Throughout the year, I’ll occasionally focus on a single winemaker and it only makes sense to feature promising winemakers few people have yet to meet. This week I visited Jay and Jennifer Christianson of Canyon Wind Cellars in Palisade.
PALISADE, Colo. – On a warm late-spring morning, surrounded by acres of emerald-green vines, Jay and Jennifer Christianson, owners of Canyon Wind Cellars, looked around and saw the future around them.
Perhaps that should read “new” owners, since the current generation of Christiansons two years ago assumed day-to-day operation of the winery started by Jay’s father, Norm Christianson, in 1996. The changes initiated by Jay and Jennifer are subtle but reflective of lessons well-learned during semi-regular wine-tasting trips to California and other wine regions.
“We saw some terrible tasting rooms and some great ones,” said Jay, “and we saw what we could do better.”
Jay is typical of many second-generation winemakers who grew up in the winemaking business, learning at his father’s side about the finer points of wine. He received his initial taste of the labor side of the business working his first harvest at the age of 9.
“My first real harvest was the 1996 chardonnay and merlot,” Jay recalled with a smile. “I think I was very sore afterwards but it gave me insight into what it really takes to have your own vineyard.”
Jennifer’s wine education, however, has been on the fast-track since the two were married in 2009.
“When we first met, I knew exactly nothing about wine,” said the Chicago native with a laugh. “It’s been a lot of learning since then.”
The two met in Vail, where Jay was balancing jobs as a youth ski coach and as the Front Range marketer/salesman for Canyon Wind and Jennifer was the fundraiser and development director for local and U.S. team skiers. He asked her to pet-sit his two dogs while he made one of his road trips to Denver and it wasn’t long before that temporary job turned into a long-term relationship.
“I thought (ski team fund-raising) was pretty much the coolest job until I got into winemaking,” Jennifer said.
Jay, 30, and Jennifer, 36, are among the first of Colorado’s nex-Gen era of winemakers, along with Julie Balistreri of Balestreri Vineyards in Denver who also continues the winemaking tradition of her father and grandfather. Being that bridge between generations requires not only continuing the tradition and reputation honed by the winery founders but also reaching out to the savvy younger crowd of wine lovers whose preferred wine-list reading runs to blogs, Twitter, Facebook and other social media.
What isn’t lost on the two young Christiansons is that the best way to sell wine is to make good wine. With Jay’s knowledge of the retail side gained from years marketing and selling Colorado wine before Colorado wine became popular (“You learn to have a pretty thick skin,” he said of those days) and Jennifer’s MBA background in human resources and her well-tuned palate, which Jay readily admits is better than his, the two are aiming at an audience looking for something perhaps a bit different than other Colorado wineries.
An hour or so into our visit, deep in the underground cellar unlike any other in the state, where barrels of wine lie sleeping until their release, Jay said, “Our goal is to make the best wine for the property.”
Which means “we grow everything,” said Jay said, , who attended classes at UC Davis to hone his wine knowledge. He emphasized it is a point of pride to deliver a true low-intervention “vin de terroir” such as the dark-fruit rich Boreas, the top of their new Anemoi line of wines. “We’re also taking a more thoughtful approach to making wine from the vineyard.”
Much of that philosophy is adapted from renowned winemaker Robert Sinskey, who has among his 10 points of winemaking, “Fine wines have a sense of place” and “Know your vineyards.”
As a winery, Canyon Wind Cellars, which still sees the seasonal guidance of winemaker and winery consultant Robert Pepi, produces 14 wines under three labels: the affordable 4710 brand (named after the vineyard’s elevation); eight varietals under the familiar Canyon Wind label; and the Anemoi line, a name Jennifer found while perusing an assortment of lists and books while accompanying Jay on his frequent four-hour drives to Denver.
Anemoi (it’s “ann-eh-moy”) refers both to the Greek wind gods as well as the canyon breeze that cools the vineyard in summer and protects it from frost in winter. Jay’s father Norm called that canyon wind a million-dollar breeze for its unmistakable value in savin countless harvest from early and late frosts.
It’s the Anemoi wines, currently two hearty red-blends named Boreas (north wind) and Zephyrus (east wind) and Iapyx (the north-west wind), a late-harvest pinot grigio, that most excite Jay and Jennifer and where they see their future. The two red wines are produced in limited amounts and as such are premium priced ($35 each).
“We made these to see what the vineyard could do and we’ve been very pleasantly surprised at their reception,” Jay said. Developing Anemoi, Jennifer said, “was the perfect opportunity for me to dive into creating a style of wines that I love.”
The 2009 Boreas ($35) is a true vin de terroir, blending cabernet sauvignon (43 percent), merlot (21 percent), cabernet franc (21) and petite verdot (15) into a dark wine of full fruit flavors, round tannis and a lasting finish. The 2010 Zephyrus ($35) is 50/50 cabernet franc/petite verdot, taking full advantage of two varietals that are doing well in the Grand Valley AVA’s high-desert climate.
The Christiansons also hand-number each bottle of Boreas, a time-consuming act thoughtfully done, giving Jay and Jennifer one more connection with an unseen consumer in whose opinion lies the future of their efforts.
After last month’s initial blast of 100-degree days, the summer has settled into a routine of hot days and sultry warm evenings, perfect for entertaining outside.
However, summer entertaining can pose a challenge for wine drinkers finding themselves choosing between heavy-bodied reds and over-simplified white wines.
Oddly, many wine drinkers have a pre-conceived bias against rosés, even when it’s someone who hasn’t tasted one since the Beatles were together.
“I think the last one I had was in a funny-shaped bottle way back in college,” said a guest recently, her hands outlining the unforgettable shape of Lancer’s Rosé, which did double duty as a wine-bottle slash candleholder for many a college student when Nixon still was president.
Sadly, it’s easy to dismiss pink wine. Say “rosé” and most Americans think of something cheap, the sweet “blush” wines such as Lancer’s or Sutter Home’s white Zinfandel.
But there are many reasons to enjoy rosés, as fellow wine writer Jeff Siegel, aka The Wine Curmudgeon, noted recently in his annual rosé review.
“I especially pondered that question (of why American’s don’t do much rosé) preparing for this post, the blog’s fifth annual rose extravaganza,” Siegel wrote. “And I can’t come up with a good reason. Rose is cheap. It’s better made than ever before. It’s food friendly. You can put an ice cube in it. What more do you need from a wine?”
A bit of pink-wine history is supplied by David White, founder and editor of the Terroirist.com.
In a recent column, White explained that way back in 1975, Sutter Home winemaker Bob Trinchero had some of his white Zinfandel get “stuck” during fermentation, meaning the yeast died before all the sugar had converted into alcohol.
Rather than add more yeast, Trinchero let the wine sit for two weeks, White said.
When Trinchero revisited the wine, he knew it would be a hit, and Sutter Home’s modern-day white Zinfandel was born. As White and others have seen, countless imitators soon would follow.
But popularity does not mean great wine. White Zinfandels and similar “blush” wines usually are too sweet, more like strawberry Kool-Aid with an alcohol kick.
True rosés, particularly those from France and Spain, are bone dry, multi-layered and refreshing. And those layers of complexity make the wines as food friendly as any wines.
There are several ways to make a rosé wine, but the two most common are leaving grape skins in the fermenting juice just long enough to add some color (remember all grapes give white juice) and the process called bleeding (“saigneé”), where the light-colored wine is siphoned off the freshly crushed grapes.
The main flavors are strawberry, cranberry, watermelon and raspberry although you might find a kiss of red flowers, some spice and even a hint of minerality.
They aren’t all pink. Rose´s range from a light salmon to a medium red. And most alcohol levels can be 13 percent or less, which means a glass or two won’t have you falling asleep by the pool.
Americans slowly are coming around to rosés, in part, I think, because Americans are traveling to countries where good rosés are common.
– Chateau Pesquie “Les Terrasses” — $13, well-balanced, dry, medium-bodied with raspberry and red cherry flavors.
– Plum Creek Cellars Palisade Rosé — $9, semi-sweet, notes of ripe strawberries, watermelon and red cherry.
– Canyon Wind Cellars 47-Ten Rosé — $14, dry, medium-bodied, notes of strawberry, cranberry and pineapple, 14.6 percent alcohol.
– Chateau Sainte Eulalie Minervois — $15, dry, made in the saigneé method, hints of strawberries, raspberries and spice, 13.5 percent alcohol.
ASPEN – The 30th annual Food & Wine Classic in Aspen is history, although perhaps not without a hangover or two to prolong the sweet memory until next year.
I’m not sure how many people have been at all 30 of the Classics but perennial favorite Jacques Pepin said he’s been to 27 or 28 which surely puts him among the leaders. Pepin, who said he teamed with the unforgettable Julia Child 10 or 12 times until Julia found Aspen’s 7,800-foot elevation a bit much, paired this year with long-time friend and fellow chef Jean-Claude Szurdak to win Sunday’s Classic Cook-off.
The Pepin-Szurdak team outwitted the team of chefs Bobbie Flay and Michael Symon to win the popular votes from the exuberant standing-room crowd at Aspen’s St. Regis Hotel. One of the event’s many highlights included Symon doing one of those “why don’t these guys make mistakes?” mistakes when a pan flared and the overhead mirror melted. He took the mishap in impeccable stride, as did Pepin after opening the oven early on his three omelettes, a move expressly warned against in most cookbooks. The audience gasped at this culinary faux-pas but Pepin only shrugged and the omelettes, of course, came out perfect.
Pepin called on his experience with Child when one of the audience asked him about when to use butter. For a moment Pepin channeled his old friend and then responded, “I called in to Julia. You use butter all the time.”
And of course we’ll remember Mark Oldman, not only for his enthusiastic and sometimes irreverent sharing of wine knowledge but also for his attire, this year with an eye on 1982, reflecting the Food & Wine Classic’s first year in Aspen. The irrepressible Oldman (right) spent the weekend garbed in red leather pants (acquired via a used clothing outlet online), black T-shirt and red headband ala Mike Reno, lead singer of the ’80s band Loverboy, which had the hit “Working for the Weekend” the year the Classic began.
Oldman also likes to bring surprise wines to Aspen and this year, in honor of the 30th, he shared two wines from 1982, a Jordan Cabernet and Chateau La Croix Bordeaux, both from his personal cellar.
Missing among the 300 or so purveyors under the Grand Tasting tent was a strong showing from Italy, a country that normally has a section to itself. This year, though, you had to wander a bit to find the Italian presence scattered among the other countries.
“You know, with the politics and the economy, things are little tight and I think many of them stayed home,” said Lilly Lo Cascio of Tasca d’Almerita. “Some of them are here, you have to look for them.”
Parts of the American economy seem on the road to recovery. This was the first year since 2008 the Classic sold out (it’s been capped at 5,000 attendees since 1997) in advance and the popular single-day tickets of previous years were not available.
In an interview with the Aspen Business Journal, Food & Wine magazine publisher Christina Grdovic said consumers are still watching their money but are starting too spend a little more.
“Everybody was more frugal and everyone had a strict budget the last few years,” Grdovic said. “Now, people are still careful and maybe more efficient, but things are feeling grander. One of the things that seems to be happening is parties: people are having more and bigger parties again.”
She went on to say that in a recession, people make decisions on what to cut and keep. “So they’ll cut luxury items, but they want to keep some vacation time, time with family and friends,” Grdovic said. “And that’s what Food & Wine is all about, and that works to our benefit.”
And the benefit goes both ways. The S’Wine in the Mine party sponsored by the Infinite Money Theorem winery raised $1,500 for the Aspen Volunteer Fire Department, which is helping fight the High Park wildfire near Fort Colllins.
ASPEN – Cruising the Grand Tasting tents at the Food & Wine Classic can be an elbow-squeezer for room but among the most-popular areas this week is the Wines From Spain tent.
But it’s not just at Aspen where Spanish wines are finding a growing audience, said Helen Gregory, representing the Wines from Spain trade association. She noted that last year Spanish wine exports increased by more than 21 percent.
One reason is “People recognize the artisanal nature of Spanish wines, most of which come from small, historic family-owned wineries,” Gregory said.
Among the favorites this week were wines from the Ribera del Duero in northern Spain. Tempranillo reigns here, where vines grow short and bushy in the high altitude (2,500-2,800 feet).
Alvaro Comenge (at right) was showing off his Bodegas Comenge wines, among them the line of Don Miguel wines topped by the fruit-driven Riserva made from select, small-plot vines. Don Miguel Comenge, Alvaro’s grandfather, literally wrote the definitive book on Spanish wines, his La Vid y los Vinos Espanoles, in 1940.
Also notable was the Malleolus from Bodegas Emilio Moro. One sip of this powerful Tinta del Pais (aka tempranillo) and you understand why its continually gets high points from major critics ( priced accordingly at $100-$140).
The Wine Spectator called Malleous “massively structured, powerful and unyielding, as if chiseled from granite.” Don’t let that scare you away; underneath all that power is a base of dark fruit, minerality and rose-like floral notes.
And for a real change, and because I’m such a Reisling fan, there were several stops at the German Riesling table, where I was attracted to the Weingut Donnhoff 2010 Dry Slate, its crisp acidity and lots of minerality, green apple and pear note making it a perfect food wine.
ASPEN – Midway in his seminar on “Butchery for Beginners” at the Food & Wine Classic in Aspen, Chef John Besh looked up from his carving up of a Colorado lamb at the Food & Wine Classic cooking tent and peered into the audience.
“Are there any vegetarians in here?” to a round of laughter. Surprisingly, there was one, and Besh (pictured at right) knew her. “Well, in case you decide to eat meat, here’s how to get it,” said the New Orleans-based Besh.
This year’s Food & Wine Classic added some hands-on seminars including Besh’s “Butchery for Beginners” and “Knife Skills 101,” indicative of the Classic’s efforts to keep the event fresh and consumer friendly.
“People don’t want to just watch and listen, they really want to know how to make it at home,” said Christina Grdovic, publisher of Food & Wine Magazine. “It’s part of the greater trend of understanding where our food comes from.”
More in-the-kitchen know-how, blended with equal parts of stand-up comedy, was imparted by many of the best-known names in the food prep business, including Besh, Emeril Lagasse, Jacque and fusion-cooking star Ming Tsai, who told those watching his Saturday seminar on Asian barbecue, “When you cut an onion, do it at a 45-degree angle so you don’t cut your fingertips off — that would be bad, unless you’re a criminal.”
Along with all the gala over the weekend, there also is talk of the High Park Fire near Fort Collins.
Ben Parsons, owner and winemaker at the Infinite Monkey Theorem winery in Denver, said he is donating the proceeds from his ever-so-popular Smuggler Mine party to local firefighters.
“In response to the High Park wildfire near Fort Collins, Colo., The Infinite Monkey Theorem (IMT) is turning tonight’s highly anticipated S’Wine at the Mine party at the Food & Wine Classic into a benefit for the Aspen Volunteer Fire Department, who is sending a team to battle the blaze,” Parsons said in a news release.
“The Denver-based urban winery IMT – as well as event co-sponsors The National Pork Board, Tender Belly, Novelis, Ball Corporation, Basta and Masterpiece Delicatessen – have all agreed to donate funds, and guests will also be asked to contribute donations at the door.
“We’re very fortunate to be able to celebrate Food & Wine weekend in Aspen with a party of this magnitude,”Parsons said. “And we’re excited that we can also use our event to help make a difference for this devastating natural disaster.”
Late reports say the High Park fire has burned about 85 square miles, making it the third-largest in recorded Colorado history.
ASPEN – The 30th annual Food and Wine Classic in Aspen opened Friday morning and like all notable anniversaries this one has been long in the planning.
A special concert by Elvis Costello, a 5k charity run benefitting Grow for Good with super-chefs Bobby Flay and Marcus Samuelsson changes in the lineup of chefs has breathed new life into this long-time high-gloss favorite, the one Dana Cowin, editor-in-chief of Food and Wine magazine, calls “summer camp for foodies.”
It’s also notable that this is the first year since 2008 the Classic has sold out in advance.
It may the economy really is better but Christina Grdovic, vice president and publisher of Food & Wine, said this being the 30th anniversary also attracted the crowd.
“The fact that this is a special year might have made people say, ‘this is one I don’t want to miss,’” Grdovic told Kelly Hayes of the Aspen Times.
Among the many memories since the International Wine Classic began in 1983 (the name changed in 1986 when it was taken over by Food & Wine Magazine) include appearances by the late Julia Child, who made her debut in Aspen in 1990, the first in a continuing string of sell-outs in 1997 and simply the immense growth in the awareness of eating and drinking well.
“It was one of the first places you could see chefs perform,” said Cowin in story by Stewart Oksenhorn. “Ten years before The Food Network came along, the Classic was essentially doing food shows with food personalities.”
Among the personalities returning this year is author Mark Oldman, whose “Oldman’s Guide to Outsmarting Wine: 108 Ingenious Shortcuts to Navigate the World of Wine with Confidence and Style” is a great tool for wine drinkers wanting to increase their knowledge of things grape.
Oldman’s seminar Saturday morning featured sparkling wines from regions other than Champagne.
He wowed the audience with his demonstration of “sabering” a bottle of sparkling wine and then called to the audience for volunteers to try it themselves.
“It’s really not difficult, you could teach a child to do it,” He said, although he made sure to provide safety goggles for the cautious but eager volunteers. “But I wouldn’t recommend that unless you want to raise your kid right, right from the start.”
There a several thousand “kids” here this weekend, all eager to learn and eager to have something to take back home, even if it’s the most massive hangover from drinking wine at Aspen’s rarified 7,900-feet elevation.
Call it the schooling part of summer camp.
The 30th annual Food & Wine Classic in Aspen runs through Sunday.
Next week the Food & Wine Classic in Aspen celebrates its 30th year in Glitter Gulch and I’ll be there, trying to blend in.
Thanks to the generosity of the folks at Food & Wine Magazine and its advertising agencies, I’m attending again this year as a working guest of the Food & Wine Classic.
Well, me and scads of reporters, journalists and photographers, many of whom actually will be working and others, well, enjoying the Food & Wine Classic.
Everyone always asks about the crazy parties taking place around town but we (meaning the singular I) rarely get invited to the best or craziest parties since those typically are reserved for sponsors, really tight friends of sponsors, or well-heeled, really tight friends of sponsors.
But that’s cool, since I’ll still knock elbows with my share of celebrities and semi-celebrities and receive cordial invites to more events than I can make, including the always entertaining Wines From Spain barbecue at José Andrés’ house, the unique Smuggler Mine outing (or inning, since it’s a party inside a real working gold mine) and other get-togethers taking place inside and outside around Aspen.
But in spite of reaching out to a wide audience, most of this sold-out week isn’t for the masses. The Classic is geared toward what others have called the 1-percent (or maybe 2-percent), since the remaining 98 percent can’t afford $1,225 (not including lodging and meals) for three days of revelry, no matter how close you may get to Mario, David (Chang) or Michael (Nischan).
This certainly is not a knock on either the Classic or the haves. Since its resurrection in 1946 from ghost town to a ski town, Aspen has honed its reputation for attracting the beautiful people and this week is a continuation of that amazing run. One look at the well-tanned shoulders, the expensive pedicures and the Sophie Theallet sundresses and you realize it’s simply Aspen in summer.
And it’s not like the people aren’t fun to be around. Generally the crowds are pleasant but perhaps a bit harried as they hurry from venue to to venue, often on a tight time schedule, despite the occasional festival goers (which you find at any festival) too impatient to stand in even the shortest line. Mostly, though, it’s the loafers-sans-socks crowd, trying to relax between text message, emails and notes from the Right Coast.
The world may be going to the devil but the road is lined with great wine and well-sourced food.