Archive for November, 2017

It’s a wrap: Colorado (mostly) finishes 2017 harvest and it’s a big one

November 5, 2017 Comments off
2017 late harvest grapes 1

Hanging around after harvest. Some grapes from the 2017 harvest went unpicked, either due to lack of demand or when winemakers ran out of storage space. Photo & story by Dave Buchanan.

Talking earlier this summer to winemakers and grape growers across Western Colorado left two impressions: One, All signs earlier this summer pointed to an early harvest and, two, that there was going to be a lot of grapes to harvest. In most cases that has proven true.

“I think everyone is finished except for some late stuff that didn’t get harvested and was left hanging,” state viticulturist Horst Caspari of the CSU research station on Orchard Mesa said last week. “One reason some grapes weren’t harvested is because the wineries’ tanks are full and no one is buying anymore.”

Most winemakers are reporting this year’s harvest took advantage of excellent mid-summer growing conditions and ran about two weeks early across the valley.

Kaibab Sauvage of Colorado Vineyard Specialists LLC in Palisade said he forecast an early harvest last spring after seeing an early bud break (flowering) on his vines.

“We were about 20 days ahead of normal,” said Sauvage, who owns and manages vineyards and sells grapes on contract to winemakers. “This was an excellent harvest, especially because it’s done. We came up with a little unsold fruit but for the most part we got everything sold.”

Sauvage repeated what many grape growers were saying, that the size of the 2015 and 2016 harvests, among the largest in the valley’s history, haven’t left much room for the 2017 crop.

The two previous years allowed wineries to fill their tanks and build some back-stock after disappointing harvests in 2013 and 2014.

But wineries still have much of that back-stock, which means they don’t have extra tanks or storage places open.

“We have a history of feast or famine, and (winemakers) definitely feasted in 2015 and 2016,” Caspari said. “We still have plenty of inventory from last year and sales aren’t increasing by 20 percent every year. Most wineries have bought all they can take or want or both.”

Jenne Baldwin-Eaton, who teaches the viticulture and winemaking courses at Western Colorado Community College, said she had grape growers cautioning her in September about an early harvest.

“The students weren’t quite ready for the grapes when they got delivered,” she said. “I told them, ‘Welcome to the world of winemaking.’”

However, Nancy Janes at Whitewater Hill Vineyards and Winery said her crop, which is west and a bit higher in elevation than most other grape areas in the Grand Valley, finished right on schedule.

“I’d say at this point we’re pretty much right back on track,” Janes said. “So sometime during the course of it we fell back into a more normal schedule.”

She said her harvest, which she expects to be around 90 tons, is up a bit from last year. Some of that, she said, is the growing conditions this year as well as continuing recovery of vines damaged during the hard winters of 2013 and 2014.

Sauvage agreed that 2017 has been excellent for quality.

“Both quality and quantity,” he emphasized. “We were down about five percent from 2016 but that was the biggest year I’ve seen in Colorado for the last 17 years.”

Caspari said early estimates put the 2017 harvest at just over 2,000 tons. When all the numbers come one, this year could eclipse the 2,100 tons harvested in the 2012, the largest yet on record.



We all started somewhere: Colorado’s amateur winemakers show up every year

November 5, 2017 Comments off
2017 amateur judge 1

Assessing wine, especially from amateur winemakers who often lack the equipment, time and experience of commercial winemakers, is time to reflect. Photo & story by Dave Buchanan.

Traditions take over during the middle months of fall. Homecoming, hunting season, Halloween, Thanksgiving. And one more, the annual Colorado Amateur Winemaking Competition.

You might have missed the last one, but it’s been happening every fall for 15 years or more.

“I remember judging wines in the little building at Palisade Town Park, while the (Colorado Mountain) Winefest was going on outside in the park,” recalled Monte Haltiner during Saturday’s latest competition. “We were judging in this tiny room and all the winemakers were sitting on the opposite side of the table, watching us all the time. It was nerve wracking.”

That was before Winefest outgrew the Town Park and moved to its present location at Riverbend Park.

Haltiner now is the head judge/coordinator for the amateur competition, which is run under the auspices of CAVE (Colorado Association for Viticulture and Enology), the folks who bring us Colorado Mountain Winefest.

No judging for Haltiner, except in case of a tie or question about protocol, but he’s busy keeping the actual judges on task.

After the state Legislature this year okayed a change that effectively allows amateur wines (unlicensed, unbonded) to be opened and served at state-licensed establishments, Saturday’s judging was held in a conference room at Wine Country Inn.

In past years, the amateur competition has been held in awkward off-site places such as outbuildings, cottages and the like. This venue change not only makes the judging more comfortable and efficient, it opens the door to Palisade hosting some large-scale amateur competition.

“The international competition attracts several thousand winemakers and usually is held in California or Back East,” Haltiner said. “We’d love to have that event here in Colorado.”

This year’s International Amateur Winemaking competition was held in West Dover, Vt., and attracted 2,497 different wines.

Saturday’s Colorado competition had six judges (disclaimer: I was one of the judges) sipping and spitting their way through 94 wines, 20 flights in all, ranging in size from three wines to seven. Or was it eight, nine maybe?

One forgets to count after 80-some wines.

The results will be announced in January at the annual VinCo conference and trade show  Jan. 15-18 at Two Rivers Convention Center.

Wines to think about (and maybe give thanks)…

November 3, 2017 Comments off

Seasonal (and Thanksgiving) wine notes…

Here are few notes from samples and purchased wines tasted in October.  Don’t worry, this isn’t more of the plethora of advice you’re inundated with about which wines to serve for Thanksgiving. Maybe.

Les Dauphins 2016 Cotes du Rhone Villages $15 – If you went out and found a natural turkey and organic  potatoes, why not an organic wine? Les Dauphins’ 2016 rouge is a pleasing blend of Grenache, Syrah, Mouvedre and Carignon. Pleasantly fruity with notes of cherries and red plums. Good slightly chilled.

Saved 2014 Red Blend $21 – The hot summer of 2014 turned out this impressive, deep-flavored red which carries tones of black plums, herbal and cocoa. A mouth-pleasing blend of mostly Malbec and Syrah, offering dark berries, white pepper, herbal notes and hints of cocoa and vanilla. Subtle tannins round off the palate. Saved is among the many Constellation brands.

Blindfold 2015 California White Wine $27 –The Prison Wine Company’s winemaker Jen Beloz continues her winning streak with this vintage, a delicious blend of primarily Chardonnay (35 percent) with Rhone and other white varietals. The result is a zesty wine offering notes of pear, melon and peach softened with vanilla and baked apple.

Notable 2016 Australia Chardonnay $15 – One of a duo of new wines from Constellation-owned Notable, both of which would be great for your Thanksgiving table. The Notable Chardonnays uses labels embossed with musical notes and a flavor scale to ease the wine buyer’s decision. The “Fruity and Crisp” Australia Chardonnay is fermented in stainless steel, offering fans of lean, crisp flavors of peach, melon and citrus.

Notable 2015 California Chardonnay ($15) – The other half of the latest twin Chardonnay offering from Notable. This full-bodied California Chardonnay, aged in French oak, falls on the “Oaky & Buttery” end of Notable’s Chardonnay flavor scale. The label touts prominent “Butter, Oak, Vanilla” flavors, making it ideal for the many lovers of affordable buttery, oak-heavy styles. The wine undergoes undergoes malolactic fermentation to soften its acidity and enhance the smooth mouthfeel before spending nine months in French oak.



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Early estimates put losses near $8 billion in California wildfires

November 2, 2017 Comments off
fire fighter.

Downed power lines owned by Pacific Gas and Electric Co. are being investigated for starting the fires that ravaged northern California’s wine country. Photo AP

Those watching the cataclysmic fires raging through the vinelands of California earlier this month could see the destruction taking place in real time.

Now, there are some actual dollar amounts being put on that destruction.

According to an article in the Intelligent Insurer, the most-recent estimates of economic losses by catastrophe modeling firm RMS (Risk Management Solutions) put the losses between $6 billion and $8 billion.

That includes loss (most of which reportedly occurred in Sonoma County) due to property damage, contents and business interruption caused by the fires to residential, commercial, and industrial lines of business. Lost vineyards are not included.

California Wildfires

A frie truck rumbles past a small part of the destruction caused by the wildfires in California. Photo AP.

According to the San Jose (Cal.) Mercury News, as of Oct. 28, more than 150,000 acres had burned across Sonoma, Napa and Solano Counties. No one is trying to estimate how long it will take for the region’s $74 billion viticulture and wine-related tourism industry to rebound.

One way we can help that rebound is to visit the Napa, Sonoma and Mendocino areas later this fall or next summer. The entire area wasn’t scorched; in fact, many wineries saw a bit of an uptick in visits as soon as they reopened after the fire, even while repairs were underway..

“From a tourist perspective, the valley’s still pretty intact,” said Scott Goldie, a partner with the Napa Valley Wine Train, in an article in the Napa Valley Register.

Europe seeing short harvest: Three of the world’s top wine-producing countries – Spain, France and Italy – are dealing with weather-related, lower-than-expected harvests. The three countries account for 50 percent of the world’s annual wine production.

France says it expects its smallest harvest since 1945 while Italy reports the harvest is expected to drop by at least two billion bottles, according to the online website The United Kingdom-based site reported recently that early reports have Italy’s 2017 crop at 38.9m hectoliters, 28-percent less than 2016 and the smallest since 1947.

According to, “Regions from Piemonte to Sicily were affected by the same spring frosts that hit much of Europe. The remaining crop was then reduced further by the ‘Lucifer’ heatwave, whose scorching summer temperatures caused drought in many regions and reduced berry sizes dramatically.”

It’s not clear how much of the impact will be felt by consumers except at the bulk wine level.

Brand owners “will be reluctant to pass on the full impact, as drastic price increases will lead to loss of markets that are extremely difficult to recover,” said an article from The Drinks Business.


Categories: Uncategorized