Calaveras Wine Country Has Lost One of the Greats

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 greatly 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".