The rain began in earnest as I was leaving Denver last night and by the time the lights of the Eisenhower Tunnels on Interstate 70 were overhead some drivers were pulling over to wait out what had become a torrential curtain.
Everywhere you hear tales of heat and drought and the mountains of Colorado are no different. The ground is so dry that even during the height of the storm no puddles were forming, every bit of life-restoring moisture being sucked into the earth.
Winemakers aren’t eager to have rain now, with some early ripening white grapes (sauvignon blanc, chardonnay) already ripe for harvest and teams of pickers moving through the vineyards. Sugar levels are inching up and too much water – whether from heaven or hoses – could delay harvest just long enough for the birds to find the berries.
So we’ll talk instead about wine already in the bottle.
Folie á Deux Alexander Valley Sonoma County 2009 Cabernet Sauvignon – Not sure how long this wine has been in my basement – I mean, wine cellar – but I wish there was another down there. No oak to speak of (are you sure this is a California cabernet?) but lots of fruit, balance and depth. Dark, rich fruit – bush-ripe currants and forest berries (a hint of being wild, uncultivated but not sweet); with some bramble and fresh-turned earth scents. My notes read “tobacco, mocha, cedar,” which indicate something else there in the finish. I’m going back to the basement, maybe there still is another down there. I saw it on wine.com for $20.
Doña Paula Los Cardos Mendoza 2011 Malbec – Say “malbec’ and most people will respond “Argentina,” symbolic of how well that country has adopted and adapted a French grape to the American palate. Lots of fruit, great price, just what the doctor ordered for your ailing palate. And you have responded: According to the trade association Wines of Argentina, shipments of Argentine malbec to the United States have quintupled since 2005 to almost 5.6 million cases. This wine offers the soft blueberries without being jammy, with easy tannins and a sense of depth and complexity to add polish. Imported by the Trinchero Family Estates. $10 SRP.
Doña Paula Los Cardos 2011 Chardonnay – Why do I want to duck whenever someone says “Chardonnay”? For starters, how about wine manipulated to show too much oak, yeast-derived flavors, and a wine that tastes like fruit salad, not chardonnay. So I was surprised and pleased (OK, so I’m easy) to find the Los Cardos Chardonnay showing nice acidity and a light touch of oak to match flavors of pears, bananas and tropical fruits. At $9 SRP, this is a wine you’ll be happy to serve.
The Little City that voted, or How Freixenet cava discovered Grand Junction:
On a recent mid-week evening, Donna Bitting was standing smack in the middle of BIN 707 Foodbar in downtown Grand Junction, enjoying a night she had waited 30 years to arrive.
Freixenet, the world’s leading producer of traditional method Spanish cava, including the top-selling Cordon Negro Brut in its distinctive black bottle, selected Grand Junction and BIN 707 as the site of its exclusive “My City” national promotion. Bitting likely was the reason the event happened here.
“We had Freixenet for our wedding 30 years ago and we’ve always considered it something special,” said Bitting, inclining her head toward her nearby husband, Rollin Bitting. “So when I saw on their Facebook page they were having this promotion, I started calling all my friends and everyone I could think of to vote.”
The Freixenet (it’s said “fresh-eh-net” because it’s Spanish (more accurately it’s Catalan) and not French) “My City” online promotion pitted cava fans from 250 cities around the nation, all voting to host the event in their city, said Lauren Burkhart of Freixenet.
“We thought we might be going to Austin, or Seattle or maybe Chicago, so you can imagine how surprised we were when Grand Junction won,” said Burkhart, laughing at the memory. “We had to scramble for some maps.”
Jesse Hamrick of the New York PR firm Sawtooth Group said he drove 280 miles after landing at Denver International Airport after wisely deciding the ticket from New York ($700) was pricey enough without adding the $300 or so airline tag on to reach the Western Slope of Colorado.
“But the drive and the scenery was great. It’s the first time I’ve ever driven in the mountains so it was pretty interesting at times,” said Hamrick, whose friendly smile over a table full of cava was the first thing to greet party goers.
Grand Junction has about 115,00 residents, probably quite a few less than some Chicago suburbs but apparently GJ has more people interested in Freixenet.
Burkhart said she couldn’t remember exactly how many votes Grand Junction received but she kindly estimated it was in “the thousands.” One key to the vote-getting is the rule you could vote only once per day but as many days as you wanted during the three-month promotion. Rollin Biting admitted voting “at least 17 times.”
“When I saw that rule, I kept calling my friends everyday, telling them to vote again,” said Donna. “I never guessed we could have something like this here in Grand Junction.”
Freixenet is the world’s largest producer of traditional method sparkling wine, which means it adheres to the same fermented-in-the-bottle production methods as Champagne. Along with its second-label Segura Viudas, the company produces some 200 million bottles of cava each year. The production is based in the tiny (pop. 12,345) Catalan town of Sant Sadurni D’Anoia, in the heart of Spanish cava production a few kilometers outside Barcelona.
Having Freixenet’s invitation-only event in Grand Junction was a coup highlighting the interest of the local Freixenet lovers (the party was limited to 50 invitees) and the skills of the talented staff at BIN 707 Foodbar, one of the new establishments enlivening downtown.
“Seriously, you guys out-voted some really big cities for this,” Burkhart said. “I don’t think you won by a whole lot of votes but still you won and here we are. This has been a lot of fun and the people here are so nice.”
BIN 707 Foodbar chef and co-owner Josh Niernberg (his wife Jodi Coleman is the other co-owner) blew up the evening with his impressive and fanciful tapas-like pairings to fit the Freixenet line, from the best-selling Cordon Negro Brut to the pinot-noir-based Elyssia Gran Cuvée.
The pairings included:
- Cordon Negro Brut: Cucumber, Watermelon, Heirloom Tomato Gazpacho with Watermelon Sorbet, Crispy Parsnip Shoestrings and White Balsamic Vinaigrette.
- Cordon Negro Extra Dry: Olathe Sweet Corn Blini with Creme Fraiche, Black Truffle “Caviar” and Heirloom Carrot Green.
- Cordon Rosado: Crispy Prosciutto Canape with Applewood Smoked Goat Cheese Whipped Cream and Radish, Grilled Peach and Watermelon Pico de Gallo.
- Carta Nevada Semi Dry: Crispy Fried Heirloom Tomato “Sandwich” with Fresh Jumbo Lump Crab, Sweet Pickled Jicama, Micro Greens and Arugula Oil.
- Elyssia Gran Cuvee: Fanny Bay Grilled Oysters, Fruition Farm’s Shepherd’s Halo Cheese and Asparagus Mignonette.
- Carta Nevada Brut: Truffles of Dark Chocolate Chili and High Country Orchard Cherries.
HOTCHKISS – From the spacious lens of glass on the second floor of the Leroux Creek Inn near Hotchkiss, a viewer sees well-manicured vineyards stretching into the distance and the gentle fall of land dipping north to the North Fork River and then climbing again to the distant mesas and patchwork tablelands of Fruitland Mesa.
All of us, asserted writer/geographer Wallace Stegner, are “conditioned by climate and geography, ” those “forms and lights and colors” of the natural world that have shaped us.
For Thomas Huber, also a geographer and author, the landscape stretching out before his gaze brought to mind another “climate and geography” – one more similar than different: that of the Provence region of southeast France.
“Seventy-five percent of the two valleys are the same,” said Huber Saturday afternoon, standing on the inn’s flower-laden deck just prior to a dinner marking the West Elks Wine Trail celebration. “The main difference is the vineyards here are 15 years old while the vineyards in Provence are 2,000 or more years old.”
Shaky history aside – vineyards have been planted in the North Fork Valley for much more than 15 years – it was fitting that Huber was in Delta County this weekend for the fourth annual West Elks Wine Trail, a celebration focusing on local-produced wines and foods, with several of the West Elk AVA wineries hosting special dinners.
Americans are wont to source, correctly or not, the current trend of locavore-istic noshing to ‘les agriculteurs et viticulteurs’ of the French countryside (and to a degree that of Italy and Spain) and Huber’s most-recent novel “An American Provence” is a scholarly and highly entertaining treatise on the connective roots shared by people thousands of miles apart who love and work the land.
Inspiration for the book came during an early morning amble in 2002 when Huber and his wife Carole first visited Leroux Creek Inn and Vineyards, owned and operated by Yvon Gros and his wife, Joanna Reckert.
“For an instant my sleep-addled brain found itself in Provence,” writes Huber of that first morning wandering through the inn. “An instant later the mental fog lifted and I was back in western Colorado but wondering why the Provencal image had not flashed into my mind sooner.”
He already was familiar with Provence, thanks to visits there with French-born Carole to visit her mother, who had raised her daughter to “love and honor France and Provence.”
Huber, a geography professor at the University of Colorado – Colorado Springs, found a particular connection between the North Fork Valley and that of the Coulon River valley in northern Provence.
That connection, Huber said, “set in motion my desire to chronicle, these two complex, intricate, and intimate landscapes.”
He notes the differences in the geology (Provence has thick beds of limestone while the North Fork Valley is predominately sedimentary shales) and the different plants and trees.
“But really, there is the same valley terrain, the same aspect, the same sort of ‘garrigue’ and the same type of people focused on the landscape and working that landscape,” he said while speaking to some of the 60-plus guests attending Saturday’s Provence-style dinner prepared by chef and winemaker Yvon Gros.
Curiously, “garrigue” refers to a Mediterranean, limestone-rooted shrub ecosystem but it’s also a term occasionally heard in wine tasting referring to the warm, earthy scents of autumn often found in rustic-style wines.
With chapters with such titles as “Places”, “The Land”, “Villages”, “Wine” and “Food”, Huber takes readers on an intimate journey into the unexpected intertwining of two cultures separated more by distance than outlook.
As Gros, himself a native of Provence, said, only half in jest, “Perhaps Tom’s book will convince people who don’t want to travel to France to come and get a brief taste of the Provence in the North Fork Valley.”
“An American Provence” was published by University Press of Colorado and is available through Amazon.