Dancing to the the U-pick hustle in the West Elks AVA

July 2016 West Elks AVA TC

The West Elks AVA rivals anything elsewhere in the wine world.The North Fork Valley and its nine wineries roll out the red carpet during the West Elks Wine Trail, Aug. 5-7.

PAONIA – Midsummer finds us committed to the U-pick hustle, darting around the North Fork Valley and the Grand Valley seeking tree-fresh cherries, apricots and peaches available seemingly everywhere.

The early peaches (some Paul Friday varieties, if I remember correctly) are at farm stands across the area, tempting the palate as if to say,”You ain’t seen nothin’ yet,” with new varieties appearing almost weekly, each one more juicy and luscious than the last.

It’s also time for the eighth annual West  Elks Wine Trail, this year on Aug. 5-7, sponsored by nine wineries in the North Fork Valley and named for the West Elks AVA, one of Colorado’s two specially designated wine-grape growing regions.

Special winemakers’ dinners, premium wine tastings and full-on open houses at the wineries make this weekend one of the more-anticipated of the summer. Each participating winery is featuring special food and wine pairings, with a focus on local foods and wines.

Several of the wineries also are hosting their ever-popular winemaker dinners, most of which fill early so reservations are a necessity. Call the wineries for reservations and more information, because what you see here is the only information supplied by the wineries. Prices, when given, are per person. All phone area codes are 970.

Aug. 5Leroux Creek Inn, 6:30 p.m., 872-4746; Mesa Wind Farms & Winery‘s Dine in the Orchard, 6:30 p.m., $95, 250-4788.

Aug. 6Alfred Eames Cellars, Uruguayan Dinner, 6 p.m. $75, 527-3269 or 527-6290; Azura Cellars & Gallery “Tapas at Twilight”, 7 p.m.; free R/C yacht racing starting at 10 a.m.,  527-4251; Stone Cottage Cellars Winemaker’s Dinner at the Cellar featuring a Fattoria Italiana, 7 p.m. 527-3444, $80; Delicious Orchards BBQ from noon – 6 p.m. with live music from 4-7 p.m., no reservations needed,  527-1110. Black Bridge Winery Barrel Tasting at 1 p.m. and 4 p.m., repeats on Aug. 7, 527-6838.

The wineries in the North Fork Valley celebrating the West Elks Wine Trail include those listed above as well as Terror Creek Winery, the state’s highest vineyards (at 6,400 feet elevation) as well as one of Colorado’s first wineries, 527-3484; and 5680′ Vineyards, (no website),  314-1253. The photo above was taken at Terror Creek Winery.


When the heat is on, the wine goes cold

The heat is on, and chilled wines seem to be in order.

Erin's slushee

Erin McGinn/Pinterest

From icy rosé slushies to chilled medium-body reds, there’s no reason not to keep your insides cool while the outside steams.

Trends come and go (that’s why they’re called “trends”, right?) and this year one of the passing fancies is serving rosé slushies, aka “slushees.”

That’s right, the crushed ice delight which normally is the purview of blueberry and banana this summer has been taken over by the summery notes of watermelon, strawberry and raspberry in rosés.

Recipes are simple (ice, wine, some fruit juice or sorbet, a blender and garnish) and readily available online. A couple of caveats, however: The ice will dilute the alcohol and the flavors (need I remind you of this?) so steer away from the lighter, Provence-style rosés and look to something with a bit more color and hence more body.

Most rosés are made by straining off the juice of red wine grapes before too much contact with the skins. I say that because I’ve had rosés made by combining red and white wines, such as those made by Two Rivers Winery combining Riesling and Merlot.

Some rosés to experiment with include those made from Syrah, Grenache and Cinsault (Tavel from the Cotes du Rhone), Mourvédré (think Bandol) and Cabernet Sauvignon.

071316 FD wine chilled reds

A chilled red wine makes an ideal match for a summer get-together. Not too cold, just slightly chilled. Dave Buchanan

Locally, Plum Creek Winery‘s Palisade Rosé (a blend, of Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon and Petit Verdot) and Whitewater Hill Vineyard’s Melange (Shiraz, Cabernet Sauvignon and Riesling) come to mind.

However, if you really want to try a wine slushy, don’t limit yourself to rosés. You could use a fruit wine to bump up the flavors. Plus, your favorite local winery surely makes a medium-body red you can use in these summery “slurprises.”

A sweeter wine (a Moscato or dessert wine) could provide the sticky goodness normally associated with slushies, albeit with a slightly alcohol kick.

Or, you can do it without ice. A lightly chilled red wine is a great accompaniment to that summer barbecue and may surprise you how well the flavors hold up.

I recently tried two of my favorite Italian reds, lightly chilled, with a Fourth of July get-together.

The wines were the Tommasi 2013 Rafael Valpolicella Classico Superiore and the Arnaldo Caprai Collepiano Montefalco Sagrantino DOCG 2010.

My guests were surprised to see red wines being served in mid-summer and even more surprised and pleased to see how well the wines paired with the variety of grilled meats and vegetables.

Slightly chilled is the key (maybe 20 minutes in the refrigerator) because red wines served too cold lose their aromas and flavors while emphasizing the tannins and acidity.

A slight chill brings out the fruit aromas and flavors, a fact noted by writer Dave McIntyre.

“Think of how fragrant your garden is at dusk as the day’s heat fades into night,” he wrote.

West Elks Wine Trail returns – This is a highlight of the summer and this year’s edition, the eighth annual, happens Aug. 5-7, right when North Fork Valley vineyards will be at their height of green-fuse glory.

The weekend is filled with touring, wine tasting and winemakers’ dinners (which fill quickly, very quickly).

Information at www.westelksava.com.



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Beating nature-deficit disorder one wine bottle at a time


The Gunnison Gorge National Conservation Area is one of three NCAs in western Colorado offering world-class outdoor experiences. Colorado Canyons Association is a non-profit, nonpartisan organization aimed at fostering good stewardship of the NCAs.

Yo, bro: Pass the Desert Rat Red.

A unique partnership between Colorado Canyons Association and Carlson Vineyards, forged through a spirited commitment of giving back to the community as well as finding needed resources to get young people into the backcountry, may provide the perfect pairing for your next canyon-inspired meal.

Sunday afternoon found Garret Portra, owner and winemaker at Carlson Vineyards, and a group of CCA staff and board members sampling wines, all in the name of conservation and defeating nature-deficit disorder.

Sunday’s working group, which included CCA executive director Joe Neuhof and assistant director Kate Graham, spent a few hours in the cool environs of the Carlson winery tasting various blends and rejecting them in turn until, as a little blonde girl once said, it was “just right.”

I know, tough work but someone has to do it, right?

Neuhof said the idea was born during a series of “Crazy about Canyons” fund-raising events sponsored by the CCA and held at Carlson Vineyards (the last one was June 11th).

“Garret and I would talk after the dinners and we both were looking for something to bring our efforts together,” Neuhof said. “This seemed like a natural.”

Once on the market, $1 from every bottle purchased will go the Colorado Canyon’s youth programs, Neuhof said.

“This might seem strange to some people but I think it’s a good fit for us and Carlson’s,” he said. “Our goal in 2017 is to get 3,500 kids into the backcountry and this will help that happen.”

The final decision is a blend of 72-percent Lemberger, also known as Blaufrankisch, the spicy red grape that adds a bit of ripe cherry fruit, acidity and medium tannins, and 28-percent Cabernet Franc, the savory Bordeaux blend grape that does well in the high desert climes of the Grand Valley.

The wine, which is yet to be bottled and named (don’t expect “Desert Rat Red”), will spend some time in French oak barrels and may be available late this fall, Portra said.

Neuhof said the front label will feature a photo, as of this writing undetermined, from the local canyon country.

Portra said the idea for the label came from Dave Phinney of Orin Swift winery in Napa Valley.

Phinney is known for his creative labeling and Portra saw the opportunity to do something eye-catching as well as provocative.

“We wanted something different,” he said. “Not only to stand out on the shelf but to let people know we support the CCA’s efforts. Cailin (his wife) and I are always looking for ways to give back to the community for our good fortune.”

As for Portra, this wine is his first opportunity to make his mark on the familiar and popular line-up of Carlson Vineyards wines.

“I’m really excited about this,” said the eternally upbeat Portra. “I didn’t think it would come this soon, but it’s my chance to put my stamp on Carlson wines.”


So many good things: North Fork wines, Colorado Mountain Winefest tickets on sale

NF Uncorked 2015

Some of the happy celebrants at Black Bridge Winery in Paonia during the 2015 North Fork Uncorked.This year’s event takes place June 18-19. Photo courtesy Jim Brett.

Tickets now are on sale for the 25th edition of the Colorado Mountain Winefest, once again presented by Alpine Bank.

This year’s four-day Winefest (Thursday, Sept. 15 through Sunday, Sept. 18) includes special wine-and-food pairings at participating local restaurants; four different Colorado Wine Country bus tours; and the 25th Colorado Mountain Winefest Festival in the Park on Saturday, Sept. 17.

Tickets to all events are limited and last year was the first time all tickets for all events were sold. Many people, eager to attend the popular Festival in the Park and accustomed to purchasing a ticket at the gate on the day of the event, were turned away.

Tickets for the Festival in the Park are $50 general admission, $190 for VIP and $25 for the non-drinker. These tickets are limited and likely will sell out. Fewer than 100 of the VIP tickets were remaining as of Friday.

More information, tickets and a complete list of events are available at info@coloradowinefest.com and by calling 464-0111.

North Fork Uncorked June 18-19 – Join winemakers in Hotchkiss and Paonia celebrating Father’s Day weekend in style with their annual North Fork Uncorked, featuring wine and food pairings, winemakers dinners and special offers at participating wineries, open 11 a.m. – 5 p.m.

Winemakers dinners, Saturday, June 18 – Lee and Kathy Bradley, Black Bridge Winery, dinner by the river. Tickets are $55. Reservations: 970-270-7733 or 527-6838.

Brent and Karen Helleckson, Stone Cottage Cellars, four course, locally grown. Tickets $65. Information and reservations: 970-527-3444.

Sunday, June 19 ­– Alfred Eames Cellars, Sunday Brunch, 10 a.m.- 2 p.m. For menu and information on this and weekly brunches, call Pam Petersen at 970-527-6290.

More information on these and other North Fork Uncorked offers and activities is available at www.westelksava.com and at 527-3444.


This post was updated on June 9 to correct the dates for the 2016 Colorado Mountain Winefest (Sept. 15-18) and Pam Petersen’s phone number (527-6290).


Francesco Drusian: Preserving the heritage of Prosecco DOCG

Prosecco DOCG hills

The steep hills of the unique Valdobbiadene-Conegliano Prosecco Superiore DOCG rise abruptly from the Venetian plain. The border separating the DOCG from Prosecco DOC lies at the base the hills. Story and photos by Dave Buchanan

BIGOLINO di Valdobbiadene (TV) – Standing amidst rows of spring-fresh vines climbing the razorback hills rising steeply to of the pre-Alps of northeast Italy, Francesco Drusian smiles at the thought of this region becoming a UNESCO World Heritage site.

“We did everything we could to preserve our heritage,” Drusian says, reaching out to a light-green shoot just opening to the April sun. “Now, it’s up to others to decide if we did enough.”

It’s only a few days past VinItaly and I’ve called on Francesco Drusian in hopes of learning more about Prosecco and Drusian’s place in the narrative of Italy’s popular yet oft-underappreciated sparkling wine.

I’ll post more about our discussions in the future.

Few people would argue Francesco Drusian has done as much as anyone to preserve his heritage and that of Prosecco.

Drusian Brut

Born in the hills of Valdobbiadene-Conegliano and 100-percent Glera grapes. Photo courtesy Drusian FaceBook

According to Francesco, he’s the fourth generation of his family (the fifth, his daughter Marika, already is producing Prosecco DOCG under her own label) to make wine from these geometrically perfect vineyards overlooking the village of Bigolino, which itself lies on the north bank of the Fiume Piave near where the river cuts through the famed Valdobbiadene hills.

The winery began in the mid-19th Century with grandfather Giuseppe Drusian and then his son Rino making still wines. Francesco took over in 1984 and today the name Drusian connotes Prosecco Superiore DOCG, one of the best versions of the iconic Italian sparkling wine now soaring on a crest of popularity.

Francesco introduced sparkling wine to his winery in 1986, shortly after the autoclave afforded a way to control the secondary fermentation that gives Prosecco its sparkle and shortly before the world’s love affair with everything Italian became the tsunami we see today.

The advantages of the pressurized autoclave – including preserving bubbles and fresh flavors and reducing the labor and cost involved with metodo classico – suddenly made it possible for lovers of sparkling wine worldwide to enjoy a wine that is light, refreshing, food-friendly and surprisingly affordable.

“Prosecco DOC is the ultimate simple but sophisticated wine which personifies the unique Italian lifestyle” says the Prosecco DOC Consorzio website.

However, the international rush to adopt elements of the “Italian lifestyle” had its expected result: a flood of Prosecco, much of it poorly made and of dubious background (google “Paris Hilton prosecco”), hitting the market.

Even the very existence of a Prosecco DOC gives voice to the expansion, some say uncontrolled, of Prosecco as an industrial product.

By the mid-2000s, Prosecco, as with many other great things, had to be saved from its own success. Read more…

Wines to make the weekend festivities memorable

Sorelle Branca

This steeply pitched vineyard in Valdobbiadene is the site where Sorelle Branca grows its eponymous Prosecco Superiore DOCG. Story and photo by Dave Buchanan

Spring 2016 began rather hesitantly, the past month being dominated with extended periods of cool and rainy weather.

However, the approach of Memorial Day brought distinct changes, including daytime temperatures nearing seasonal norms and plenty of blue skies.

And this to me indicates the long holiday weekend will see many outdoor gatherings, and there is nothing that fits the festive mood more than entertaining with sparkling wines, rosés and white wines.I opened a few boxes to come up with suggestions for your plein aire pairings to make the weekend truly memorable.

I admit to being a huge fan of great Prosecco and that was illustrated again this spring when I spent a few days after VinItaly exploring the heart of the Conegliano Valdobbiadene Prosecco Superiore DOCG.

When I returned home, stuffed into my bag were two bottles of winemaker Graziano Merotto’s best: his Valdobbiadene Prosecco Superiore DOCG Brut Rive di Col San Martino “Cuvée del Fondatore Graziano Merotto” Millesimato 2015 and his Valdobbiadene Prosecco Superiore DOCG Dry Rive di Col San Martin “La Primavera du Barbara” Millesimato 2015.

Had I more room, the third bottle would have been the non-vintage Sorelle Bronca, Valdobbiadene Prosecco Superiore DOCG Brut “Particella 68”.

Much of the U.S. market is flooded with lower-tier Proseccos (mostly DOC and not the top DOCG) and most Americans still haven’t discovered what a great value Prosecco DOCG offers, both in price and stylistically.

That situation should change as Prosecco DOCG makers continue to expand their American markets. The above wines can be found for around $20.

Merotto’s Rive di Col San Martino, made from grapes grown on a steep hill just behind the winery, has such a fine perlage the feeling is one of a floral creaminess rather than exploding bubbles. Complex and multi-layered minerality.

The “La Primavera du Barbara” (90 percent Glera, 10 percent Perera) is dry and bit softer than the brut Cuvée del Fondatore but still offers the steely clean lines and floral aromatics found in Merotto’s wines.

Sorelle Bronca, Valdobbiadene Prosecco Superiore DOCG Brut “Particella 68” – This well-structured wine comes from a low-yielding, steeply angled site and is made to show more of the pure grape flavor and minerality than sweet fruit.

Read more…

Categories: Uncategorized

Another big year? Mild spring produces crop of speculation

052516 FD wine new growth

Grape vines in the Grand Valley have benefited from the mild, wet spring and some growers are predicting another large harvest.

While this spring, with its abundant moisture and cool temperatures, has presented several challenges to Colorado grape growers, including a slow start to the growing season, it also has set off speculation this year’s yield might top 2015’s record-setting harvest.

“Last fall’s harvest was the our largest on record and this one may be even bigger, depending on how people adjust their crop load,” said state enologist Stephen Menke at Colorado State University’s Orchard Mesa Research Center. “We really had no winter damage to speak of, so everything looks pretty promising right now.”

The 2015 harvest was a much-needed boost to winemakers around the state after two harsh winter years (2013 and 2014) cut production to about 50 percent of normal.

“Last year’s harvest was the biggest we ever had, both in terms of state-wide production and on a per-acre basis,” said Horst Caspari, state viticulturist at the Orchard Mesa Research Center. “Things look really good right now and I think 2016 could go past 2015 in terms of crop production.”

One factor, said Caspari, is that many acres of cold-hearty varieties planted to resist Colorado’s cold winters finally are old enough to be producing grapes.

“Because we have more acres now than we had before, we could end up with more grapes than we had last year,” Caspari said. “Not necessarily a higher yield per acre, although that’s possible, just more acreage producing grapes.”

052516 FD wine grape berries

These grape berries are the result of a healthy primary bud. Each bud on a grape shoot consists of a primary, secondary and tertiary bud. Primary buds produce the most fruit but also are the most susceptible to frost damage.

An example is Whitewater Hill Vineyards on Orchard Mesa, where owners Nancy Janes and John Behr pulled out an acre of underproducing vines and planted St. Vincent’s, a French-American cold-hearty hybrid from Missouri.

“We didn’t get very much last year, just enough to make a couple of bottles,” Nancy said. “But this year the vines look great and I think we might get a whole lot more.”

She also said the mild spring means more buds, especially the productive primary buds, survive to produce fruit.

“Some of the newer growers have never had primary fruit before,” Nancy said. “They won’t believe how much fruit they can get.”

But the season hasn’t been without its downside.

A hailstorm ripped through the Palisade area a week ago, reminding Bennett Price of DeBeque Canyon Winery of a similar although more-extensive storm last spring.

“I looked at some vineyards (last year) that were shredded, every leaf ripped off and no fruit left,” Price recalled. “I don’t think this recent one was that bad, but that’s what spring can bring us.”

Price also voiced some concern about powdery mildew, a fungal disease that’s common in more-humid growing regions and is particularly damaging to vinifera grape vines, which include such favorites as Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Chardonnay.

“It’s been such a wet and humid spring, I hope folks are thinking about spraying,” Price said.

Powdery mildew makes plant leaves look as if they are dusted with flour and robs the plant’s nutrients. If serious enough, the disease can kill a plant.

DeBeque Canyon Winery moves – Bennett and Davy Price recently moved their winery and tasting room in Palisade from its former location on South Kluge Street to 381 West 8th Ave. (U.S. Highway 6), the building formerly occupied by the Packing Shed Restaurant.

A new deck greets customers to the tasting room and wine shop. Winemaking facilities will occupy the adjacent building.

Hours are Tuesday through Friday, 11 a.m. until 6 p.m. and Saturday through Monday, 10 a.m. until 6 p.m. Information at 464-0550.

Categories: Uncategorized

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