PAONIA – The holiday season officially began here last weekend with a rousing chorus of Jingle Bells resounding through the barrel room at Puesta del Sol and Alfred Eames Cellars, the vineyards and winery south of Paonia, Co.
Here, on the flank of Mt. Lamborn, Eames and Pam Petersen, along with their son Devin and daughter Lais, hosted their annual holiday open house and barrel tasting with friends sharing wine, good food and the locally renowned Madrigal Choir.
There is much to celebrate this year at the winery, although some things you might not notice unless told.
Eames has two new knees, the latest (his right) being installed less than a month ago to balance his new-found gait with the first transplant from 6 months past.
The thought of unencumbered movement significantly brightens his aspect on life, especially life hiking and climbing the mountains he loves.
“I’m already thinking about Gunnison lakes,” said Eames, speaking of the trek to the lakes half-hidden on the upper shelf of 12,725-foot Mt. Gunnison in the West Elks Wilderness.
“Last time I went, I made it about halfway and had to stop,” recalled Eames. “Devin kept going but I had to come back down.”
There’s also the not-small fact that Devin, whose name means “poet” in the original Gaelic, is fitting comfortably into the life of a second-generation winemaker, a move that pleases Eames as much as his two new knees.
“He added 10 years to my life,” said Eames, watching Devin easily haul three cases of wine to a guest’s car. “He knows everything I do, probably more. We’re partners but he’s taken on a huge responsibility for the operation of the winery.”
Devin, 30, admitted to a bit of indecision a few years back but now he’s solidly committed to being the resident winemaker.
“I’m excited about being here,” he said. “This is my home, now.”
Which is more good news. Like many Colorado winemakers, Eames and Pam spent years building their business and faced an uncertain future if and when it came time to retire.
Now, listening to Devin talk easily with guests enjoying the barrel samples in the cement-lined, cave-like barrel room, it seems the winery’s future is assured.
“We built this to be like a cave, with thick walls and buried in the ground, to maintain a near-constant temperature,” Devin, pointing around the expanse while speaking to a few listeners. “It fluctuates less than 10 degrees though the year.”
During a brief break in his wione-pouring duties, he mentioned the winery is a cross roads.
“I’d like to grow the business but we’re so limited in what we can expand into,” he said, lifting his hands to the solid walls of the winery around him. “Not just as far as building sales and increasing capacity but finding the resources to make more wine.”
That last part is key in a business where weather makes half your business decisions for you.
“We’re limited both by our physical space but also the supply of fruit,” said Eames with a laugh. “You have to learn to adjust.”
Getting bigger could mean losing some “intimacy” with the business, Devin said.
“It’s really about where we want to be, both in the quality of our product and in our way of life in doing it,” he said.
For now, that way of life continues unchanged. There is wine to rack and bottle, cases to move and the myriad other tasks that take up a winemaker’s winter.
Well, maybe for Devin to move.
“I just shuffle around and do quality control,” said Eames, laughing again. “Now, I have time to sit down with my guitar and watch Devin.”
DENVER – Gee, I survived almost too-much-fun Friday night at Row 14, waded through the 1,500 or so wine enthusiasts that kindly showed up for the third annual Colorado Urban Winefest on Saturday (where I paired a grilled PBJ with smoked bacon on whole wheat with a Boulder Creek 2010 Cabernet Franc) and then took a serious stumble Monday when I
screwed up misstated the facts in my column for my real job at the The Daily Sentinel.
Arrgghh, as pirates would say.
I got confused, or distracted, or just simply wasn’t being mindful. Fortunately, you don’t have to see the crash, although there are a few readers in Grand Junction and elsewhere who this morning are mightily surprised to find out several winemakers have moved to new digs, courtesy of my writing.
So, ugh, let’s move on, shall we?
Overall, Colorado Urban Winefest continues to improve with age, not unlike the Colorado wine industry itself. Final attendance numbers for Saturday’s third annual Colorado Urban Winefest presented by Westminster Total Beverage came out Monday and indicated around 1,500 wine enthusiasts showed up Saturday at Infinity Park in Glendale.
When I spied Kyle Schlachter of the Colorado Wine Industry Development Board schlepping a bit of lunch through Saturday’s crowd, he mentioned strong last-minute tickets sales and healthy walk-up traffic as contributing to the pleasant turn-out.
“I’m really happy with the turnout ,” said Cassidee Schull, director of the Colorado Association for Viticulture and Enology and it seems everyone else was, also. It’s also likely the temperate weather (unlike 2012 when the thermometer was topping out at around 102) – Saturday’s mix of sun and clouds with a cool breeze along with the extensive acres of grass fields – kept fest-goers and winery representatives comfortable all afternoon.
“Yeah, this is a great place,” agreed Mike Thompson of Boulder Creek Winery, one of the 36 wineries present. “I really like the layout here.”
Among the selections Thompson was pouring was the Boulder Creek 2011 Colorado Dry Rosé, which Friday was one of the dry rosés competing for the Governor’s Cup Wine Competition.
Many people familiar with rosé automatically drift away from what they think will be something sweet but a recent trend among Colorado winemakers (Canyon Wind Cellars and Garfield Estates also offer dry rosés) to produce a dry rosé with great fruit has revived interest in the wine.
“It takes a little education, and you have to get them to taste it, but once you do, it’s really popular,” Thompson said. The winemaker is his wife, Jackie Thompson, whose wines always show well in competitions.
The competition must have been close, but the 47-Ten 2012 Grand Valley Rosé from Canyon Wind Cellars was named Best Rosé at the Governor’s Cup. Jay and Jennifer Christianson of Canyon Wind Cellars also won a Double Gold for their 2010 Grand Valley Petit Verdot.
Michelle Cleveland of Creekside Cellars also produces a delightful dry rosé but it’s light-gold in color, similar to a pinot grigio. I wasn’t able to talk with her during Saturday’s crush of people but will get back to you on that item.
As we mentioned Sunday, Michelle was the winner of the Governor’s Cup Wine Competition with her 2010 Grand Valley Cabernet Franc, which I diligently paired with that grilled PB&J with smoked bacon on whole-grain wheat. Highly recommended.
Around 225 wines were judged by the tasting panel of experts including restaurateurs, sommeliers, writers and chefs, most of whom seemed quite pleased with their task.
“They showed tremendous excitement over all the Bordeaux red grapes produced in Colorado, including merlot,” said Doug Caskey, executive director of the CWIDB. No, I don’t know why he singled out merlot, but you can ask him.
One of the judges, wine blogger Jeff Siegel (“The Wine Curmudgeon”), noted the competition “was easily the best showing from Colorado in the decade or so I have judged its wines.”
I appreciate Jeff’s remarks, since he’s attended several Drink Local Wine conferences and has a good idea of how the “other 47” are doing in their wine production.
I just hope he doesn’t read my newspaper version of this column. Arrgghh.
Those shaggy-maned grape vines you see around the valley haven’t been ignored, they’re actual serving a purpose.
It’s bud break in the Grand Valley, a time when most of the valley’s grape growers finish pruning their winter-long vines on the bet those still-tender roseate buds will survive anything Mother Nature might throw their way.
However, with this spring a series of warm/cold, then warm-and-cold again fluctuations, nobody’s quite sure how to prune, which means growers are leaving some vines undocked until it’s known with certainty which plants survived the winter cold.
(Right: The uneven arrival of bud break in spring 2013 has grape growers waiting, hoping the green returns to signal life in the vines after the deep cold of January.)
Bud break normally occurs irregularly around the region, spread out among the many micro-environments and grape varietals dotting the area, but this year, what’s normal?
“It’s just all over the place this year,” said state viticulturist Horst Caspari. “It’s abnormal even by Colorado standards.”
He said an extended bud break isn’t unexpected “but now we’re seeing plants 100 percent out and unfolding their leaves and next to them are plants that are barely into bud break.”
When bud break starts, though, it seems to happen overnight. The first rush of growth comes quickly; vines that were winter-dormant Monday will have swollen buds Tuesday and tiny green leaves Thursday.
“It really happens fast, once it gets started,” said Nancy Janes of Whitewater Hill Vineyards, walking last week through the vineyards near her winery on 32 Road.
Some of the canes (branches) in her vineyard are whiplike and long, flocked with bits of green from emerging leaves and mini-clusters, all a bit of insurance to protect the buds closer to the main stem, she said.
“Normally we cut this off, leaving these two buds on a short cane,” she said, showing where a pruner would remove much of the longer canes. “The less vine, the more the energy goes in the grapes and not into growing the canes.”
The vines are apically dominant, which means the end bud releases a chemical (auxin) that retards the development of lateral buds closer to the stem.
If the apical bud is removed, the other buds start to grow. Controlling the growth of those lateral buds through careful pruning is how grape growers control their vines and also how bonsai trees and espalier (growing a plant two-dimensionally against a wall) are created.
Topiary is the three-dimensional version. Think of those Mickey Mouse trees at Disneyland and you get the idea.
Tomatoes are not apically dominant, which is why they spread out instead of up. This widening eliminates competition by creating a cleared area around the plant.
Cutting the apical buds spurs growth in buds closer to the trunk or stem but once buds break dormancy they are more-susceptible to frost.
Historically the average last day for frosts in the Grand Valley is May 13, a comment that brings a laugh from my friend Neil Guard.
“Yes, but Mother Nature doesn’t read the calendar,” said Guard, who grows grapes and peaches on his farm and vineyard on East Orchard Mesa.
“It’s really a gamble at this point,” Guard said Sunday afternoon as he walked part of his vineyard. “We had the crew prune the riesling because we know that usually does fine but look at the tempranillo, there’s hardly anything there at all.”
The name “tempranillo” comes from the Spanish world for “early” but you’d never know it by looking at Guard’s vines. While nearby rows of cabernet franc ware flush with new buds and leaves, the rows of tempranillo are showing slight signs of life and he’s purposely left those vines long and wild until he sees what grows.
“Look here,” he said, grabbing at a nearby vine. “I’ve got vines with lots of buds and leaves right next to vines that look like their dead, which they might be after last winter.”
He sighed and stood up to survey the rows of vines.
“We’re going to wait,” he said cautiously. “We still have almost two weeks and why spend the money on pruning something when you might end up cutting it off at the ground?”