GUNNISON – Back on the road…
Thursday night in Gunnison, one of the most beautiful towns in the state.
The early June weather is perfect, there is a bit of snow in the high country for a scenic backdrop and it’s too early for the mosquitoes.
And they do get world-class skeeters here, with all the flood irrigation drenching the fields.
Locals get a hoo-hah about saying small children and dogs have been carried away.
It’s Day (well, let’s see, what day is it? oh, yes, 6) that’s it, Day 6 of Colorado Wine Week 2013 and not coincidentally also Day 6 of the Colorado Wine Week Challenge.
Well, my challenge, anyway, which is for you to open and share a Colorado wine everyday or night or both this week.
Sharing is a good idea, or you’ll possibly wind up with a fridge full of open bottles, standing there, corks just waiting to be popped and shared.
Tonight, my Wine Challenge wine is the Plum Creek Cellars 2009 Palisade Colorado Table Wine, a medium-bodied red with soft tannins and plenty of dark red fruit, with just a hint of spice.
Plum Creek prides itself on always being 100-percent Colorado grapes, and most of these grapes were grown in the Grand Valley AVA with the rest coming from the West Elks AVA.
It’s a blend of merlot (42 percent); Cabernet Sauvignon (42) and Cabernet Franc (16). Sometimes in the past the blend has included syrah or zinfandel but this version is the three Bordeaux grapes.
I may have the Cab Sauv and Cab Franc mixed up but I know the wine is mostly merlot. I left my notes at home, so if it’s wrong, I’ll fix the ratio when I get back Sunday. (I’d send you to the Plum Creek website, but it’s hopelessly out of date.)
According to Plum Creek winemaker Jenne Baldwin-Eaton, 2009 was notable because it was the last of the great vintages.
“It was nearly perfect – long, even temperatures, with great ripening of all our grapes,” she said last week. “All the vintages since then have been, well, trying.”
Which means too hot, too cold, too short, too long, or all of the above.
What’s also remarkable about 2009 that it stayed warm well into October, so long into October that Jenne was picking grapes for a Late-Harvest Sauvignon Blanc (that’s for later this week) at the end of October and into early November.
But then the door slammed shut.
A deep, deep freeze, with temperatures in the valley hitting 22 below zero, swept into western Colorado Dec. 9-10, and within a week grape growers were reporting losing 75 percent and more of their vines, I mean froze smack to the ground.
Obviously, there weren’t many grapes available in 2010. That 2010 vintage was so small, one winemaker friend made his whole year’s production in a 7.5-gallon carboy.
And there’s talk this year, after the hard freeze last January and the late freeze April 17-18 (20 degrees), may be short, also. We’ll hear more about that as the season goes on, but there is a lot of open space in the grape vines this summer.
Tomorrow night (Friday) is the Governor’s Cup Award presentation at Metro State University, so I’ll be drinking award-winning wines for the wine challenge. Oh, to celebrate and drink interesting wines.
It’s Tuesday, almost halfway through Colorado Wine Week 2013 and there still are so-o-o many more wines to try during the initial Colorado Wine Week Challenge.
I’m leaning in, honest, and I know it seems like work but press on and pull those corks.
You know the drill: Open and share a Colorado wine (or two) every day or night this week. I was hoping it would rain today and cool things off (so hot, so hot) and had a lush cabernet franc (the Grand Valley grows great cabernet franc) all ready to pop but no-o-o.
No rain, temps in the low 90s and drier than a divorce attorney’s laugh.
So tonight, I chose a Carlson Vineyards 2011 Cougar Run Grand Valley Dry Gewurtztraminer ($13.50).
Lots behind this medium-bodied wine, which has crisp acidity and tropical fruit and roses (notice the cute photo)…
Carlson started making a dry gewurtz in 2009, said assistant winemaker Ian MacDonald, when the local chardonnay was in short supply.
“We didn’t have enough chardonnay to make our normal blend and we had this gewurtztraminer ready so I suggested to Parker we dry it out and sell it,” said MacDonald, who starts tomorrow (June 5) bottling the 2012 dry gewurtztraminer.
To Parker’s surprise, the dry version sold, well, I can’t honestly say it ran out the door like Carlson’s luscious cherry wine, but MacDonald said the dry gewurtztraminer pays it’s own way.
And really, that’s all any winemaker can ask.
Carlson made 800 gallons of the 2011 gewurtztraminer, which with my math comes out to about 335 cases.
Even at that, it sells out every year.
The Gewurtz grape itself has a convoluted genealogy but apparently wa-a-a-y back when, it might have originated in a grape from around Tramin in northern Italy’s South Tyrol, where the residents speak German more than Italian.
Back to Colorado Wine Week. The Governor’s Cup Award presentation is Friday night at The Hospitality Learning Center at Metro State
College University (sorry, an old habit, y’know), but Parker Carlson won’t be there. Seems every June he and his wife Mary take off for 6 weeks to go fishing in Michigan.
Last year, Mary caught the bigger fish.
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?”