The sudden burst of tropic heat arriving in mid-June was just what Colorado’s wine-grape growers were waiting for.
A cool and wetter-than-normal May restored ground moisture to the point many farmers just now are turning their irrigation water into the vineyards and the awakening plants took advantage of the wet conditions to store energy for the summer growing season.
Now that growing season has arrived.
“This is fabulous,” said an obviously pleased Nancy Janes of Whitewater Hill Vineyards and Winery on 32 Road near Grand Junction. “We’re a little behind in development but that’s nothing to worry about, we’ll catch up during the summer.”
On the other side of Grand Mesa, Yvon Gros of Leroux Creek Vineyards was saying his vines of cold-hearty hybrids Chambourcin and Cayuga are redolent with tiny yellow flowers, a sign of a very healthy crop.
“I was walking through the vineyard today and I stopped because I could smell something,” he said. “It was the florescence, the flowering of the vines. It’s a sign that the plants are gearing up for the growing season.”
Gros and his wife Joanna were taking a brief rest during the winery’s Friday dinner marking North Fork Uncorked, a wine-centric celebration of the West Elks AVA, and Joanna paused to remark about how vibrant the vineyard is.
“It’s been years since I’ve seen it so green,” she marveled and pointed to the long, emerald ribbons stretching downslope in front of the inn. “Yvon has been working hard in the vineyard and now this is the result.”
When I asked Nancy Janes if the near-constant rain in May was a drawback, she said there initially was some concern about powdery mildew, something moister climates deal with on a regular basis but something seen infrequently in dry western Colorado.
“Wet weather like that isn’t common here but it’s not something we can’t deal with,” she said. “But the plants really are happy to see it warm up.”
Yvon Gros said his vines were “growing like crazy” in the sudden heat.
“Some of the tendrils are 4 to 6 inches long,” he said with delight.
In the vineyard at Whitewater Hill, Janes clutched a vine to show a visitor delicate tendrils of new growth, soft green curls stretching iwell beyond the apical leaf of the vine.
“You see how long and fresh these are? That’s a sign the vine still is sending a lot of energy into growth,” she said. She grabbed another vine and noted the tendrils were starting to die back a little.
“This one is starting to focus its energy on producing fruit and not growth,” she said. “You can see how here we have flowers as well as clusters of green, pepper corn-size grapes.”
She paused and looked down the tidy rows, far different from the wild growth of recent years when vines went unclipped, still recovering from killing freezes in 2013 and 2014.
“It’s great to see the vineyard in shape and looking good,” she said. “Last year we hardly did any pruning at all and it was a jungle but this year John (Behrs, her husband and business partner) and the crews have been working almost constantly retraining and reshaping the vines.”
Mid-June and the year’s first crop of serviceberries is ready for harvest.
A member of the rose family, which includes crabapples, cherries, plums, and peaches, the early ripening berries are the size of blueberries and taste a bit grainy and earthy with a hint of dark-berry sweetness.
The berries ripen from June through August, and there are several places I monitor in the nearby mountains where it’s not uncommon to be picking late-summer serviceberries and have competition from black bears enjoying the same crop.
The shrubs, which left untrimmed may grow into small trees, are common in the mountains of Colorado and the West and regional variations are found nearly everywhere. The white blooms appear in early spring, “when the shad runs” according to some legends, which is said to be the root of their other common names shadbush and shadblow.
The shrub’s name has several interesting although unlikely etymologies. One says it was so named because the bush blooms in mid-April, when the roads became clear of snow and allowed the resumption of long-delayed church services. And yet another story says the bush was named because its blooming indicates the ground has thawed enough to allow for graves to be dug and burial services held for people who had died during the winter.
Other common names include sarvisberry, saskatoonberry (it’s said the Saskatchewan city was named after the shrub), wild plum, Alleghany serviceberry and Pacific serviceberry.
The shrubs may reach 20 feet or more and I trim the shrub in my yard every couple of years to keep it manageable. Also, the shrub in my yard blooms twice a year, so I frequently get a both a spring and a fall crop of serviceberries.
The berries are good for nibbling, to put on yogurt and ice cream and also can be dried, frozen and used for jellies, muffins and other uses.
Hot time, summer in the city (and everywhere else). The season begs for casual, outdoors entertaining, and that means sharing meals with family and friends at the park, the beach or simply at home on the patio.
Summer dining is dominated by well-chilled crisp white wines and our occasional series on summer wines will get back to those next time.
But if you’re a red-wine lover, summer can be the cruelest season, indeed. Red drinkers often cringe when it comes to summer dining since many people are reluctant or don’t know how to serve red wine in the summer and a 90-degree day normally isn’t conducive to sipping a warm, full-bodied red.
The answers are easy.
A slightly chilled red (yes, it’s OK to do that) is a fine thing in the summer and one wine sure to please the red-crazed masses (and your pocket book) is Marchesi dé Frescobaldi’s Remole, a Toscana IGT blend of Sangiovese (85 percent) and Cabernet Sauvignon (15 percent) with layered aromas of cherries, cranberries, watermelon and spice.
This affordable ($10 MSRP!) is an easy drinking and surprisingly elegant wine that is a favorite for casual entertaining.
The Frescobaldi family history goes back more 1,000 years in Florence and more than 700 years and 30 generations in the Remole area east of Florence.
It’s there, so family legend holds, that sometime in the 1300s poet Dino Frescobaldi smuggled parts of the “Divine Comedy” to another Dante, this one Dante Aligheri, thereby enabling Aligheri to finish his epic masterpiece.
By the 1400s, Frescobaldi wines were being served at the tables of the Papal Court and Henry VIII.
Since then, Frascobaldi wines have continued to win honors and encomia and today the Frescobaldi family makes a wide range of wines, including some of their finest in partnership with the Robert Mondavi family.
The versatile Remole is a terrific pairing for summer barbecue when served slightly chilled (15-20 minutes in the refrigerator is enough), the wine’s bright fruity notes of plum, red raspberry and cherries (retained by hand-picking and four months stainless steel) highlighting the black-sweet fire-char of grilled meats.
And at only 12 percent alcohol, the wine won’t bring an early end to the good times.
Remole Toscana IGT, by Marchesi dé Frescobaldi (professional sample)
Sangiovese 85%, Cabernet Sauvignon 15%
Frescobaldi wines are available widely this summer at Milan’s Expo 2015.
DENVER – A curious thing happened last week during the Colorado Governor’s Wine Competition: The judges argued amongst themselves.
What makes this remarkable is that one, this was a regional wine competition, something not often host to strong opinions, and second, among those people stating their cases was renowned Napa winemaker Warren Winiarski, famous as the California winemaker whose Stag’s Leap Cellars 1973 Cabernet Sauvignon bested the best French wines at the 1976 Judgment of Paris, turning the wine world on its head.
What Winiarski was asserting last weekend was not whether the Colorado wines were any good – that fact already having been established in earlier rounds – but whether two unoaked Chardonnays both were deserving of a Double Gold.
“I think the wines shows great balance and wonderful winemaking skills,” Winiarski said, turning in his seat to face the 14 other judges perched around the sensory lab at Metropolitan State University of Denver’s Hospitality Learning Center. “This is the kind of winemaking we should be encouraging in Colorado.”
Winiarski, not surprisingly, won that particular battle and several others during the daylong judging of 190 Colorado wines (a separate judging was held a week earlier for meads, ciders and fruit wines).
The judging was to pick the best of Colorado wines and among those standouts a final 12 wines to include in the Governor’s Case, a collection of top wines used for marketing purposes.
A complete list of the medal winners will appear here when the list is released by the Colorado Wine Industry Development Board. (You can read Wine Curmudgeon Jeff Siegel’s view of the competition here.)
Winiarski was impressed enough by the wines presented during the recent tasting to push for several Double-Gold wines and a fat handful of gold medals to other wines.
“The Colorado wine industry continues to grow and improve and I’m quite pleased with what I’ve seen and tasted this year,” he said during a break in the judging. “The wines have come a long way, even since last year, and I think show a completeness that comes when the winemakers are figuring it out.”
Winiarski, 84, perhaps is best known in Colorado for being the winemaker behind the Ivancie Cellars label, which nearly 50 years ago became the first post-Prohibition commercial winery in Colorado.
Winiarski was working for Robert Mondavi in Napa and thinking he needed a change when he was approached by Ivancie in his quest to bring wine to middle America.
Winiarski turned out several vintages of Ivancie Cellars wine but returned to California in 1970 when he realized the demand for Colorado wine was not as strong as Ivancie’s desire to make it and Winiarski sensed the future wasn’t long for the winery, which closed in 1974.
The wines were good, he said, but “the idea just never caught fire.
“We underestimated how difficult making wine in Colorado was going to be,” a sentiment echoed even today by every winemaker in Colorado.
One of the weekend’s highlights came during dinner the second night when three of Ivancie’s children – Molly, Tom and Steve – made an unexpected appearance (Gerald Ivancie lives in Denver but wasn’t able to attend). Winiarski clearly was delighted and touched to see the threesome and they shared many poignant memories about those early days of Colorado winemaking.
At one point, the three Ivancies presented Winiarski with a precious bottle of the 1968 Ivancie Cellars Cabernet Sauvignon, and he cuddled the still-dark wine like a newborn baby.
“This is wonderful, marvelous,” he said. “Gerald (Ivancie) had such a great love of wine and I think he would be pleased to see where his dream has gone.”
In the world of big-time winemaking it’s rare for a winemaker to be offered the opportunity to develop her own line of wines.
It’s especially rare when a well-established name in the wine business – one that is world famous for sparkling wines – listens when a winemaker says the best to grow the brand is with a still wine.
But so it is with Gloria Collell, the bright and energetic winemaker for Mia Wines, her new line of still wines under the Friexenet umbrella.
Gloria Collell is from the small Catalan town of Sant Sadurní d´Anoia near Barcelona in the Penedes region of Spain, and for more than 20 years she has been with the Ferrer Wine Estates, part of whose portfolio includes Freixenet, the world’s biggest-selling Cava, in the distinctive black bottle.
In 2010, she was invited to sit in during one of the company’s international marketing meetings and to her surprise, the table turned to her for advice.
“They invited me because I have this knowledge about wines so we started brainstorming where the company should go,” Gloria said in a recent interview. “To me, it was evident we should develop a still wine.
“But I was quite honest with them: If we wanted to do it with the Freixenet name, we have to be consistent in quality and honest with the consumer.
If it has the Freixenet name on it, it has to be good.”
That means consistent with the level of quality consumers already know and expect from Freixenet and honest with the traditions of Spanish winemaking.
Freixenet Cava is the sparkling wine opened every day by millions of people across the globe who expect it to be consistently good and consistently affordable, and Gloria deemed it vital any still wine from Freixenet had to be the same.
“Freixenet has been opening the door to many people to the consumption of sparkling wine,” she said. “I told them we should do the same with a still wine. Be honest, easy drinking and focus on good grapes.”
The marketing department liked what it heard and went Gloria one better, offering her the chance to develop this new concept of Freixenet wines.
“And everything started from that point,” she said with a laugh. “For me, it was a fantastic opportunity to get to know the consumer and to make good wine for them and to open the door for them into a wine culture.”
“Our objective is the new wine drinker and to make approachable, fruity, easy-drinking wines,” Gloria said.
That means foregoing the long-standing D.O. [Denomination of Origin] regulations and make wine with the best Spanish grapes available.
“I wanted to make good wine and I wanted Mia to be an ambassador for Spain and Spanish grapes,” Gloria said. “So I decided we would do something with Spanish grape varieties from all over Spain.”
The Mia label (mia means mine in Spanish) appeared in 2011 and today the wines are opening doors in nearly 50 countries.
The Mia red is 100-percent Tempanillo, unoaked and spicy, with a fruit-forward style for people wanting a lighter, easy to drink red.
In keeping with the goal of using traditional Spanish grapes, Gloria makes the Mia rosé with the little-known Bobal grapes from Utiel-Requena in Valencia.
She says the Bobal is winning over consumers more familiar with the Provence style of dry rosés.
There also are two sparkling Moscatos, light and refreshing on the palate and, like most of the Mia wines, targeted for women and younger wine drinkers.
The Mia wines aren’t the first line of wines Gloria helped introduce. In 2009, the Tapeñas line of wines was introduced and while popular, Gloria felt they weren’t “unique enough.”
Instead, she said that when making Mia, “it was a relief for us not to be limited to one appellation.”
She said developing the different Mia wines took a lot of trial and error, trying new blends on her friends.
“I was bringing home (the new wines) without labels and sharing them with my friends, and some of them are really snobs,” she said, laughing. “Soon, I had the reputation of always bringing home all these obscure wines.”
And once in a while, someone would say, “You finally brought a wine I like.”
“We don’t realize that 95% of the consumers drink wine for joy,” she said. “They don’t want to know about the terroir and the climate and the soil and all those things. All they want is something pleasing to drink and good conversation.”
The Mia conversation will continue at Prowein in Dusseldorf when Mia introduces a Sangria.
“The plan is to launch three styles of Sangria, a white, red and one flavored with mojito,” Gloria said. “Sangria is something you drink when you want to relax. The Sangria moment prepares you for lunch and more serious wines.”
VERONA – With a rush, VinItaly arrived, flourished and left. In its wake are memories of great wines and some so-so wines, wonderful people (and at times too many not-so-wonderful people) and the serendipity of enjoying yourself even more that you expected.
Great wines? Almost too many to remember but here goes a shot at recalling a few: Susanna Crociani’s delightful and quite drinkable Riserva 2010 Vino Nobile de Montepulciano; Graziano Merotto’s Cuvee del Fondatore Prosecco DOCG (tre bicchieri from Gambero Rosso four years running, even though Merotto isn’t one to shout about it); Antonio Bonottto’s Raboso del Piave; Ornella Molon’s Raboso and her 2009 Merlot from 15-year old vines in Piave; Luigi Peruzetto of Casa Roma and his 2009 Malanotte, 100-percent Raboso with 15 percent of passito; Cinzia Canzian of Alice and her A Fondo Prosecco DOCG.
And many more (Ambra Teraboschi at Ca’ Lojera, Bortolomiol, Cantina Salute, Nani Rizzi, most of Franciacorta, Sorrella Branca), many of which we will discuss as the month continues. Special thanks to Silvia Loriga, the knowledgeable and extremely hospitable Event Manager for the Consorzio del Vino Nobile di Montepulciano. Sylvia walked me through a mini-history of the wine and its makers and showed me how the wine comes alive in different ways in the hands of different winemakers.
Not surprisingly there were some of the usual frustrations with the crowded VinItaly scene but this year some of those frustrations boiled over and made it into print, at least cyber-print on the Internet. Alfonso Cevola (Italian Wine Guy) had some scathing remarks and his years of VinItaly experience and vast knowledge of the Italian wine scene certainly make him someone whose opinions and comments should be honored.
And yes, the Wifi was bad, the crowds were full of young (under 25) drunks staggering around at closing time and a couple of winemakers complained about the general lack of manners. But there also were many delightful and cordial winemakers and their supporters who were willing to answer my questions, not laugh too hard at my stumbling Italian and make sure this VinItaly was a unforgettable as the previous seven.
Next time I promise to focus on the wines. But where do I start???