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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.

 

 

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.

 

A weekend of events just of you

June 12, 2017 Comments off
Stone Cottage fans

Become one of Stone Cottage Cellars’ happy fans during this weekend’s North Fork Uncorked events. Photo courtesy of Stone Cottage Cellars.

Don’t say there’s nothing to do as spring makes way for summer.

Colorado wine country (the West Elks American Viticultural Area and the Grand Valley AVA) is celebrating the last weekend of spring (it’s also Father’s Day weekend, just sayin’) with events from book releases to special dinners and barrel tastings to wagon rides and more barrel tastings.

Friday (June 16): Author Christina Holbrook and photographer Marc Hoberman officially launch their book Winelands of Colorado from 4-6 p.m. at the Wine County Inn in Palisade. More on this and related events (fees may be charged for some events): peak1studio@gmail.com.

Saturday: Winemaker Garrett Portra of Carlson’s Vineyards releases his new River’s Edge wine at the Colorado Canyons Association’s fourth annual Crazy About Canyons fundraiser at the winery. Tickets are $75 per person and includes a picnic barbecue buffet, silent auction and special presentation by Peter Jouflas in honor of his father Chris Jouflas, who ranched in what now is McInnis Canyons NCA. Information:  www.coloradocanyonsassociation.org.

Saturday/Sunday (June 17-18): The West Elks AVA celebrates North Fork Uncorked and Father’s Day Weekend in fitting style with open houses and special events at nine North Fork Valley wineries. Vineyard tours, wine tastings, and other happenings. Phone numbers (all 970 area codes) follow:

Saturday: Delicious Orchards barbecue and live music, 527-1110; Black Bridge Winery barrel tasting and tractor-pulled wagon rides, 527-6838; Stone Cottage Cellars dinner with the winemaker ($80 per person) plus live music, 527-3444.

Sunday:  Brunch by Pam Petersen (live music by David Sheppard), 527-3269; Azura Cellars R/C yacht racing, 390-4251; Black Bridge Winery, barrel tastings, wagon rides, 527-6838.

Participating wineries in addition to those listed above include: 5680’, 527-6476; Leroux Creek Vineyards 872-4746; Mesa Winds Farm & Winery 250-4788; and North Fork Cellars at Delicious Orchards 527-1110.

 

 

 

Awaiting the return of winter

February 10, 2017 Leave a comment
february-vines-4

Grape vines on East Orchard Mesa haven’t yet responded to recent warm temperatures and growers are hoping for a return of cold weather to delay bud break.  

On an overcast February afternoon, winemaker Bennett Price walked away from a barrel of wine he was readying to bottle and headed outside, to a fence near his DeBeque Canyon  Winery where clusters of very dry grapes were shifting nervously in the breeze.

“These are Pinot Noir,” he said, reaching under the bird-proof netting drawn over the vines. “They were pretty good grapes, too, but they came on real early last spring, too early really to do anything with.”

On the third consecutive day of 60-degree plus highs, in what’s suddenly behaving as if it were the northern extension of the Colorado Banana Belt,  one can be forgiven if the weather has you thinking more of mid-spring rather than mid-winter. While the sides of nearby mountains still wear thick blankets of snow, there hasn’t been any snow, or any moisture of any kind, in the lower valleys for several weeks.

Instead, here at 4,200 feet, plenty high enough for winter to return for another month or two, birds are building nests, golfers are swinging away and winter-dormant lawns are starting to green.

bennet-with-thief

Bennet Price of DeBeque Canyon Winery in Palisade reaches for a sample of wine.

“I think we’re going to have an early bud break,” Price said. The unseasonal temperatures “warm up the soil too much and that stimulates the roots to start pushing.”

The temperatures, while warmer than normal – unless this is the new normal – still haven’t been consistently high enough to break the vines’ winter dormancy. It takes 50 degrees to see the return of spring, said state viticulturist Horst Caspari.

“And that’s on a 24-hour cycle, not just a quick jump up and then back to below freezing,” he said. “We’re still getting enough diurnal variation that nothing’s broken yet.”

Yet Bennet Price isn’t convinced after hearing a weather forecast calling for cooler temperatures followed by more warm days.

“We were up to 60-something yesterday and our low was 46 or something like that and today it’s back up there again,” he said. If the vines do respond to the warmth, “hopefully we won’t go back down to the low 20s or teens because you can start damaging the canes and trunks because the sap’s coming up.”

Tree-fruit growers are extremely wary of such mid-February warm spells because their trees are close enough to bud break that prolonged mild weather can bring early and unwanted development. Climate change hasn’t yet brought Western Colorado to where a heavy spring frost is out of the question.

Grapes, however, come on several weeks later than cherries, peaches and apples, which gives a bit of leeway and enough time for the weather to back to cold.

“But he’s right, the ground is being warmed up,” agreed grape grower Neil Guard at Avant Winery on East Orchard Mesa. “And look, it’s dry, there’s no snow at all. Which means if it stays warm, the vines are going to need water and we can’t get any irrigation water until April 1.”

Should the vines suffer freeze injuries, they then are susceptible to a bacterial infection called crown gall, which can eventually kill the vine.

Crown gall, caused by a bacterium that lives in the soil, also can result from mechanical injuries caused by normal vineyard maintenance such as pruning, grafting and training vines.

“I’m working in some vineyards and I have to go through and mark the vines with crown gall so they don’t prune that vine,” Price said. “You don’t want to prune that vine because if you prune it and then go to the next vine, you’re going to pass that bacterium to the next vine.”

He said the only way to treat crown gall is to pull and burn the vine and replant.

“It’s just another thing to think about if you’re planning on owning a vineyard,” Guard said, with a laugh.

– Photos, story by Dave Buchanan