Finding Collier Falls Vineyards takes either some advance planning or just a very lucky break.
The family-owned winery is located in the far northwest corner of Sonoma County’s Dry Creek Valley – definitely off the beaten path. You either have to know where you’re going (MapQuest is of little help in this rural area) or accidentally run into it.
But it’s worth seeking out, because it’s producing some wonderful, distinctive wines from the grapes grown in its hillside vineyards.
Much of the credit goes to winemaker Cecile Lemerle Derbes, who grew up in Reims, France, and spent a lot of her spare time in the family’s Champagne region vineyards. Before she was old enough to drink wine, she already was very experienced at growing Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Petit Meunier grapes.
After earning degrees in Viticulture and Enology at the University of Reims, she went to work making Champagne for Bollinger and Jacquart. In 1991, she moved to California and joined the Schug family’s winery in the Carneros region. A brief stay at F. Korbel (which specializes in sparkling wine) was followed by a stint at Golan Heights Winery in Israel. Then it was back to California for a big step up in her career: Director of Wine Production at Napa Valley’s Opus One.
After marrying, moving to Healdsburg and giving birth to twins, Cecile wanted to stay closer to home. That’s when she joined Collier Falls, where she could practice her craft and still get home at a reasonable hour. It has been a perfect fit for her and for Collier Falls proprietors Barry and Susan Collier.
During her studies in France and via her vineyard and cellar experience in three countries, Cecile has come to believe that there is no “recipe” for successful winemaking.
“Great wine starts with great grapes,” she asserts. “The vintage will dictate the winemaking protocol – respecting and reflecting the quality of the grapes in the wine.”
Little wonder the wines of Collier Falls are so sublime. They’re the result of exceptional grapes being entrusted to an artisan winemaker.