Grape wine? Fruit wine? Two sides share top award at 2016 Colorado Wine Governor’s Cup Competition

August 22, 2016 Leave a comment
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Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper (left) enjoys the occasion as Glenn Foster (in blue) of the Meadery of the Rockies and John Garlich of Bookcliff Vineyards share Best of Show in the 2016 Colorado Wine Governor’s Cup Competition.Photo courtesy Kyle Schlachter/CWIDB

This year’s Colorado Wine Governor’s Cup Competition, sponsored by the Colorado Wine Industry Development Board, wound up Aug. 4 with Meadery of the Rockies in Palisade and Bookcliff Vineyards of Boulder sharing Best of Show in their respective divisions.

A Strawberry Honey wine from the Meadery won the cider, fruit wine and mead division while Bookcliff took the traditional grape wine division with its 2013 Ensemble, a blend of Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon and Malbec.

Additionally, Bookcliff and Whitewater Hill Vineyards of Grand Junction both had three wines included in the Governor’s Cup Case, which this year holds 18 bottles instead of the 12 usually found in a case of wine.

The other six are ciders, fruit wines and meads. Meadery of the Rockies and Colorado Cellars both have two fruit wines selected for the case.

The complete list of winners can be found on the Colorado Wine Industry Development website here.

This year’s Governor’s Cup, the only wine competition exclusively for Colorado wines, featured 250 wines from 35 Colorado wineries and continues as a much-awaited display of the state’s steadily improving wine industry.

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Wine judges Andrew Stover of Washington, D.C. and Jeff Seigel of Dallas share some opinions after the official end of the 2016 Colorado Governor’s Cup wine competition.

An observer might expect, given the state has 140-plus wineries, to see more than one-quarter of those wineries entering the state’s namesake competition.

The reasons for the lack of entrants are several, including some wineries don’t open their email to see the invitation or forget to send their entries on time.

Some wineries enter other competitions and say they can’t afford to enter another contest, although at $25 per entry, Colorado charges only a fraction of that charged by national or international wine contests.

But in truth, some winemakers simply don’t hold the state competition in high esteem.

One winemaker I recently talked to, a talented vigneron who in the past has done quite well at competitions at various levels, has quit entering the state contest.

She said it’s worth more from a marketing standpoint to enter the better-known San Francisco International Wine Competition, the largest in the U.S.

“Why waste the money to get a medal here when I can get a gold or double-gold from San Francisco?” she asked, not expecting an answer.

There are a couple of good reasons why winemakers enter competition. One is to see where they stand in relation to current levels of winemaking, an effort at making sure they “aren’t standing still,” as Parker Carlson once told me.

Another is to see if their taste still is true. One recognized danger facing winemakers (and wine writers) is “cellar palate,” which may happen by drinking only one’s own local wine and not picking up on incremental changes, usually bad, taking place in your wine.

A badly made wine surely will be noticed, you would think, but what if that’s how your wines taste all the time and you don’t have any comparison?

But perhaps the leading reason to enter competitions is to give customers what they want, and they want bling.

“People like to see medals,” Carlson also said, and every winery you’ll ever visit displays a shelf or two stacked with their collection of ribbons, medallions and trophies.

Who can blame them? Not only is it impressive looking but it also makes great copy for your blog or FaceBook page.

However, I doubt most casual tourists – to whom go a majority of Colorado wine sales – have the time, knowledge or eyesight to differentiate between the San Francisco competition, the International Eastern and the Colorado Governor’s Cup.

I’m not saying there aren’t people who know the difference, but there also are people who can tell a Pinot Gris from a Pinot Blanc.

There’s much more to this story.


The North Fork Valley opens its doors as harvest begins

August 21, 2016 Leave a comment

The plates nearly are ready as the staff at Stone Cottage Cellars in Paonia prepares for another memorable farm-to-table Harvest Fest dinner. Courtesy Stone Cottage Cellars

Mid-August finds us in the midst of harvest and already we’re seeing notice of the celebrations marking this busy time of year.

Plus, August is Colorado Proud month, a promotion from the Colorado Department of Agriculture commemorating the people who bring us locally grown food and agricultural products.

That includes Colorado wine, of course, and there’s no better way to mark the month than to visit your local wineries and go home with a bottle or two to enjoy with your favorite Colorado meal.

It’s all easier than you think, since many wineries somehow find the time during this busiest of all seasons to host special dinners. Here is a partial list, thanks to Jim Brett and the North Fork-based Slow Food Western Slope.

Brent and Karen Helleckson of Stone Cottage Cellars are hosting their second of the summer Fattoria Italiano winemaker’s dinner Sept. 24 as part of the Mountain Harvest Festival in the North Fork Valley.

The five-course meal features Stone Cottage Cellar wines and is the Helleckson’s North Fork homage to similar meals they enjoyed while traveling through Italy this last year.

Seating is limited so make reservation soon. Tickets are $80 per person inclusive. 527-3444.

Hopefully you didn’t miss Tuesday’s Paella Night at Leroux Creek Inn and Vineyards near Hotchkiss. Winemaker and trained chef Yvon Gros again is hosting these occasional dinners at his covered outdoor dining room with a marvelous view of the Provence-like surroundings of the North Fork Valley.

Learn about the next one (and get Yvon’s special paella recipe) here or call 872-4746.

September 10 is the tour of Redlands Mesa, including visits to farms, gardens and some of the area’s talented artisans, including Jack Rabbit Hill Farm and Peak Spirits Farm Distillery.

There also is a farm-to-table lunch and perhaps the closest view you’ll ever get of a live buffalo, thanks to Sue and Dave Whittlesey at High Wire Ranch.

Tickets for the Redland Mesa tour($5), lunch ($10) and happy hour ($15) at Jack Rabbit Hill Winery are available online through the Redlands Mesa Grange.



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Winiarski: An early dream comes true as Colorado tackles learning curve

August 14, 2016 Leave a comment
July 2016 Warren and Kaibab

Winemaker Warren Winiarski makes a point to Colorado grape grower Kaibab Sauvage during Winiarski’s recent visit to the vinelands of western Colorado. Photos by Dave Buchanan

Making great wine, if one may paraphrase winemaker Warren Winiarski, demands much of a winemaker but nothing more important than vision and balance.

Winiarski fully comprehends the rigors of making great wine. In 1970, after prior stints for California winemakers, he built his own vineyard, converting an old prune orchard in the Napa Valley to grape vines and naming it Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars.

From those grapes Winiarski made the 1973 SLV Cabernet Sauvignon, which won the red-wine competition at the 1976 Judgment in Paris, a competition initially set up to reinforce the superiority of French wine over the upstart Americans.

Winiarski’s unexpected victory, along with the equally surprising success of the 1973 Chateau Montelena Chardonnay by winemaker Mike Grgich in the white-wine portion of the contest, focused the wine world’s attention on California wines.

But shortly before his victory in Paris, Winiarski had a brief encounter with another man of equal vision, Denver periodontal surgeon Gerald Ivancie. Read more…

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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.

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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



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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

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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 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 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).



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