Cornelius Robert Collins is a valued guest writer here on the blog. He is providing the historic expertise, insights and experience I don’t have after only collecting and tasting Burgundies for 25 years.
I’m very pleased and honored to have a knowledgable expert like Bob contributing to blog – and looking forward to follow the posts.
Biography: Cornelius Robert Collins
“How a San francisco wine merchant became a disciple of Burgundy”
First, how did you become a wine merchant in San Francisco? I knew a little bit about wine and needed a job.
This was 1974, and the job was a chance to sell wine in San Francisco for a huge Wine warehouse, one of the first in the nation. The timing was perfect. They needed a wine guy,and more by accident than not, I fit the bill. It was an era when the scandal in Bordeaux and recession in America required aggressive answers. The proprietor had liquidated his wine inventory and was poised to scoop up fine wine at distress prices. This became the tool I used to increase the knowledge and the invitation to attend numerous tastings. Overnight I became a player in the most sophisticated wine market in America.
Opportunities came fast after that. By February 1976 the chance came to work for the most sophisticated wine Merchant/ Importer in San Francisco, Draper & Esquin. That summer, I collected my cash and headed to Europe to learn first hand the French mystery called wine.
The import industry then was mostly Bordeaux. But my interest had been perked with some excellent Burgundies, very hard to find in San Francisco. My first stop was Beaune. Armed with a few important introductions, I arrived for a few days. It stretched into weeks. I went to Bordeaux, but then came back again. I took copious notes. By the end of the summer, I was back in San Francisco, where Jerry Draper offered me a job as the head buyer for the company.
I was the Burgundy expert, since I had notes and photos of current production. By Christmas, I was offered the cellar master job at the prestigious Vintners Club of San Francisco, and my next trip to Beaune was paid by the Company. My University degree is in Journalism, so I naturally became the writer and photographer for the Catalogs of Draper, considered by many the reference standard of wine Journalism. I also contributed various newspapers and magazines.
But it was a complicated time. Burgundy was in the middle of a crisis, lax winemaking and overcropping were exposed by a series of poor vintages. California was in the middle of explosive growth, but Cabernet was king.
For the first time, Chardonnay suddenly bounded in popularity, so Burgundy became important there. The end of the decade, the market nearly disappeared as the dollar plummeted against the French Franc, a victim of the Vietnam war recession and the political scandals of Watergate.
Though all this, my affiliation with Burgundy never wavered. In many ways the artisanal approach was similar to the fledgling industry in Northern California. Pioneers here were making progress with Pinot Noir as well as Chardonnay.
I continued to spend time in Beaune. Suddenly the French Franc collapsed, and for a moment Burgundy was cheap. 1982 sold as fast as one could hope for. As the economy recovered, 1985 arrived on the scene. It was all anyone could have hoped for.
Burgundy took a major foothold in California. 1987, another recession in America, but the industry had matured and survived. By the beginning of the 1990s, I was time for me to found my own company to import the wines of Burgundy. It was the beginning of a wave of popularity for Pinot Noir that hasn’t abated. My wife and I spent weeks at a time searching though the cellars of the Cote. We tried to pass on our knowledge as humbly as we could, the benefits of a wealth of experience.
The negatives have existed. In 1976, my first example of a fake bottle of Burgundy appeared. As an offshoot of my wine buying, I became expert in how to identify counterfeit bottles. I was named as an expert witness in the 1990s for civil lawsuits. Two years ago, I became the only American authentication expert to testify for a criminal counterfeit case in Federal court.
1967 – University of Oregon BS Journalism with photojournalism minor.
1968-1969 – Combat photographer Vietnam, Journalist
1970 – Journalist photographer UPI – during Kent State protests
1972- 1974 -Commercial air ambulance pilot, airshows
1974-1976 – Wine purchasing agent Ernies Corporation
1976-1980 -Buyer, manager, Draper and Esquin , Cellarmaster Vintners club SF
1981-1984 – VP Medford Lumber Co., Formula Atlantic race car driver
1985- 1992 – VP Draper and Esquin, Wine Imports
1993 – present – President, CEO, Old Vine Inc.
2005 – present – Legal consultant and Expert witness, numerous law firms
C. Robert Collins