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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.

 

 

Categories: Uncategorized

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 imbibe.com. 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 imbibe.com, “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

Extend your summer with chilled red wines

October 2, 2017 Comments off
Grapes_growing_in_Valpolicella

Grapes hanging in the Valpolicella region of Italy. The 2016 harvest appears ahead of schedule after stable weather conditions through July and August. Photo courtesy Ilares Riolfi on Flickr.

September is showing its well-known frenetic side as a month of extremes, starting with typical late-summer heat and by month’s end showing a distinct turn toward winter.

This weekend may be a hint of the season to come with an early snowfall blanketing the Colorado high country with more than 10 inches of snow.

The latter is great news for skiers and boarders but sure throws my wine drinking into a spin. During the heat of early September chilled wines (like those still in my fridge) took top spot, especially lightly chilled (no more than 30 minutes in the fridge) reds which offer more body and structure than most whites, which make the reds perfect for those late-summer barbecues.

Many wine drinkers shy away from chilled reds and opt for “room temperature” wines but what exactly is room temperature?

The custom of serving wine at room temperature began back when everyone sat around those drafty castles, which may never have been as warm as today’s centrally heated houses.

Wines served too warm or too cold can be unpleasant but when the thermometer rises a properly chilled red wine can be a blessing. The caveat of  over-chilling or over-warming a wine, whether it’s a red or your favorite white, is the affect cold has on a wine and how it changes our perception of alcohol, acid and flavor (fruit).

A colder wine seems flat and astringent, has less perceptible (key word) alcohol as well as less fruit and more perceived acidity.

A room-temperature (not over 65 degrees) red wine may seem fat, showing show more fruit and the alcohol may be more evident. A suggestion is to trend toward lighter style wines, such as Valpolicella, Chianti and Beaujolais.

2014 Rafaèl Valpolicella Classico Superiore – $16. This medium-bodied red is one of the best examples of the wines coming from the region north of Verona and east of Lake Garda. Rich with dark cherries and plums, the fruit and acidity stay in delicate balance when served chilled.

2013 Frescobaldi Nipozzano Chianti Rufina  Riserva – $20-$24. Sangiovese, especially a Sangiovese Riserva, might not be the obvious choice for drinking chilled but this well-made Chianti Riserva from one of Italy’s oldest wineries has plenty of fruit (Montmorency cherry, currant and raspberry) and structure to hold its place at the table when served chilled.

Other suggestions for red wines that retain their flavors and balance when chilled include Pinot Noirs from France and Chile, Grenache from the Côtes du Rhone, Tempranillo from Spain and Colorado and the Gamay-based Beaujolais.

 

 

 

 

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.