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.”
This is the first day of Colorado Wine Week 2013, a weeklong (or did you know that?) celebration of this state’s vibrant wine industry and the best opportunity you may have to sample Colorado wines.
And great food.
And Colorado wines and great food, together.
While the week is sort of, kind of, a statewide thing, its really designed as a Front Range get-together, which for those of you who don’t live in Colorado (that’s fine, don’t move here) means everything east of the Continental Divide.
Which really means the event is aimed the 8 jillion or so people in the urban strip from Fort Collins (north) to Colorado Springs (mid-state).
My blogging and Colorado wine colleague Jacob Harkins of Godot Communications and Local Winos Media has been doing the heavy lifting, which means trying to herd cats with press releases, emails, etc and etc.
You can get all the information you need here, but in short, the week culminates in the third annual Colorado Urban Winefest (presented by Westminster Total Beverage, I have to add), which this year roosts at Infinity Park in Glendale, an innr-suburb of Denver, which obviously is THE place to be Saturday. Around 46 wineries, including many you need to know, pouring their hearts out to please your palate.
That is, if you like Colorado wine, are curious about Colorado wine or know someone who is either or both.
As for me, here’s my contribution – A Colorado Wine Week Challenge: Open and share a Colorado wine every day this week.
Yeah, I know it’s already Sunday but give it a try.
Tell you what. I’ve already opened two local wines, so you can use one for your starter (there’s a glass or two left in the bottle). The rest of the week is up to you.
My first-day choices are the 2012 Pinot Gris from Stone Cottage Cellars ($22) and the 2006 Pinot Noir ($26, if available) from Terror Creek Winery. Both are West Elks AVA wineries and situated near each other (like 500 feet apart) just west of Paonia, high above the valley of the North Fork of the Gunnison River.
And when I say high, I mean that Joan Mathewson of Terror Creek is making her elegant and thoughtful wines at 6,417 feet, making hers the highest winery in the north hemisphere.
And Stone Cottage Cellars Pinot Gris has a body and heft, hints of melon, fig and almonds, that recalls how well-made pinot gris tasted before the demands of the market onslaught ruined it, just as the same overweening push for profits ruined merlot. Thank you, Brent and Karen Helleckson of Stone Cottage Cellars.
That’s the end of the Sunday sermon.
Take the week to explore some of the restaurants and bars offering food and Colorado wine pairings, menus available here.
Keep me posted on what you’re drinking, and tomorrow I’ll share the Day 2 selections for the Colorado Wine Week Challenge.
Let’s see, where is that corkscrew??????