The shortest day of the year leaves us little time to write about wines, although plenty of time (if you drink after sunset) to enjoy them. I’m catching up a bit before the year ends on some wines I’ve enjoyed the past few months.
A selection of wines from Kim Crawford reminded me why New Zealand might be one of the most-dynamic wine-making regions in the world today and the No. 1 selling luxury New Zealand wine in the U.S., according to the website. Fair enough.
2011 Marlborough Sauvingon Blanc – ($12). I’m not the only one who likes this bright, taut wine showing notes of tropical fruits, fresh grass and citrus: Wine Spectator gave the wine 90-plus points for seven straight years.
2012 Unoaked Chardonnay – ($13.99). You’re forgiven if you sometimes feel a bit burned out on what passes for Chardonnay. Too fat, too buttery, too “pillowy,” if that’s a word. There are many reasons why unoaked chards (with thanks to writer Bill St. John) are taking a bigger share each year out of the chardonnay pie, and this Kim Crawford offering is among the better unoaked chardonnays on the shelf.
Kim Crawford sources his grapes from the Marlborough region (South Island) and Hawkes Bay (south-east coast of the North Island), offering tropical and white peach/apricot flavors with nice acidity and a bit of pleasing body lost in other leaner unoaked chardonnays.
Certain white wine grapes, led by Riesling but certainly including Chardonnay and, to some extent, Sauvignon Blanc, are particularly prized for their clarity, the ability to reflect and express the specific terroir they are raised. Additionally, maybe to some degree of danger, is Chardonnay’s clarity allows it to be manipulated by the winemaker.
The winemaker, of course, has to be willing to let the grape shine through, and Kim Crawford winemaker Anthony Walkenhorst has that ability.
2011 Pinot Noir – ($18). Maybe it’ the soils, maybe it’s the proximity of the sea, maybe it’s the … well, who knows for sure, but New Zealand produces some beautiful Pinot Noir. This one from the South Island vineyards is among the better ones, and the fact it’s listed as sold out on at least one site attests to its popularity. Bright red fruit, with notes of tart and sweet cherries and ripe strawberries, with just enough spice and sweet French oak to give the wine some heft.
As I noted earlier today on (both???) my Facebook page(s) – which is a frustrating story all its own – John Garlich and Ulla Merz of BookCliff Vineyards in Boulder recently won their third Jefferson Cup award, the top prize in the annual Jefferson Cup Invitational Wine Competition.
This year’s winning wine was the BookCliff 2011 Reserve Cabernet Franc, and we’d like to think the win demonstrates at least a couple of promising developments about the Colorado wine industry. One, that Colorado wine can hold its own against any wines produced in the U.S. and two, that Garlich and Merz (and assistant winemaker Justin Jannusch) have learned how to make the best of what might soon be Colorado’s signature red grape.
A bit about the Jefferson Cup, devised by the renowned wine writer Doug Frost (who also graciously wrote the forward to my latest book, “Drink It In: Wine Guide to Western Colorado”) and one of the more-prestigious wine competitions in the U.S. today.
The Jefferson Cup is the only wine competition that recognizes top wines from all of America’s wine regions. This year, 22 states took home honors with 12 states having wineries awarded the highest award, the Jefferson Cup. In all, 25 Jefferson Cups were awarded. And this is a real cup, not a round doubloon hanging from a colored ribbon but something Ulla compared to a football trophy, easily big enough to drink your wine from.
And, unlike other, open-to-all wine competitions, the Jefferson Cup is an invitational (hence the name, right?) where 700 wines are pre-selected to “exemplify top viticulture and winemaking throughout America,” as the press release says.
What’s also important, especially for Colorado winemakers who might be wondering what the future holds if this year’s cold weather serves up another short crop of other vitis vinifera grapes, is Cabernet Franc might be cold-hardy enough to be the industry’s savior.
That’s a whole ‘nother topic, one for next week’s column, but after the double-whammy cold snaps of winter and spring 2013, which decimated the wine grape crop in most of western Colorado, Cabernet Franc was the only red grape this summer to have substantial survival (Riesling was the best-surviving white grape). No Tempranillo, almost no Merlot, very little Syrah/Shiraz, Cabernet Sauvignon did a meager OK, Petit Verdot so-so, but Cab Franc lived through it all. Just sayin’, is all.
BookCliff was a pioneer in making a Cab Franc varietal bottling and as Ulla said during a phone call Thursday, they soon discovered Cabernet Franc fits BookCliff’s winemaking style.
“Our first (Cab Franc vintage) was 2002,” she said. “I think we were one of the first wineries to make 100 percent Cab Franc.”
Usually used as a blending wine to add finesse and pepper, violets and a bit of tobacco hints to heavier Bordeaux-style wines, today many wineries in Colorado are making a Cab Franc varietal bottling.
“Cabernet Franc has worked well for us, it seems to fit our style of winemaking,” said Ulla, noting that among other awards the 2010 Reserve Cabernet Franc won a gold medal and was named the Best Cab Franc under $30 at the Los Angeles International Wine Competition and also received a double gold in the 2013 Colorado Governor’s Cup wine competition.
BookCliff uses only French oak in making Cabernet Franc, the barrels made by a specific barrel-maker familiar with the winery, Ulla said. “What happened in 2002, we found we had only one or two barrels, and it’s been (small production) since,” she said. “Every winemaker has to find what works for them and its always been French oak for us on the Cabernet Franc.”
BookCliff also has a 2013 Jefferson Cup nominee (just under the Cup winners) with its 2012 Colorado Petit Verdot plus its Ensemble 2011 Red Blend and the 2012 Colorado Malbec won Medals of Merit.
Other Colorado wineries also winning awards at the 2013 Jefferson Cup included Anemoi, Canyon Wind Cellars, Grande River Vineyards, and Winery at Holy Cross Abbey. Congratulations to all.
Colorado wine is showing up on more tables and consumers are willing to pay more it, according to a report released Wednesday by the Colorado Wine Industry Development Board.
The report, done by Colorado State University for the CWIDB, says that not only are Colorado wine consumers drinking more wine than their national counterparts – 3.41 gallons per year compared to the national level of 2.7 gallon – the amount of Colorado wine being bought also has increased.
The report also notes that that the Colorado wine industry’s economic impact in sales, employment and other considerations has more than tripled to more than $144 million since a similar study was conducted in 2005.
“Our $144 million is very small, but it’s a key linchpin in the state’s $40 billion agriculture industry,” said Doug Caskey, executive director of the Colorado wine board. ““The significant expansion of the Colorado wine industry’s impact through tourism is particularly exciting.”
The wine industry has become “imperative” to the marketing efforts of the Grand Junction Visitor & Convention Bureau, said Mistalynn Lee Meyeraan, Marketing & Public Relations Coordinator.
“This is the way Grand Junction, and the entire Grand Valley, distinguishes itself from the rest of the destinations,” Meyeraan said. “It’s our ‘umbrella’ brand. This is wine country.”
CSU researchers said wine tourism generates $103 million annually in direct and indirect economic activity, with an estimated $144 million in sales, employment and secondary economic impacts.
Caskey said the wine industry “encouraged state residents to contribute $56.3 million to Colorado’s economy by attending wine festivals and events, or visiting tasting rooms instead of taking their money to wineries in another states.
“We are very gratified that Colorado wine adds one more item to the long and exhilarating ‘to do’ list that the state offers its visitors,” he said.
According to the report, the state’s wine industry, barely a quarter-century old in its modern iteration, remains small by most standards, accounting for just 2 percent (up .2-percent) of all wine sales (by volume) in Colorado and 5.5 percent of the wine dollars spent.
The later in part is due to the higher prices Colorado wine fetches. The average price of a bottle of Colorado wine last year was $16.64, up from $12.86 in 2005 and well above the $6.14 average cited for other wines.
But that last is a bit misleading, since “other wines” includes the ocean of cheap brands such as box and jug wines, Yellowtail and Two Buck Chuck.
According to the report, sales of local wines jumped from $19.1 million in fiscal year 2011 to $28.2 million last year.
“What that says is $1 out of every 20 spent on wine in this state goes to Colorado wine,” Caskey added.
Production in Colorado grew to 335,000 gallons, up 14 percent (17,000 gallons) from 2012 and a reflection of the bountiful harvest grape producers enjoyed in 2012.