was the beginning of Conn Creek’s enduring commitment to Bordeaux-styled red wines. Bill and Kathy always knew they wanted to make Cabernet Sauvignon; Kathy became enamored of the varietal when she taught school in France, and Bill, an Annapolis Naval Academy graduate and electronics executive whose travels often took him to France, recognized early on that Napa Valley had the ideal climate and topography for Cabernet. So in addition to replacing the non-producing Zinfandel vines in their own vineyard with Bordeaux varieties, they began sourcing Cabernet Sauvignon from other Napa Valley grape growers.
It proved to be a good strategy. Through the seventies and into the mid-eighties when they eventually sold the winery, Conn Creek made some of the most highly acclaimed wines in California, including several from the Collins’ own vineyard.
By 1979, they outgrew the facility they’d been leasing for several years. So Bill Collins, working primarily with his vineyard crew, built what is now the Conn Creek Winery in the Rutherford appellation. In what was perhaps the first “green” winery building in Napa Valley, they installed 12”-thick walls made of styrofoam, steel mesh, gunite and a total of 20,000 corks. This energy-efficient design--ground-breaking for its time--drew the attention of architects from all over the world. Variations on this type of construction have been used in buildings and wineries worldwide ever since.
“Napa Valley was a close-knit community in the early 1970’s. Whether you wanted to borrow a tractor or just needed some advice, people were always happy to help.”