DENVER – A curious thing happened last week during the Colorado Governor’s Wine Competition: The judges argued amongst themselves.
What makes this remarkable is that one, this was a regional wine competition, something not often host to strong opinions, and second, among those people stating their cases was renowned Napa winemaker Warren Winiarski, famous as the California winemaker whose Stag’s Leap Cellars 1973 Cabernet Sauvignon bested the best French wines at the 1976 Judgment of Paris, turning the wine world on its head.
What Winiarski was asserting last weekend was not whether the Colorado wines were any good – that fact already having been established in earlier rounds – but whether two unoaked Chardonnays both were deserving of a Double Gold.
“I think the wines shows great balance and wonderful winemaking skills,” Winiarski said, turning in his seat to face the 14 other judges perched around the sensory lab at Metropolitan State University of Denver’s Hospitality Learning Center. “This is the kind of winemaking we should be encouraging in Colorado.”
Winiarski, not surprisingly, won that particular battle and several others during the daylong judging of 190 Colorado wines (a separate judging was held a week earlier for meads, ciders and fruit wines).
The judging was to pick the best of Colorado wines and among those standouts a final 12 wines to include in the Governor’s Case, a collection of top wines used for marketing purposes.
A complete list of the medal winners will appear here when the list is released by the Colorado Wine Industry Development Board. (You can read Wine Curmudgeon Jeff Siegel’s view of the competition here.)
Winiarski was impressed enough by the wines presented during the recent tasting to push for several Double-Gold wines and a fat handful of gold medals to other wines.
“The Colorado wine industry continues to grow and improve and I’m quite pleased with what I’ve seen and tasted this year,” he said during a break in the judging. “The wines have come a long way, even since last year, and I think show a completeness that comes when the winemakers are figuring it out.”
Winiarski, 84, perhaps is best known in Colorado for being the winemaker behind the Ivancie Cellars label, which nearly 50 years ago became the first post-Prohibition commercial winery in Colorado.
Winiarski was working for Robert Mondavi in Napa and thinking he needed a change when he was approached by Ivancie in his quest to bring wine to middle America.
Winiarski turned out several vintages of Ivancie Cellars wine but returned to California in 1970 when he realized the demand for Colorado wine was not as strong as Ivancie’s desire to make it and Winiarski sensed the future wasn’t long for the winery, which closed in 1974.
The wines were good, he said, but “the idea just never caught fire.
“We underestimated how difficult making wine in Colorado was going to be,” a sentiment echoed even today by every winemaker in Colorado.
One of the weekend’s highlights came during dinner the second night when three of Ivancie’s children – Molly, Tom and Steve – made an unexpected appearance (Gerald Ivancie lives in Denver but wasn’t able to attend). Winiarski clearly was delighted and touched to see the threesome and they shared many poignant memories about those early days of Colorado winemaking.
At one point, the three Ivancies presented Winiarski with a precious bottle of the 1968 Ivancie Cellars Cabernet Sauvignon, and he cuddled the still-dark wine like a newborn baby.
“This is wonderful, marvelous,” he said. “Gerald (Ivancie) had such a great love of wine and I think he would be pleased to see where his dream has gone.”