The Calaveras wine industry has lost a great mentor, innovator, vineyard manager and friend. Stephen Collum, 64, the founder of Murphys-based Vineyard Concepts consulting and management company, passed suddenly on August 11th at St. Joseph’s Hospital in Stockton.
“Steve was the driving force for bringing education, enthusiasm and commitment to improving and excelling in all things related to the vineyard. As a winemaker, working with Steve not only directly resulted in improving the quality of my wines, but he was a delight to be around. A truly stellar human, one of the best. He will be sorely missed by myself and our entire community,” shares Kate Boyle-MacDonald, winemaker and owner of Boyle-MacDonald Wines.
After exploring the region of Chianti Italy, Stephen had developed a passion for the Sangiovese grape and decided to search for an area in California with the same terroir where he and his wife could develop their own vineyard. In 1988 Steve and his wife Cindy found themselves in Calaveras County, located in the pristine Sierra Foothills, where they were shown a beautiful piece of property they soon purchased and made this wine region their home. Steve grew Sangiovese grapes that have gone into many award winning wines.
Steve was a HUGE part of the Calaveras County wine community not only as a vineyard manager but as a friend to many. Steve was a loyal supporter of the Calaveras Winegrape Alliance (CWA) where he served as a board of director for years and also chaired the Education Committee. Steve connected top-notch speakers and educators from across California to serve CWA grower and winery members in the monthly education program. Steve led the CWA Vineyard Tour every summer and helped many grape growers start their vineyards. He was focused on sustainable practices and helped Rob and Sheri Hendriks of Aloria Vineyards reach their dream of becoming a Sustainable Vineyard. “Stephen helped us obtain our California Certified Sustainable Vineyard Certification in 2019. He explained that certification doesn’t mean that our job is done, only that we are fulfilling a greater purpose to work towards. To be fully sustainable as an operating vineyard and winery, he explained, means that we work towards a perfect balance of stewardship, opportunity, growth and prosperity within our organization and our community, shares Sheri. “Our frequent conversations around town, in the tasting room and “Friday’s with Stephen” at the vineyard were the highlight from bud break to harvest. He passed the love of grape farming on to us in our short time together. We hope we can do our friend proud and like he taught us, listen to the vines”.
Sandra Hess, Executive Director of the CWA shares, “I met Steve just a few short years ago and was always impressed by his big heart and care for the community. Steve would drop by the CWA offices as he had time to see how we were doing and offer advice. I am in shock by Steve’s passing as he was actively helping this past spring. He was one of the greats and will be dearly missed”.
Gay Callan, Long-standing CWA Board Member and Vineyard Owner shares, “While most of us know that he moved here is 1988 and started his own vineyard, he was really the first to start a vineyard consulting business that would eventually expand the horizons for Calaveras County and beyond. His dedication to community, his expansion of agricultural education and his love of the earth (grapes) was contagious. Whatever you asked him to do, he would silently get it done, he was humble, funny, had a great sense of humor and most of all was so generous with his time and knowledge. We have lost another terrific mentor for a lot of people, but mostly – we have lost a dear friend. You could always count on Steve! I am grateful to have known him and to have worked with him over the years. There are no other words to say other than my thoughts and prayers are with his family”.
“Our hearts are so heavy. Steve was more than a colleague, he was also a visionary, a pioneer and an incredible friend. He was such a good man, and the ache of his loss will be felt in our community for a very long time to come. The Sierra Foothills wine region would not be what it is today without Steve’s expertise and loving care. We will always cherish our memories of him, as well as his influence in our lives and in our wine. Our harvests will just not be the same without him. We will be dedicating our 2019 Sangiovese to Steve’s memory. Grown on his own personal vineyard, Steve tended those grapes with love. As the last vintage he got to harvest, we are especially grateful to have it nestled safely in our barrels. We know how much he was looking forward to tasting what we created together, and we only wish he had the opportunity to enjoy the beautiful wine his grapes have become,” shares Nathan & Dre Vader, proprietors of Vina Moda Winery.
As the Calaveras wine region prepares for the 2020 harvest season, many vineyard and winery owners realize that they need to pickup where Steve left off and will be working extra hard to make him proud. Scott Klann, long-standing winemaker in Calaveras County and owner of Newsome Harlow Wines organized an industry meet-up at Murphys Park this past Thursday to pay respect to Steve and share stories in his honor. “Steve was incredibly collaborative and aware of how to teach people. Steve taught me about the spaces in between vineyard and cellar – the microfibers that connect things. We lost someone who pushed himself and loved to learn every day. He wasn’t afraid to try news things and explore. Steve will be forever missed.”
CWA Board President, Siri Gilpin shares, “Steve was our vineyard manager for Lavender Ridge and Coppermine Winery. Steve came into our Lavender Ridge market last December and wanted help selecting a good bottle of honey for his wife for Christmas. I thought that was sweet”.
Bob Smith, co-owner of Jazz Cellars shares, “Jessica Duran was our first tasting room manager and was instrumental in getting us off the ground and started in Murphys. She and Steve were good friends and he frequently dropped by our Tasting Room to say hello. I took a photo of Steve when he visited during Grape Stomp in 2017. As I recall, the story was that for each harvest he completed, he’d paint one of his nails”.
The Calaveras Winegrape Alliance will be hosting a memorial for Steve once his family has had time to hold their memorial services. Several CWA members have offered their outdoor venues and we hope to schedule a series of memorial events for up to 100 people each as per social distancing policies during pandemic. Information will be shared once dates are confirmed and the CWA office staff can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. For now, friends of Steve can help by donating to the Go-Fund-Me Campaign established by his team at Vineyard Concepts. The immediate need is financial to cover medical bills and the donation link can be found .