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 (I’d send you to the Plum Creek website, but it’s hopelessly out of date.)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.
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??????
Last week I joined 36 other eager grape pickers to spend a day harvesting Chambourcin grapes for my friendly winemaker Yvon Gros of Leroux Creek Vineyards, which is near (sort of, within 8 miles or so) of Hotchkiss, Colorado.
Hotchkiss is a small (pop. about 1,000) farmer/rancher town in the North Fork Valley of western Colorado. The entire valley is rapidly changing as well-to-do folks retire elsewhere and discover the joys of living in a small friendly town where land prices still are reasonable. You can meet someone who looks as if they’ve spent their entire life on a farm and it turns out they’re a retired nuclear scientist, former university prof or well-known author or musician, all of which I’ve met in the past few years.
In recent years, the North Fork Valley has become known for its growing wine industry, and valley’s 11 wineries compose the entirety of the West Elks American Viticultural Area.
Yvon and his wife Joanna about six years ago started the Leroux Creek Inn, a B&B, spa and winery. True to his roots (Yvon is a trained executive chef and hails from Provence), Yvon planted French hybrid grapes, Chambourcin and Cayuga.I don’t know of any other winemaker in Colorado growing either hybrid, although the hybrids are popular in the Midwest and East, where the climate calls for winter-hardy grapes. After so many Colorado grape growers were struck down by a series of intense frosts and deep winter cold that began last December, Yvon this year is particularly enamored with his Chambourcin, a red grape that produces a dark-red, fruity wine sometimes used as a blend to soften the intensity of a big Cabernet Sauvignon or Merlot.
But he was surprised during the Colorado Mountain Winefest in September that it wasn’t his Chambourcin, Cayuga, Merlot or Chardonnay that proved to be the crowd favorite but rather his 2009 unfiltered Pinot Gris.
He wasn’t expecting so much demand for the Pinot Gris and only made 15 cases, most of which sold in one day at Colorado Mountain Winefest. Now, he’s hoarding the last of the Pinot Gris, selling it only at the winery tasting room and occasionally doling out a bit for friends. He generously opened a few bottles during our mid-day break while harvesting and said he regrets not making more since the vineyard the Pinot Gris came from was killed off in an April frost.
“There won’t be anymore for a while, until the vines come back,” lamented Yvon. “I was surprised at how popular this was because many people don’t like unfiltered wines.”
Americans generally want their wines, red and white, crystal clear, without the sediment and small particles seen in unfiltered wines. But fans of unfiltered wines, and you can count Yvon and this writer among them, say filtering wines strips out the flavors while unfiltered wines have more character, better flavors and a more-luscious mouthfeel than do filtered wines.
Which make sense – If you leave those all those small particles in the wine, they add weight and increased texture to the finished wine.
In an article in the San Francisco Examiner, Saint Helena (Cal.) winemaker Chris Millard compared filtered and unfiltered wines to drip coffee vs. French press coffee. “In a nutshell, leaving the wine in a natural state and using gravity to it settle out we get a richer, more intense wine that is balanced naturally,” Millard said. “The important difference is that drip coffee has oils that add structure and you cannot get that balance running it through a filter.”
In their efforts to produce a clear wine, winemakers fine and filter wines in a variety of ways, including micropore paper filters, membrane filters and sending the wine through a filtering agent such as diatomaceous earth or cellulose powder. Fining is sending a coagulating medium (egg whites, bentonite) through the wine which attracts the sediment which in turn falls out of the wine.
But clarity is not the only reason to filter a wine. There’s also the concern that an unfiltered wine might still contain live yeast, which may cause unwanted secondary fermentations in the bottle. There are hundreds, if not thousands, of stories of home winemakers waking in the night to the sound of corks exploding out of bottles after their unfiltered wines restarted fermentation.
But winemakers can (almost) clarify their wines without using filters. Racking (siphoning the wine from one barrel to another, leaving the sediment behind), cold stabilizing and other Old-World techniques are effective in killing off the yeast and getting rid of much of the unwanted sediment. There still will be some particles left in the wine, and Yvon is happy to see them.
“Look at that,” he said, holding up a glass of his Pinot Gris and letting the late-October sun illuminate the hazy wine. “There are so many layers of flavors in that glass.”
There’s also a bit of fizz, indicative that not all the yeast succumbed. But that’s OK, too, he said.
“I like that, it’s like a real <a href="“>Vouvray,” he said with a smile.
Several Colorado winemakers make unfiltered wines. Eames Peterson crafts his elegant and unfiltered Pinot Noir and Syrah in Paonia and he constantly is racking his wines, tranferring some of them four or five time. He, too, prefers the taste and presence of an unfiltered wine and has never had any problem with unwanted fermentations.
There’s also the pragmatic reasons for not filtering a wine. Neal Guard and Diane Brown of Avant Vineyards don’t filter their wine because A) they like unfiltered wines and B), they don’t want to spend several thousand dollars on a filter.
“I probably wouldn’t filter my wines, anyway, because I really like unfiltered wines” said Neal last summer, “but it doesn’t matter because I can’t afford a filter.”