Still more Reporter’s Notebook from the 20th Colorado Mountain Winefest:
There was quite a bit of applause but not much surprise when Tyrel Lawson of Kahil Winery of Grand Junction won Best of Show with his 2009 Mesa County Malbec last week at the 20th anniversary Colorado Mountain Winefest .Tyrel, justly popular among the local wine scene for his polite and friendly demeanor, hard-work ethic and home-grown talent, earned a double gold at the 2010 Winefest with the same wine, so the biggest news was how an extra year of aging amped up this wine with added depth and structure.
But every vintage is followed by another and no one expects Tyrel to rest too long on this wine. He also makes a mean white: his 2010 Snipes Mountain Pinot Gris earned a gold medal this year, and now we’re all waiting to see what the talented 25-year old will produce next.
The rage about hybrids – Hybrid grape varietals, the non-vinifera kind, are ho-hum in the Northeast and Midwest but something of a odd duck to most Colorado wine drinkers. But hybrids – and we’re not talking Prius here – were the talk of Winefest whenever state viticulturist Horst Caspari or sommelier and wine instructor Max Ariza hove into view.
Caspari, particularly, was taking the message to the masses in the early hours of the Festival in the Park. Clutching a wine bottle with the label carefully hidden, he was urging everyone he encountered to sample his mystery wine and try to guess its composition.
Full-bodied and rich with black fruit, spice and plum flavors, obviously a blend of some sort but the exact varietals were hard to nail. Merlot and Syrah? Cabernet Sauvignon plus the first two? Tempranillo and Syrah? No, no and close but no, laughed Caspari, finally showing his hand. Tempranillo, Syrah and Noiret, the latter a hybrid grape developed by Cornell University and released in 2006.
Caspari has been urging Colorado winemakers and grape growers to adopt cold-resistant hybrids and made this Noiret blend to show how a hybrid that on its own is, well, undrinkable comes to mind, can change completely when blended with the right grapes.
Meanwhile, Ariza, a popular culinary arts instructor at Johnson & Wales University in Denver, was preaching the hybrid gospel during a well-received seminar on lesser-known grapes. He put several wines in front of the attendees and was delighted to find most of them receptive to wines made from other-than-vinifera grapes.
Ariza loves to argue with winemakers that their main reason for not using hybrids is because the grapes are hard to sell to customers expecting the more-familiar European grapes.
“That may be true, but it’s all about education,” Ariza emphasized. “If you make a good wine and can get (the customer) to try it, they’ll like it. If it says ‘Colorado red wine,’ they won’t care that it’s a blend.” A fine example of that was the Baco Noir wine produced by winemaker Guy Drew of Cortez. The grapes were dry-farmed in the desolate pinyon/juniper mesa/canyon country of Yellow Jacket Canyon in southwest Colorado. The wine was similar to a Grenache, with berry, plum and hints of leather.
Surprise, it’s Lavendar! – The most-unexpected wine of the fest came from the talented Glenn Foster of Talon Wines, who produced a lavendar wine under his St. Kathryn’s Cellars label in Palisade. “You got to try this,” urged Foster, saying it took him six months of tinkering with the blends to get the flavors he wanted.
The rosé-based pale-magenta wine has a hint of lavendar on the nose and a similar pleasant blush of lavendar on the palate. Foster was careful in his application, making sure the lavendar was noticeable but not overwhelming. As one taster mentioned, “It’s really good if you’re a honey bee looking for a buzz.”
And the VIP tent, now in its third year and definitely one of the more-popular venues of the daylong Festival in the Park, was buzzing, too, thanks the lineup of wines and the matching menu conceived by Dan Kirby, Executive Chefs Wayne Smith and John St. Peter and the culinary arts students from Western Colorado Community College.
The lineup of 40 top Winefest wines included Alfred Eames’ 2009 Pinot Noir, Balestreri’s 2010 Sangiovese, Boulder Creek’s 2010 Chardonnay and Colterris 2010 Cabernet Franc. We told he’s talented and hard-working: Tyrel Lawson of Kahil Winery also makes wines for Colterris and Two Rivers Winery and Chateau.
Reporter’s only slightly wine-stained Notebook from the 20th Colorado Mountain Winefest:
Oh, my. So many wines to taste and stories to tell.
The crowd was late-arriving Saturday for the opening bell of the 20th annual Colorado Mountain Winefest but don’t dare call it a fashion statement. Unless your fashion tastes include gum boots and Gore-Tex jackets.
The morning rain doused but didn’t deter the riders on the Tour of the Vineyards and certainly made many people hesitate before committing to the Festival in the Park. “We got rain early and then it really dumped in the middle but the end of the ride was beautiful,” said one rider, her hair wet but her smile bright as the sun came through the clouds.
No official attendance tally yet from Winefest officials but one unofficial observer (me) said it appeared overall numbers were a bit down from last year when 6,800 people came through the gates. The morning attendance (under still-threatening skies) seemed were a bit lighter than in past years but when the sun came out in the afternoon, the crowds came with it.
You couldn’t tell anything was amiss from looking around the chatty-happy VIP tent, where nearly every seat was occupied and it was evident many wine enthusiasts figured once again the $190 VIP tix were the best buy of the Winefest. The VIP tent, with its special wines and a menu to die for, certainly was the place to be and be seen and showed once more that the conveniences of the special area are something people want and are willing to pay for.
In addition to some special wines (the wineries were invited in later to pour some favorites as part of the 20th anniversary celebration), VIPers enjoyed a terrific brunch/lunch thanks to some innovative thinking and menu design from the culinary arts staff and hard-working students at Western Colorado Community College. Thanks and a tip of the chef’s toque to Dan Kirby, head of the school’s culinary arts program, and executive chefs Wayne Smith and Jon St. Peter of WCCC.
And speaking of paying for it, those $190 tickets make a difference when figuring the bottom line for the Winefest. Winefest director Sarah Catlin mentioned that even though ticket sales dropped in 2010 compared to 2009, overall revenue was up. Expect similar news this year, since more than 300 of the VIP tickets were sold, the most ever, Catlin reported.
The big story, of course, was winemaker Tyrel Lawson of Kahil Winery (no Web site), whose 2009 Malbec won double gold, the Best Red Wine and ultimately Best of Show in the Best of Fest competition. It’s hard not to be impressed by Lawson, a personable sort who also is winemaker for Two Rivers Winery and Chateau and for Colterris on East Orchard Mesa.
“I knew it was a good wine but you never expect anything like this,” said Tyrel early Saturday, a few minutes before the crowds broached his tent. His logo is of an elegant fishing fly known as the Cahill. Lawson changed the spelling a bit, adding a “K” to honor his wife of six months, Katherine. The rich Bordeaux-style wine is bold and dark, with hints of black cherries, berries and fig.
The same wine won double gold at the 2010 Winefest, indicative of how one more year in the bottle really added to this wine. What’s next for the 25-year old vigneron?
“I think I’d like to do it in all French oak,” said Lawson, flinching a little just thinking of the cost. Let’s see. Lawson made 411 cases of his 2009 Malbec, and there’s about 24.6 cases in a barrel, so he would need 17 barrels for one vintage of Malbec. And a new French oak barrel costs around $1,000. My head hurts doing the math.
Late-season rains and mild summer temperatures have Napa Valley grape growers anticipating an even-ripening crop but a light-than-normal harvest.
A release Thursday from Napa Valley Grapegrowers (courtesy of Alison Stout at Glodow Nead Communications in San Francisco) said the even temperatures and the recent moisture means growers this year can let the grapes hang longer and achieve the full-ripening otherwise cut short by hotter and/or drier growing conditions.
“We have seen a steady growing season allowing for even ripening over the last few weeks,” said Matt Lamborn of Lamborn Family Vineyards and owner of Pacific Geodata, a mapping and analysis technology company which uses weather data from previous years to analyze and illustrate weather trends and comparisons from year to year.
Bill Hanna of Hanna Vineyards in Sonoma County said the later than usual harvest is due in part to late-spring rains arriving just as bud break was starting and vines were blooming.
While rain during bud-break can lead to mildew, non-pollination and other problems, growers this year were able to address those challenges, Hanna said.
Also, late-season rains brought needed moisture to carry the vines through the summer.
“We are blessed to be in a region that affords us the opportunity to be innovative with technology. It is extremely important to be able to monitor the various microclimates in the Valley in order to be proactive instead of reactive,” said grower Paul Goldberg of Rutherford Vista Vineyards.
According to the release, Goldberg uses a remote-control irrigation system to monitor every aspect of irrigation including well levels, water pressure, soil moisture and more. Changes in the system or water needs are sent to Goldberg via his cell phone, allowing him to respond as soon as necessary.
Pinot noir and chardonnay (sparkling wine) have wrapped up harvest with sauvignon blanc expected next. Many growers are reporting harvest starting 10 days to two weeks later than last year with the potential for a lighter-than-normal harvest.
We expect mid-September to bring a change in weather, but with a week or more of summer officially remaining, it’s unlikely anyone expects to see a forecast for up to 6 inches of snow for the higher mountains of Colorado. We won’t see the white stuff down here ( although we may see it from here) but it reminds us that as the seasons change, so do our diets and the way we drink.
Salads and light meals aren’t discarded but they become less frequent as more substantial fare – coq au vin, soups, stews and the like – take center plate. Gone, too, are the lighter wines and beers, particularly the light-bodied and mostly tasteless beers that kept us cool and hydrated but unsatisfied on those sweltering summer afternoons.
Breckenridge Brewery (the Ale House, to those beer lovers in Grand Junction) recently released two seasonal-oriented brews, the Autumn Ale and the gold-medal winning Vanilla Porter, and re-released (relax, it’s a new batch) of the delightful Peachfork Ale, made with Palisade peaches.
The Autumn Ale, said brewery spokesperson Terry Usry, “was inspired by brewmaster Todd Usry’s memories of fall in Virginia where he grew up.” The ale has some fall-like aromas of smoke, roasty and earthy tones reminiscent of fall afternoons. There’s a comfortable mouthfeel and heft (derived, in part, from the ale’s 6.7 percent alcohol) that makes drinking this a pleasure. Available in draft and 12-ounce bottles. Try it with braised short ribs, a side of acorn squash, and a medley of root vegetables. Think Oktoberfest & sausages with sauerkraut.
This is the first time we’ve had the Vanilla Porter outside the original brewery in Breckenridge where the porter was concocted by brewer Trevor Potter. Apparently, it took some convincing to get Breckenridge brewmaster Usry to take a chance on a vanilla-flavored porter.
“They kept asking, ‘When are you going to make Vanilla Porter down here (at the Denver production brewery)?’’ And I kept saying, ‘Never,’” Usry said. He eventually relented but warned his staff, “Fine. I’ll make it and you’ll see. People really don’t want vanilla in their beer. Well, I was completely wrong.”
Now, the Vanilla Porter is the second-best seller behind Avalanche Ale. Oh, yes. The pleasant hint of vanilla comes from steeping whole-bean New Guinea vanilla for 45 minutes just prior to fermentation. The brew was awarded the gold medal for the flavored/specialty beer category at the 2011 Denver International Beer Competition (Breck’s Agave Wheat and 72 Imperial also won awards).
So while this really isn’t a seasonal brew, it’s a perfect fit with the segue from summer to fall and early winter. Pair it with fall menu items including roasted or smoked foods, barbecue, sausages, or blackened fish, or in Vanilla Porter milkshakes.
And, yes, there is a new batch of Peachfork Wheat, featuring the peaches from Peachfork Orchard and Vineyards on East Orchard Mesa. This release, one of Breckenridge’s “Field to Fermenter” series, is a tribute to the Colorado harvest season, said Scott Thibault, director of marketing for Breckenridge Brewery.
“We really like partnering with small and local providers where possible,” Thibault said. “Our relationship with the Peachfork is a personal one; one of our employees is the granddaughter of the owners and recently left us to join the family farm. We’re excited to bring Peachfork Wheat around again, and this year we’ve doubled up on the peaches.”
Last year, this unfiltered beer caught our attention with its bright flavor and arresting nose carrying a hint of fresh peaches. There’s not really a lot of peach in the mouth, but more a refreshing flirtation of fresh fruit that lifts this ale above the ordinary. It will be available in draft by early October.