Colorado Mountain Winefest 2017: It’s hard not to smile when you’re the best wine festival in the U.S.

September 22, 2017 Comments off
Jacob Winefest

Jacob Helleckson of Stone Cottage Cellars in Paonia works through a tangle of arms as thirsty Festival in the Park goers pack into the Stone Cottage booth Saturday during the Colorado Mountain Winefest. More than 50 wineries were pouring their latest offerings. Story and photos by Dave Buchanan.

A full two hours before the gates opened to Saturday’s Festival in the Park, an exclamation point to the 26th annual Colorado Mountain Winefest presented by Alpine Bank, the line of ticketholders curled back beyond the sign warning would-be attendees no more tickets were available.

Stalking past the boldly lettered “Sold Out” sign, the line twisted around the corner of Pendleton Avenue and up toward William Court.

There, a traffic control sign proclaimed “Residence only”, a mixed signal only a recovering editor might notice but easily understood nonetheless.

Such a turnout has become the new norm for a wine festival recently ranked the best in the U.S. by USAToday’s 10Best list.

“I’m amazed,” said an obviously pleased Cassidee Shull, executive director of Winefest and the Colorado Association for Viticulture and Enology, on seeing the exuberant line of festival goers. “This is the third year we’ve sold out. Maybe we’re not a secret anymore.”
And she laughed.

Saturday, a lot of people were laughing. And pushing up to the 50-plus wineries, reaching for free wine, and stomping grapes, and enjoying the music and seminars and VIP tent and Colorado sunshine. Oh, did I mention reaching for free wine?

Glug, glug, went the bottles. Slurp, slurp went the crowds.

Winefest2017 crowd pouring

Everywhere you went during Saturday’s Colorado Mountain Winefest were winemakers pleasing thirsty wine lovers.

Admittedly, Saturday morning at the Festival in the Park is not the best time to interview winemakers, who spend most of the day with their heads down, trying to stay one bottle ahead of the hordes of wine lovers.

But even with this year’s festival blessed by clear skies, perfect temperatures and a crowd whose only two rules seemed to be No. 1 – Have fun, and No. 2 – see No. 1, something was missing.

Oh, yes. Somewhere, not too far away, was a summer’s worth of grapes screaming to be picked.

“Man, we’re right in the middle of harvest,” Garrett Portra of Carlson Vineyards said during a brief pause in the day’s nonstop bottom’s up. “We’ve already crushed 70 tons, including most of our Muscat, Gewurztraminer and Riesling and all of our Lemberger. And we should have another 50-56 tons yet to come in.”

Portra said harvest is running “at least two weeks early,” a sentiment shared by most winemakers.

“We’ve already picked 150 tons and should be getting another 250,” said Bruce Talbott, the area’s largest grape grower. “We’re right in the middle of harvest. I’ve got crews all over the valley picking grapes. Give us another three weeks and we’ll have it done.”

Last week’s short rain delay might have been a blessing for some winemakers. The wet ground prevented crews from getting into the field and opened a day for the winemakers to attend Winefest.

“There really wasn’t enough rain to make a big difference, maybe the next morning it might have been an issue, but with Winefest we didn’t have anyone to pick anyway,” said Nancy Janes of Whitewater Hill Vineyards and Winery on 32 Road. “It’s about 2-3 weeks ahead, but the grapes are looking really good, the quality is fabulous and we have beautiful consistency.”

Her report illustrates how weather differently affects the east and west ends of Orchard Mesa. While Janes said she didn’t see much hail at 32 Road, Palisade, roughly at 38 Road and pinched by the steep slopes of Mount Garfield and Grand Mesa, can see more violent weather.

Wayne's ice carving

Chef Wayne Smith, head instructor for the culinary program at Western Colorado Community College, carved this ice wine-luge from two 100-blocks of ice during Saturday’s Festival in the Park.

And so it was that Naomi Smith of Grande River Vineyards in Palisade said the hail came fast enough some people pulled under shelters to protect themselves and their cars.

“We haven’t been out in the fields yet to see if there was any damage,” she said. “But everything has come on fast so we’ve been back-to-back picking and pressing. There was a lot of rain but so you can’t pick right now anyway because the grapes fill with water and aren’t good for winemaking.

“But it’s OK because we’re way ahead of schedule and besides, today’s Winefest.”

Over at the ice-carving exhibit, Chef Wayne Smith of Western Colorado Community College and Travion Shinault, a student in the WCCC culinary program, were wrestling two 100-pound blocks of ice into position.

Smith’s plan was to create an icy wine luge, complete with pouring spout and a frozen likeness of Mount Garfield. He picked up a small electric chain saw and grinned at Shinault.

“Bet you never thought you’d be using one of these in culinary school, did you?” he asked the burly Shinault.

“Man, this is all new to me,” said Shinault. And he laughed.

 

 

It’s never really easy: 2017 grape harvest dealing with high temperatures, too few workers

September 13, 2017 Comments off
Yvon harvest

Colorado’s 2017 grape harvest is in full swing. Photo and story by Dave Buchanan

While the wine grape harvest in western Colorado continues at a steady pace, other wine-growing regions have not had it so benign.

Rains, prolonged high temperatures and a shortage of skilled workers have made this harvest even more problematic than usual.

As reported earlier, much of the Texas grape harvest (fifth-largest winemaking region in the U.S.) went largely unscathed by the torrential rains and wind of Hurricane Harvey, with only the Gulf Coast vineyards receiving any damage.

California, dealing with weeks of triple-digit heat in some areas, has faced what’s been the hottest summer since, well, 2016, according to the California Weather Blog. Over the Labor Day weekend, winemakers in Napa reported temperatures in excess of 110 degrees for three consecutive days.

Plus, a labor shortage has growers scrambling for pickers, according to wine-searcher.com.

Sonoma, Cal., grape workers are starting their days at 3 a.m.to avoid picking in the heat, which affects workers as well as the grapes.

High temperature can cause vines to shut down and grapes to dehydrate and shrivel, which means sugar levels increase even though grape ripeness lags.

Growers in western Colorado have suffered through weeks of 90-degree plus temperatures, and while those levels aren’t unusual, they skew the decision of when to commence picking.

This depends on many factors, including the winemaker’s desired level of ripeness, sugar levels (expressed as brix), pH levels (low pH wines are crisp and tart, high pH wines may grow bacteria) and tannin ripeness.

Often, the decision of when to pick depends on the availability of workers. Skilled, experienced workers are in high demand and rare is the grower in Colorado who can afford to keep crews when they aren’t working. Which means waiting your turn and “borrowing” picking crews from other growers, hoping the crew arrives when your grapes are ready to be picked.

At least one Grand Valley grower this week told me his harvest date is “when we can get the workers.”

Kyle Schlachter named to Top 40 under 40 – Kyle Schlachter, a familiar face to the Colorado wine industry in his role as Outreach Coordinator for the state Department of Agriculture and the Colorado Wine Industry Development Board, recently (and deservedly so) was named to the Wine Enthusiast’s “Top 40 under 40 Tastemakers for 2017.”

The 40 men and women “are shaping the future of wine, beer, cider and spirits in America,” according to Wine Enthusiast. Schlachter has been a tireless promoter of Colorado wine and the Drink Local Wine movement, advocating people explore the diversity available in wines produced locally.

Waiting out the storm: surviving a wine crisis in North Texas

September 1, 2017 Comments off
Mad max

Laura Giles (@lgiles) posted this Friday on her Twitter account with the cutline “Rare image of the last known fuel shipment for North Texas.” 

A blog post Friday from my friend Susannah Gold got me thinking about the Texas wine industry post-Hurricane Harvey and while Texans have plenty to worry about, a call to blogger and author Jeff Siegel in Dallas found him stewing a bit over the situation.

“We’re close to having a wine crisis here,” lamented Siegel, a regular at the Colorado Governor’s Cup Wine Competition and one of the founders of the popular Drink Local Wine movement.

A crisis created not by a hurricane-induced wine shortage but by a citywide bout of gas-buying panic, creating immense lines and unnecessarily depleting some gas stations.

“It was plain old pure panic,” said Siegel, noting his problems are minuscule compared to the challenge facing thousand of his fellow Texans. “It was 1973 all over again.”

That was the year when an oil embargo from OPEC pushed the price of crude from around $3 per barrel to nearly $12 (today it’s around $47) and touched off panic buying and hoarding at gas stations all across the U.S.

In his attempt to fill the nearly empty tank of his compact car, Siegel found long lines tying up gas stations and reports surfaced of people pumping gas into 50-gallon barrels and every container they could find, hoping to stave off, well, what? Despite the damage done by Harvey in and around Houston, Dallas is 250 miles from the center of action and while some supplies have been curtailed, officials said the area has plenty of gas.

“Long lines at North Texas gas pumps fueled panic and crippled regular supplies at gas stations, causing temporary disruptions,” said local officials. It continued, “Outages and low supplies are expected to vary throughout the state.”txsmall_

But what about the Texas wine industry, the fourth-largest in the country? It turns out the great majority of Texas wine country is far away from Houston and missed the big hit, said Mark Hyman of Llano Estacado Winery near Lubbock in the High Plains area of west Texas.

Llano Estacado produces 162,000 cases per year (Colorado produces about 150,00 total) and its grapes come from the High Plains and the vineyards “in far, far West Texas,” Hyman said.

Hyman said some vineyards in the Texas Hill Country region around San Antonio felt the effects of Harvey but most of the wine crop already was in.

“We got some rain (before Harvey hit land) but it dried out in time for harvest,” Hyman said. “The whites are pretty much done and the reds are just coming out. We’ll be finished by the end of September (or early) October.”

As for Siegel, whose blog focuses on affordable wines, he’ll be OK. Among the wines he still has on hand are a Cantina Vignaioli Barbera d’Alba 2014 ($15) and a Tenuta Sant’Antonio Scaia Rosato ($10), which he highly recommends for being “cheap and tasty.”

That we should all have such a crisis.

Colorado Mtn. Winefest uncorked as best wine festival in U.S.

August 19, 2017 Comments off

As if you really needed another reason to visit Colorado Mountain Winefest….

Thanks to the many fans who voted for Colorado Mountain Winefest presented by Alpine Bank, the annual celebration of Colorado wine and food, has been named the Best Wine Festival in the U.S. by USA Today.

Winefest came out on top of the other finalists in the USA Today’s 10Best website, which enlisted a panel of wine and travel experts to nominate 20 of the best festivals “celebrating wine, wine culture and wine tourism across the country’s top wine-making regions.”

“Thank you to all who voted, and for those who continue to make Colorado Mountain Winefest everything it has grown into for over 25 years.” said Cassidee Shull, Executive Director for Colorado Association for Viticulture & Enology (CAVE) and Colorado Mountain Winefest.

The 2017 Colorado Mountain Winefest presented by Alpine Bank runs Sept. 14-17 at Palisade’s Riverbend Park.

You can see the entire press release, and updated information about Winefest events and tickets, here.

 

Make it official: Colo. Mtn. Winefest is the best in the USA

August 11, 2017 Comments off
Winefest t-shirts crop

A smile says it all. Join your fellow Cellar Dwellers at the 2017 Colorado Mountain Winefest’s Festival in the Park on Sept. 16 at Palisade’s Riverband Park. Tickets are limited. Story/photo by Dave Buchanan 

It’s hard to argue with success. In its 25 years, Colorado Mountain Winefest has grown from four wineries to more than 50, from fewer than a thousand guests to more than 6,000 and from a small-town fall gathering to this state’s largest and probably most-eagerly awaited showcase for all facets of the state’s wine industry.

But we already knew that, didn’t we? Now we know we haven’t been alone all those years, talking up Colorado Mountain Winefest presented by Alpine Bank to anyone who would listen (and maybe a few who wouldn’t).

Our locavore festival of wine, food, music and general good times (this year Sept. 14-17) has been named one of the 20 best winefests in the country by USA Today and is in the running for the title of Best Winefest in the U.S.

Well, boy howdy….

Competition is stiff. Other nominees include Big Sur, Napa, Charleston, Chicago, even the Aspen Food & Wine Classic is there, and right alongside is our own Palisade, Colorado.

The contest is by popular vote and truly every vote, your vote, counts. It’s your opportunity to share the love with the wine-loving world and vote for Colorado Mountain Winefest by clicking the link here. But please do it soon, the voting ends Monday (that’s this Monday, Aug. 14), which is like really soon….

Also, don’t forget to purchase your tickets to Colorado Mountain Winefest events on the Winefest website. Winefest has sold out the past several years, some of this year’s individual events already are maxed out and it’s likely the ever-popular Festival in the Park also will sell out again this year. As Winefest executive director Cassidee Shull loves to say, “We would not be where we are today without your support.”

 

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West Elks AVA celebrates the summer with wine trail Aug. 4-6

August 1, 2017 Comments off

This weekend (Aug. 4-6) marks the ninth annual mid-summer West Elks Wine Trail, celebrating the wineries, cideries and meaderies of the West Elks AVA and the North Fork Valley.

Featured venues include Alfred Eames Cellars, Azura Winery and Gallery, Black Bridge Winery, Delicious Orchards (Big B’s), Leroux Creek Vineyards, Mesa Winds Farm and Winery, Stone Cottage Cellars, Terror Creek Winery and 5680’ (winery contacts here).

Visitors begin their tour by obtaining a West Elks Wine Trail map from any of the West Elk wineries in the Paonia/Hotchkiss area. Each winery will feature food and wine pairings, with a focus on local foods.
The winemakers have selected two favorite foods to complement their wines and will give you the recipes just for stopping by. The nine wine tasting rooms will offer a wide variety of activities from vineyard tours, art displays, barrel tastings, winemakers’ dinners, food pairings, mountain views and more.
Complimentary wine glasses will be given to those who travel along the wine trail and collect recipes from at least five wineries.

Winemaker Dinner Update (as of Tuesday, Aug. 1): Leroux Creek has a few seat open for its French Affair winemaker’s dinner on Friday, August 4, at 6:30pm. Reservations: 970-872-4746.
Alfred Eames Cellars has limited seats (as of Aug. 1) for its Multicultural All American Culinary Experience dinner on Aug. 4. Details: 970-527-629.
Black Bridge will have Wood-Oven Pizza and Barrel Tastings on Saturday, August 5.
Big B’s at Delicious Orchards will be having a BBQ on Saturday, August 5, 12-8pm. Plus they will have live music by Zolopht, a progressive, reggae-rock band. Just drop in – no reservations will be taken.
Azura Cellars and Stone Cottage Cellars dinners are sold out.

 

 

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Drive for show, putt for dough: Making the 19th hole a bit more refined

July 24, 2017 Comments off

The following is a free-lance wine article I did recently for Colorado AvidGolfer Magazine, an upscale (and quite affordable) guide to just about everything you wanted to know about Colorado golf and now have the money to afford.

It’s fun to tackle new challenges, this one particularly so since I’m not always at this level of wine buying and I tried to include something for everyone’s price range. Enjoy!!

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Maybe you’re self-secure enough to think it’s no one’s business how much you paid for the new Lexus or custom-made putter or even those golf shoes that had your wife asking if they were Manolo Blahniks.

So you certainly don’t worry about making a bidding war out of a wine list.

We all know there are ways to impress friends without breaking the bank, which leaves more in your wallet for that new driver you’ve been eyeing.

A few suggestions for wines whose value far exceeds their price. And sh-h-h-h, we’re not telling anyone how smart you are. Let them figure it out.

REDS:

Barón de Magaña 2010 Navarra  $24 – Round, generous and delightfully textured, this Merlot/Cabernet Sauvignon blend (touched up with Tempranillo and Syrah) expresses a Bordeaux-like personality.

Tommasi Ripasso 2013 DOC Valpolicella Classico Superiore $25 – Full-bodied and spicy, with deep plum-like fruit flavors, thanks to the Ripasso style of winemaking.

Beaulieu Vineyard 2014 Rutherford Cabernet Sauvignon $45 – Tons of structure along with blackberry, caramel and earthy mint end in a juicy, tannin-supported finish.

Animo 2013 Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon $85 – Bright, full-bodied, with subtle oak, and touches of minerality and plums and blackberries.

Beaux Frères Ribbon Ridge 2014 Pinot Noir $90 – Oregon does Pinot right. This softly oaked offering has lovely spice and tastes of fresh Oregon plum, currants and violets.

Added at editor’s request:

Cakebread Cellars Napa Valley 2010 Cabernet Sauvignon $160 – Ripe, dark fruits (think blackberry, boysenberry) melded with cassis and plum notes. A touch of Cabernet Franc makes this sexy and rich.

Far Niente Oakville 2014 Cabernet Sauvignon $150 – Spice, dark berries and mushrooms start the journey with dark plum, licorice and sweet tannins to finish.

WHITES:

Wente Vineyards Eric’s Small Lot 2014 Chardonnay $28 – This bright, unoaked Chardonnay done in the Old World style has hints of lemon zest and Mandarin orange and finishes with green apple and pear.

Domaine Gueguen 2015 Chablis $18-$30 – Stylish and crisp, full of stonefruit and hints of lime, with a linear acidity that holds it all together.

Rock Angel 2066 Cote de Provence Rosé $26 – Somewhat new to the American market, lit by red currants, cranberries and an herbal character that adds enough grip to pair with many foods.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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