Spring 2016 began rather hesitantly, the past month being dominated with extended periods of cool and rainy weather.
However, the approach of Memorial Day brought distinct changes, including daytime temperatures nearing seasonal norms and plenty of blue skies.
And this to me indicates the long holiday weekend will see many outdoor gatherings, and there is nothing that fits the festive mood more than entertaining with sparkling wines, rosés and white wines.I opened a few boxes to come up with suggestions for your plein aire pairings to make the weekend truly memorable.
I admit to being a huge fan of great Prosecco and that was illustrated again this spring when I spent a few days after VinItaly exploring the heart of the Conegliano Valdobbiadene Prosecco Superiore DOCG.
When I returned home, stuffed into my bag were two bottles of winemaker Graziano Merotto’s best: his Valdobbiadene Prosecco Superiore DOCG Brut Rive di Col San Martino “Cuvée del Fondatore Graziano Merotto” Millesimato 2015 and his Valdobbiadene Prosecco Superiore DOCG Dry Rive di Col San Martin “La Primavera du Barbara” Millesimato 2015.
Had I more room, the third bottle would have been the non-vintage Sorelle Bronca, Valdobbiadene Prosecco Superiore DOCG Brut “Particella 68”.
Much of the U.S. market is flooded with lower-tier Proseccos (mostly DOC and not the top DOCG) and most Americans still haven’t discovered what a great value Prosecco DOCG offers, both in price and stylistically.
That situation should change as Prosecco DOCG makers continue to expand their American markets. The above wines can be found for around $20.
Merotto’s Rive di Col San Martino, made from grapes grown on a steep hill just behind the winery, has such a fine perlage the feeling is one of a floral creaminess rather than exploding bubbles. Complex and multi-layered minerality.
The “La Primavera du Barbara” (90 percent Glera, 10 percent Perera) is dry and bit softer than the brut Cuvée del Fondatore but still offers the steely clean lines and floral aromatics found in Merotto’s wines.
Sorelle Bronca, Valdobbiadene Prosecco Superiore DOCG Brut “Particella 68” – This well-structured wine comes from a low-yielding, steeply angled site and is made to show more of the pure grape flavor and minerality than sweet fruit.
While this spring, with its abundant moisture and cool temperatures, has presented several challenges to Colorado grape growers, including a slow start to the growing season, it also has set off speculation this year’s yield might top 2015’s record-setting harvest.
“Last fall’s harvest was the our largest on record and this one may be even bigger, depending on how people adjust their crop load,” said state enologist Stephen Menke at Colorado State University’s Orchard Mesa Research Center. “We really had no winter damage to speak of, so everything looks pretty promising right now.”
The 2015 harvest was a much-needed boost to winemakers around the state after two harsh winter years (2013 and 2014) cut production to about 50 percent of normal.
“Last year’s harvest was the biggest we ever had, both in terms of state-wide production and on a per-acre basis,” said Horst Caspari, state viticulturist at the Orchard Mesa Research Center. “Things look really good right now and I think 2016 could go past 2015 in terms of crop production.”
One factor, said Caspari, is that many acres of cold-hearty varieties planted to resist Colorado’s cold winters finally are old enough to be producing grapes.
“Because we have more acres now than we had before, we could end up with more grapes than we had last year,” Caspari said. “Not necessarily a higher yield per acre, although that’s possible, just more acreage producing grapes.”
An example is Whitewater Hill Vineyards on Orchard Mesa, where owners Nancy Janes and John Behr pulled out an acre of underproducing vines and planted St. Vincent’s, a French-American cold-hearty hybrid from Missouri.
“We didn’t get very much last year, just enough to make a couple of bottles,” Nancy said. “But this year the vines look great and I think we might get a whole lot more.”
She also said the mild spring means more buds, especially the productive primary buds, survive to produce fruit.
“Some of the newer growers have never had primary fruit before,” Nancy said. “They won’t believe how much fruit they can get.”
But the season hasn’t been without its downside.
A hailstorm ripped through the Palisade area a week ago, reminding Bennett Price of DeBeque Canyon Winery of a similar although more-extensive storm last spring.
“I looked at some vineyards (last year) that were shredded, every leaf ripped off and no fruit left,” Price recalled. “I don’t think this recent one was that bad, but that’s what spring can bring us.”
Price also voiced some concern about powdery mildew, a fungal disease that’s common in more-humid growing regions and is particularly damaging to vinifera grape vines, which include such favorites as Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Chardonnay.
“It’s been such a wet and humid spring, I hope folks are thinking about spraying,” Price said.
Powdery mildew makes plant leaves look as if they are dusted with flour and robs the plant’s nutrients. If serious enough, the disease can kill a plant.
DeBeque Canyon Winery moves – Bennett and Davy Price recently moved their winery and tasting room in Palisade from its former location on South Kluge Street to 381 West 8th Ave. (U.S. Highway 6), the building formerly occupied by the Packing Shed Restaurant.
A new deck greets customers to the tasting room and wine shop. Winemaking facilities will occupy the adjacent building.
Hours are Tuesday through Friday, 11 a.m. until 6 p.m. and Saturday through Monday, 10 a.m. until 6 p.m. Information at 464-0550.
Spring brings constant change to Colorado wine country.
We’ve already seen temperatures ranging from the 30s to the 80s, high winds, and daily weather ranging from scorching sun to rainy stretches reminiscent of winegrowing in the Northwest.
One thing we’ve dodged so far is temperatures below freezing affecting grape buds.
Orchardists haven’t been so lucky and several times this spring they’ve been rousted out of bed by the frost alarm going off.
Up to now winemakers count themselves lucky, and if things continue this way we may see a repeat of last year’s bountiful harvest, which was the largest so far seen and came at a time many winemakers’ reserves were running bony following several lean years.
One of the global impacts of climate change seen in fruit- and grape-growing regions from western Colorado to the Rhine and Burgundy is earlier bud breaks, which puts most stone fruits at a severe disadvantage because their young flowers are susceptible to late frosts.
Grapes break bud later than tree fruit, which normally puts grape buds still tightly wrapped and mostly unaffected during late frosts.
This year, however, the shoe dropped in some of the world’s most-famous wine regions, including Burgundy and elsewhere in Europe where a late frost on April 26-27 brought temperature below freezing.
A report issued by the Bourgogne Wine Board (BIVB) said the “extremely rare” frost affected vineyards across Burgundy.
Among the vineyards most affected were the higher vineyards in Chablis and the Grand Auxerrois, the north of the Côte de Beaune (Savigny, Chorey and down to Meursault, Pommard and Volnay) and the Côte de Nuits.
Early reports came too early to provide detailed analysis of the damage but this week its was reported nearly half (46percent) of the vineyards – covering 13,453 hectares (33,234 acres) – suffered damage to at least 30-percent of the young buds with 23 percent of the vineyards reporting losses of more than 70 percent.
The remaining 54% – 15,797 hectares– received less than 30% damage.
There also have been reports of equally severe frosts in the Loire and Languedoc regions of France and in the Abruzzo in Italy.
It’s not like Abruzzo, which borders the Adriatic Sea about midway along the east side of the Italian “boot” and perhaps more remembered for the 2009 L’Aquila earthquake, hasn’t suffered setbacks before.
But like many of the smaller wine regions in Italy, the last 40-50 years have seen a renaissance in Abruzzo, where winemaking dates back to the sixth century B.C.
Large cooperative wineries concentrated in the Chieti province produce vast amounts of wine, which then is sold in bulk to other Italian wine regions such as Tuscany, Piedmont and the Veneto for blending.
The region is famed for its Montepulciano D’Abruzzo, which in the late 20th and early 21st centuries became one of Italy’s most-exported wines.