On an overcast February afternoon, winemaker Bennett Price walked away from a barrel of wine he was readying to bottle and headed outside, to a fence near his DeBeque Canyon Winery where clusters of very dry grapes were shifting nervously in the breeze.
“These are Pinot Noir,” he said, reaching under the bird-proof netting drawn over the vines. “They were pretty good grapes, too, but they came on real early last spring, too early really to do anything with.”
On the third consecutive day of 60-degree plus highs, in what’s suddenly behaving as if it were the northern extension of the Colorado Banana Belt, one can be forgiven if the weather has you thinking more of mid-spring rather than mid-winter. While the sides of nearby mountains still wear thick blankets of snow, there hasn’t been any snow, or any moisture of any kind, in the lower valleys for several weeks.
Instead, here at 4,200 feet, plenty high enough for winter to return for another month or two, birds are building nests, golfers are swinging away and winter-dormant lawns are starting to green.
“I think we’re going to have an early bud break,” Price said. The unseasonal temperatures “warm up the soil too much and that stimulates the roots to start pushing.”
The temperatures, while warmer than normal – unless this is the new normal – still haven’t been consistently high enough to break the vines’ winter dormancy. It takes 50 degrees to see the return of spring, said state viticulturist Horst Caspari.
“And that’s on a 24-hour cycle, not just a quick jump up and then back to below freezing,” he said. “We’re still getting enough diurnal variation that nothing’s broken yet.”
Yet Bennet Price isn’t convinced after hearing a weather forecast calling for cooler temperatures followed by more warm days.
“We were up to 60-something yesterday and our low was 46 or something like that and today it’s back up there again,” he said. If the vines do respond to the warmth, “hopefully we won’t go back down to the low 20s or teens because you can start damaging the canes and trunks because the sap’s coming up.”
Tree-fruit growers are extremely wary of such mid-February warm spells because their trees are close enough to bud break that prolonged mild weather can bring early and unwanted development. Climate change hasn’t yet brought Western Colorado to where a heavy spring frost is out of the question.
Grapes, however, come on several weeks later than cherries, peaches and apples, which gives a bit of leeway and enough time for the weather to back to cold.
“But he’s right, the ground is being warmed up,” agreed grape grower Neil Guard at Avant Winery on East Orchard Mesa. “And look, it’s dry, there’s no snow at all. Which means if it stays warm, the vines are going to need water and we can’t get any irrigation water until April 1.”
Should the vines suffer freeze injuries, they then are susceptible to a bacterial infection called crown gall, which can eventually kill the vine.
Crown gall, caused by a bacterium that lives in the soil, also can result from mechanical injuries caused by normal vineyard maintenance such as pruning, grafting and training vines.
“I’m working in some vineyards and I have to go through and mark the vines with crown gall so they don’t prune that vine,” Price said. “You don’t want to prune that vine because if you prune it and then go to the next vine, you’re going to pass that bacterium to the next vine.”
He said the only way to treat crown gall is to pull and burn the vine and replant.
“It’s just another thing to think about if you’re planning on owning a vineyard,” Guard said, with a laugh.
– Photos, story by Dave Buchanan
This year’s Colorado Wine Governor’s Cup Competition, sponsored by the Colorado Wine Industry Development Board, wound up Aug. 4 with Meadery of the Rockies in Palisade and Bookcliff Vineyards of Boulder sharing Best of Show in their respective divisions.
A Strawberry Honey wine from the Meadery won the cider, fruit wine and mead division while Bookcliff took the traditional grape wine division with its 2013 Ensemble, a blend of Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon and Malbec.
Additionally, Bookcliff and Whitewater Hill Vineyards of Grand Junction both had three wines included in the Governor’s Cup Case, which this year holds 18 bottles instead of the 12 usually found in a case of wine.
The other six are ciders, fruit wines and meads. Meadery of the Rockies and Colorado Cellars both have two fruit wines selected for the case.
The complete list of winners can be found on the Colorado Wine Industry Development website here.
This year’s Governor’s Cup, the only wine competition exclusively for Colorado wines, featured 250 wines from 35 Colorado wineries and continues as a much-awaited display of the state’s steadily improving wine industry.
An observer might expect, given the state has 140-plus wineries, to see more than one-quarter of those wineries entering the state’s namesake competition.
The reasons for the lack of entrants are several, including some wineries don’t open their email to see the invitation or forget to send their entries on time.
Some wineries enter other competitions and say they can’t afford to enter another contest, although at $25 per entry, Colorado charges only a fraction of that charged by national or international wine contests.
But in truth, some winemakers simply don’t hold the state competition in high esteem.
One winemaker I recently talked to, a talented vigneron who in the past has done quite well at competitions at various levels, has quit entering the state contest.
She said it’s worth more from a marketing standpoint to enter the better-known San Francisco International Wine Competition, the largest in the U.S.
“Why waste the money to get a medal here when I can get a gold or double-gold from San Francisco?” she asked, not expecting an answer.
There are a couple of good reasons why winemakers enter competition. One is to see where they stand in relation to current levels of winemaking, an effort at making sure they “aren’t standing still,” as Parker Carlson once told me.
Another is to see if their taste still is true. One recognized danger facing winemakers (and wine writers) is “cellar palate,” which may happen by drinking only one’s own local wine and not picking up on incremental changes, usually bad, taking place in your wine.
A badly made wine surely will be noticed, you would think, but what if that’s how your wines taste all the time and you don’t have any comparison?
But perhaps the leading reason to enter competitions is to give customers what they want, and they want bling.
“People like to see medals,” Carlson also said, and every winery you’ll ever visit displays a shelf or two stacked with their collection of ribbons, medallions and trophies.
Who can blame them? Not only is it impressive looking but it also makes great copy for your blog or FaceBook page.
However, I doubt most casual tourists – to whom go a majority of Colorado wine sales – have the time, knowledge or eyesight to differentiate between the San Francisco competition, the International Eastern and the Colorado Governor’s Cup.
I’m not saying there aren’t people who know the difference, but there also are people who can tell a Pinot Gris from a Pinot Blanc.
There’s much more to this story.
PAONIA – Midsummer finds us committed to the U-pick hustle, darting around the North Fork Valley and the Grand Valley seeking tree-fresh cherries, apricots and peaches available seemingly everywhere.
The early peaches (some Paul Friday varieties, if I remember correctly) are at farm stands across the area, tempting the palate as if to say,”You ain’t seen nothin’ yet,” with new varieties appearing almost weekly, each one more juicy and luscious than the last.
It’s also time for the eighth annual West Elks Wine Trail, this year on Aug. 5-7, sponsored by nine wineries in the North Fork Valley and named for the West Elks AVA, one of Colorado’s two specially designated wine-grape growing regions.
Special winemakers’ dinners, premium wine tastings and full-on open houses at the wineries make this weekend one of the more-anticipated of the summer. Each participating winery is featuring special food and wine pairings, with a focus on local foods and wines.
Several of the wineries also are hosting their ever-popular winemaker dinners, most of which fill early so reservations are a necessity. Call the wineries for reservations and more information, because what you see here is the only information supplied by the wineries. Prices, when given, are per person. All phone area codes are 970.
Aug. 6 –Alfred Eames Cellars, Uruguayan Dinner, 6 p.m. $75, 527-3269 or 527-6290; Azura Cellars & Gallery “Tapas at Twilight”, 7 p.m.; free R/C yacht racing starting at 10 a.m., 527-4251; Stone Cottage Cellars Winemaker’s Dinner at the Cellar featuring a Fattoria Italiana, 7 p.m. 527-3444, $80; Delicious Orchards BBQ from noon – 6 p.m. with live music from 4-7 p.m., no reservations needed, 527-1110. Black Bridge Winery Barrel Tasting at 1 p.m. and 4 p.m., repeats on Aug. 7, 527-6838.
The wineries in the North Fork Valley celebrating the West Elks Wine Trail include those listed above as well as Terror Creek Winery, the state’s highest vineyards (at 6,400 feet elevation) as well as one of Colorado’s first wineries, 527-3484; and 5680′ Vineyards, (no website), 314-1253. The photo above was taken at Terror Creek Winery.
Yo, bro: Pass the Desert Rat Red.
A unique partnership between Colorado Canyons Association and Carlson Vineyards, forged through a spirited commitment of giving back to the community as well as finding needed resources to get young people into the backcountry, may provide the perfect pairing for your next canyon-inspired meal.
Sunday afternoon found Garret Portra, owner and winemaker at Carlson Vineyards, and a group of CCA staff and board members sampling wines, all in the name of conservation and defeating nature-deficit disorder.
Sunday’s working group, which included CCA executive director Joe Neuhof and assistant director Kate Graham, spent a few hours in the cool environs of the Carlson winery tasting various blends and rejecting them in turn until, as a little blonde girl once said, it was “just right.”
I know, tough work but someone has to do it, right?
Neuhof said the idea was born during a series of “Crazy about Canyons” fund-raising events sponsored by the CCA and held at Carlson Vineyards (the last one was June 11th).
“Garret and I would talk after the dinners and we both were looking for something to bring our efforts together,” Neuhof said. “This seemed like a natural.”
Once on the market, $1 from every bottle purchased will go the Colorado Canyon’s youth programs, Neuhof said.
“This might seem strange to some people but I think it’s a good fit for us and Carlson’s,” he said. “Our goal in 2017 is to get 3,500 kids into the backcountry and this will help that happen.”
The final decision is a blend of 72-percent Lemberger, also known as Blaufrankisch, the spicy red grape that adds a bit of ripe cherry fruit, acidity and medium tannins, and 28-percent Cabernet Franc, the savory Bordeaux blend grape that does well in the high desert climes of the Grand Valley.
The wine, which is yet to be bottled and named (don’t expect “Desert Rat Red”), will spend some time in French oak barrels and may be available late this fall, Portra said.
Neuhof said the front label will feature a photo, as of this writing undetermined, from the local canyon country.
Portra said the idea for the label came from Dave Phinney of Orin Swift winery in Napa Valley.
Phinney is known for his creative labeling and Portra saw the opportunity to do something eye-catching as well as provocative.
“We wanted something different,” he said. “Not only to stand out on the shelf but to let people know we support the CCA’s efforts. Cailin (his wife) and I are always looking for ways to give back to the community for our good fortune.”
As for Portra, this wine is his first opportunity to make his mark on the familiar and popular line-up of Carlson Vineyards wines.
“I’m really excited about this,” said the eternally upbeat Portra. “I didn’t think it would come this soon, but it’s my chance to put my stamp on Carlson wines.”
Tickets now are on sale for the 25th edition of the Colorado Mountain Winefest, once again presented by Alpine Bank.
This year’s four-day Winefest (Thursday, Sept. 15 through Sunday, Sept. 18) includes special wine-and-food pairings at participating local restaurants; four different Colorado Wine Country bus tours; and the 25th Colorado Mountain Winefest Festival in the Park on Saturday, Sept. 17.
Tickets to all events are limited and last year was the first time all tickets for all events were sold. Many people, eager to attend the popular Festival in the Park and accustomed to purchasing a ticket at the gate on the day of the event, were turned away.
Tickets for the Festival in the Park are $50 general admission, $190 for VIP and $25 for the non-drinker. These tickets are limited and likely will sell out. Fewer than 100 of the VIP tickets were remaining as of Friday.
More information, tickets and a complete list of events are available at email@example.com and by calling 464-0111.
North Fork Uncorked June 18-19 – Join winemakers in Hotchkiss and Paonia celebrating Father’s Day weekend in style with their annual North Fork Uncorked, featuring wine and food pairings, winemakers dinners and special offers at participating wineries, open 11 a.m. – 5 p.m.
Winemakers dinners, Saturday, June 18 – Lee and Kathy Bradley, Black Bridge Winery, dinner by the river. Tickets are $55. Reservations: 970-270-7733 or 527-6838.
Brent and Karen Helleckson, Stone Cottage Cellars, four course, locally grown. Tickets $65. Information and reservations: 970-527-3444.
Sunday, June 19 – Alfred Eames Cellars, Sunday Brunch, 10 a.m.- 2 p.m. For menu and information on this and weekly brunches, call Pam Petersen at 970-527-6290.
More information on these and other North Fork Uncorked offers and activities is available at www.westelksava.com and at 527-3444.
This post was updated on June 9 to correct the dates for the 2016 Colorado Mountain Winefest (Sept. 15-18) and Pam Petersen’s phone number (527-6290).
Readers of a certain age will recall a 1960s TV series called “The Untouchables” featuring Robert Stack as Elliot Ness, a Prohibition agent in Chicago in the late 1920s.
Ness, under the aegis of the then-Bureau of Prohibition, was credited with breaking mobster Al Capone’s hold on Chicago by destroying Capone’s extensive bootlegging network.
Photos of Ness and his hand-picked team smashing huge vats and beer tanks and pouring illicit booze out into the streets helped viewers forget Ness was not simply an axe-wielding, anti-alcohol Carry Nation but a federal tax agent, making a case against Capone for tax evasion.
Ness and Capone are gone but the feds, through the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB), still keep a sharp eye on who pays their excise taxes.
Wines are taxed at state and federal levels at varying rates according to the wines’ alcohol-by-volume content (it’s similar for beer and spirits). The higher ABV, the higher tax per gallon. The rates goes from $1.07 a gallon (21 cents per .750 ml bottle) for wine with up to 14 percent ABV up to $3.15/gallon for wine with 21-24 percent ABV.
Wineries can either pay the taxes as they come due (see below) or post a bond, an insurance policy of sorts, against the tax bill.
Bonds are fairly cheap, as low as $100-$200 for the smallest wineries.
“The concept of a bond was the feds having some assurance you will pay your excise taxes,” said Bob Witham of Two Rivers Winery and Chateau on the Redlands.
Once a wine is “produced”, meaning fermentation is done, it is subject to excise tax. A winery doesn’t have to pay the tax until the wine is ready to be sold or consumed. By storing (aging) the wine in bottle or barrel in specially designated bonded areas, the winery can delay paying these taxes.
Once the wine moves out of the bonded area, which may be somewhere in the winery or an offsite storage unit, the excise taxes are due. Read more…
If you’ve been out cruising downtown any night this winter, you’ve probably noticed how busy some of the city’s more-popular restaurants have been.
And if you looked twice, you might also have noticed how many of those guests with a glass of wine in front of them were younger women.
That trend gets analyzed in a recent report from the Wine Market Council, which says people in their 20s and early-to-mid 30s now drink almost half the wine bought in the US.
What’s more, in what’s called the “high-frequency drinker” segment, women under 30 women are out-purchasing men two-to-one when it comes to wine.
Now, “high-frequency drinker” isn’t as lascivious as it sounds. According to the WMC, it refers to someone who drinks wine more than once a week. That faction buys and consumes 81 percent of all the wine drunk in America, says WMC.
Again, the WMC report says Baby Boomers account for the largest group in the high-frequency class, but Millennials (those people born between 1978 and 1995) are right behind them, making up 30 percent of frequent drinkers.
How fast the kids grow up. Read more…