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It’s time for a change, but is it spring or another blast of winter?

March 20, 2018 Comments off
190318 FD wine plum blossoms blossoms

Early heralds of the season to come, these plum blossoms may or may not survive to produce fruit, depending on the weather. Some fruit growers in western Colorado say they get plums and apricots about one year in 10. Story, photos by Dave Buchanan

A change is coming to the high desert of western Colorado. Observant hikers already have noticed miniscule blossoms poking out from desert shrubs, including such early bloomers as shadscale and saltbush.

In the city, winter-weary eyes are greeted by puffy blossoms of plum, apricot and serviceberry, glowing popcorn-white against winter-dark wood.

For fruit growers, however, this means restless nights, knowing it won’t be long until their sleep is broken by the roar of wind machines keeping the frost at bay.

Meanwhile, the vineyards sleep on. Even as eager gardeners eye emerging crocuses and dig into the cool soil as if spring were buried there, the vines wait unperturbed.

The vines are not fooled.

“Everything is still pretty much asleep,” noted Horst Caspari, state viticulturist at the CSU Orchard Mesa Research Station. “They don’t wake up very quickly. Each week they lose some of their cold-hardiness and each week they get closer to waking up.”

Caspari let his eyes wander to the apricot and pluot trees outside his window at the research station near the northwest corner of B and 32 roads on Orchard Mesa. He doesn’t harvest the fruit; the trees are there for decoration and to act as Nature’s calendar of seasons.


Winemaker Guy Drew of Guy Drew Vineyards in McElmo Canyon near Cortez in southwestern Colorado checks some early bud development in his grape vines. Growers regularly monitor bud growth and survival, looking for hints of the crop to come.

“Once the trees and vines get to bud break, all the cold hardiness changes,” he said. “Look at the apricots. I’d expect we’ll see the first flowers in the valley this week but if it drops to 29 degrees, you’ll lose them.”

Bud break, when nascent buds emerge from the protective cover and show themselves to the world, is when spring really arrives in the Grand Valley, no matter what the calendar or the thermometer says.

When a visitor remarked that his plum tree was “thisclose” to flowering, Caspari laughed.

“Well, you probably won’t have any plums to pick up this fall,” he said.

Records suggest that the last spring frosts are coming come earlier and the first fall frosts arriving later, adding a few days on each end of the Grand Valley’s growing season.

Caspari, who refers to killing frosts below 30 degrees, said that in the 54 years of records the Research Station has kept, the median date for the last frost (below 30 degrees) is April 25 while the first fall frost comes around October 23.

That’s not absolute, he emphasized.

“In 2016, we got hit pretty hard when we had 19.8 degrees on Nov. 16,” he said.

In those years, the same records indicate the valley has picked up “about a week” of frost-free (i.e., not a killing frost) growing, Caspari said.

A few days in the spring and about the same in the fall.

“We definitely have changed in the fall,” he said.

Of course, the changes are not limited to western Colorado.

NASA reports the average global temperature has increased about 0.8-degree Celsius (1.4-degrees degrees F) since 1880.

Two-thirds of that, says NASA, has occurred since 1975, just about the time U.S. wines broke onto the world’s stage at the famed Judgment of Paris.

During the 2017 Vinexpo in Bordeaux, France, growers and winemakers alike voiced concern about a warming climate and its effect on winemaking.

“Vines are very sensitive plants,” Gaia Gaja, co-owner of the 159-year old Gaja Winery in Barbaresco, Italy, told the French Press Agency. “They’re like a thermometer. They register every little variation that there is around them.”

Which brings us to spring of 2018, where things are bit behind last year.


Late March still is too early in the Grand Valley for grape tendrils but it won’t be long until delicate leaves such as these add a shade of green to brown vines.

“I keep track of the budding time of my flowers, my bulbs, and it’s been pretty fascinating,” winemaker Nancy Janes of Whitewater Hill Vineyards said recently. “It has not been unusual historically for me to have crocuses bloom in the middle of February and this year my crocuses are just blooming right now.”

She said the warm days have been balanced by nights dipping into the low 30s “and that’s keeping things pretty dormant.”

Caspari also noted that the spring so far is about two weeks behind 2017.

“Last year we had bud break in the second week of March and we don’t normally get bud break in Chardonnay until the fourth week in April,” he said.

One way to look at the spring re-awakening, said Caspari, is to envision a circle, with winter cold at the bottom and spring warmth at the top. Does the temperature rise gradually, following the arc of the circle, or is there a sudden bottom-to-top jump, bridging the gap and going quickly from winter to spring?

“That changes how you think about what you have to do to have a crop,” Caspari said.

Most grape growers are busy pre-pruning, getting ready for that last flurry of cutting and shaping when the growing season finally arrives. Will it come with a rush or will western Colorado sink back into another spell of winter, delaying the bud break and pushing development later into fall?

Nancy Janes gazed out of her winery at the still-sleeping vineyard sloping away to the north. A few clouds could be seen drifting far over the Bookcliffs in the pale, late-winter sky.

“So far, it’s been a very nice winter for us,” she said. “And you know, grapes aren’t fooled easily. They know when things are ready.”

What’s in The Glass: #5 – 2018/Bonterra Organic Vineyards

March 3, 2018 Comments off
Bonterra vineyard hill-copy

Bonterra Organic Vineyards In Mendocino County, Cal., has produced organic and biodynamic wines since 1992. The winery’s three ranches are certified Biodynamic® by Demeter. Photo courtesy Bonterra Organic Vineyards.

There might still be some people who question why a winery would go through the effort to produced organic or biodynamic wines. Working without pesticides or synthetic fertilizers and chemicals requires more effort on the part of grapes growers and winemakers but the once you taste the purity and elegance of Bonterra Organic Vineyard’s lineup of wines, you’ll understand.

According to Bonterra’s founding winemaker Bob Blue, who got his jump into organic winemaking 31 years ago when he apprenticed under cult-status California winemakers Paul Dolan and Dennis Martin, “The key for making good wine is to have really healthy grapes.”

“We had the idea that if we farmed organically, we might make better wine,” Blue says in one of the winery’s promotional videos. “When we do organic, we get that balance in the vineyard.” The result, he says, is “the purest expression” of the grape.

It wasn’t easy at first, since even in the late ’80s few California winemakers understood the why or how of organic grape farming. Consumers, too, had to stretch their vision of what wine should be.

Today, “the consumers really appreciate what we do,” Blue muses in the video. “And we’ve achieved wines that are interesting and fun to drink.”

In 2017, Bonterra was recognized as American Winery of the Year at the annual Wine Star Awards ceremony hosted by Wine Enthusiast magazine.

Bonterra 2016 Pinot Noir –  $18 SRP (media sample) Made with grapes sourced from home vineyards and from contract organic growers across Mendocino County,  this firm-textured, fruit-forward wine offers initial aromas of strawberries, red currants and red raspberries and followed by flavors of more red fruits with a touch of oak, spice and vanilla.

Bonterra 2016 Viognier – $16 SRP (media sample). An initial  flood of apricot and wine peach aromas are followed by flavors of more apricot, peach, green apple and orange blossoms. Fermented in both stainless (70%) and oak (30%) with another eight months in oak to add a bit of vanilla spice, this wine is sleek, firm and vibrant.




Bob Blue,,founding winemaker first wines in 1992

By then, Bonterra Organic Vineyards already had ben producing organic wines,

Today, Bonterra will be recognized as American Winery of the Year at the annual Wine Star Awards ceremony hosted by Wine Enthusiast magazine in Miami, Florida. It will be the first time the American Winery of the Year award is bestowed on a vintner dedicated to organic farming, and signals the blossoming acclaim and popularity of this once-niche segment of the wine landscape.

we’ve done so because we feel that organic grapes truly make the best wines,” said Jeff Cichocki, Bonterra Winemaker. “We were pioneers at the beginning of the organic movement, and we continue to evolve and lead with research into best practices for organic farming.

Why bio wines:  more structural balance and require less manipulation during the vinification proces

Advice from the wise: Older wines? ‘Grip ’em and rip ’em’

February 21, 2018 Comments off
Bonotto 1959

Holding on to wines in hopes they improve with age is a gamble. Pictured are 1959 Raboso from Antonio Bonotto in Tezze delle Piave, Italy. Photos and story by Dave Buchanan.

I recently posted about the joys of finding and drinking older wines. In this particular case, it was regarding a wine from 2006, which really isn’t old as far as wines goes but as I pointed out,  the wine was totally unexpected to be as delightful as it was after 11 years under my benign care.

The point I was trying to make is that older wines can offer insights into a winemaker’s thoughts during the original production. And, more key to the post, that you might come across an older wine, forgotten in a rack or in the case, and find yourself learning first-hand how a wine ages and the benefits a few years of patience can offer.

Curiously, a few days later, writer Michael Franz said in a post at Wine Review Online that holding a wine too long for wine can be a mistake. I’ve known (or better, known of) Franz since a trip to Italy in 2007 and have always enjoyed and appreciated his insights about wine and all the circus fuss that often accompanies it.

In this case, Franz makes several keys points. One, “there’s no way to know whether you’ll be catching the wine at the optimal point of maturity until you’ve pulled the cork”; and two, “And if it seems like you’ve waited too long, there’s no undoing the damage of an overly delayed opening.”

A sort of vinous “buyer’s regret,” I suppose. You buy a wine you think might be better in a few years and then you forget you have the wine or you spend years mentally relishing how nice the wine will have aged, only to find once it’s opened you missed the window of opportunity.

So what does Franz (the editor of WRO and a highly respected wine judge and critic)) recommend?

“After years of wrestling with the issue, I now find it quite easy to advise (owners of older wines), and I invariably advise them to get over their reverence and just drink the damned things,” he says succinctly.

In the case of the 2006 wine (a Grand Mesa blend of Cabernet Sauvignon/Merlot from Plum Creek Winery), I wasn’t being patient so much as forgetful. I simply forgot I had the wine. And, yes, I got very lucky to find winemaker Jenne Baldwin-Eton intentionally made this vintage to be shelved and opened years after bottling.

“For me, reserve status is carried all the way through fermentation,” Jenne recently emailed in response to my query. “Reserve wines were made with the idea that they needed to age in the bottle, so I was looking for different aspects through the fermentation process.

“Those that appreciate or recognize this evolution of the wine are the ones that buy cases of it to cellar and look forward to opening bottles with more bottle-aging time,” she wrote.

But, a Franz points out, maybe you should just drink that wine instead of forcing it to be something it might never be. Too many times you simply wait too long for something that isn’t going to happen. And, after all, you have an entire world of wine from which to choose for the next bottle.

“… a truly revolutionary diffusion of technology and expertise over the course of the past generation has now transferred potential excellence so widely across the globe that there’s no such thing as a bad year,” Franz states.

So the next time you pull out a surprise from that dusty box hidden behind the skis and the long-forgotten VCR, remember what Michael Franz suggests: “… grip ’em and rip ’em (because) even the luckiest person isn’t guaranteed another day, and you can’t drink your treasured wine tomorrow if you get hit by a bus today.”





What’s in the Glass – #4-2018

February 2, 2018 Comments off

Tome Gore sums up his winemaking philosophy quite simply: Letting the character of the fruit shine through his well-balanced wines. Photo courtesy Tom Gore Vineyards. 

A popular bumper sticker in my farm-to-table part of the country reads “Know farmers, know food.”

Take that a step farther and Tom Gore might say, “Know farmers, know wine.”

Gore prides himself on being a second-generation grape farmer in Sonoma County who several years decided to meld his love of farming with a vision of true-to-nature wines and began his self-named line of affordable, well-balanced wines.

His website recounts his farming and winemaking philosophy: “Great wines start with the work of a farmer” and Gore describes his lineup as “farm to glass” wines.

Here are the latest samples I’ve enjoyed:

Tom Gore 2015 Cabernet Sauvignon – $13. Aromas of dark cherries, currants and a hint of leather greet your nose while the mouth is filled lots of dark red fruits, dried red plums, sour cherries and black currants.

Soft tannins bolster the wine to a long finish of hints of faint cedar, dark chcolate and dried cherries and currants.

Tom Gore 2015 Chardonnay – $11. Fermented 60 percent in oak and 40 percent in barrel, this lively Chardonnay carries the best traits of both: a light oak styling brings depth to the fruit (a mix of yellow apple, pear and guava) while the stainless steel adds the right amount of tautness to balance the creamy underside of the oak.

What’s In The Glass – #2-2018

January 20, 2018 Comments off
bovin winery

The Bovin Winery in the Tikvesh region of Macedonia. Photo courtesy of Bovin Winery.

Another in our continuing (albeit irregular) contributions about new openings. All prices are averages seen online or in local wine shops:

Bovin 2013 Cabernet Sauvignon, $12 – The Bovin winery is in the Tikvesh wine district of Macedonia, properly the Republic of Macedonia which formed after the 1991 breakup of Yugoslavia.

Winemaking goes back at least 4,000 years in the region and recently Macedonia’s wine industry has been pushing to gain more recognition.

Bovin has the capacity to produce 1.5-million bottles per year, which means producing various levels of wine to reach both regular and high-end consumers. I enjoyed the former and am intrigued about the latter.

I sampled the 2013 Cabernet Sauvignon made of 100 percent Cabernet Sauvignon grown 80 percent on winery owned vines and the rest sourced from regional growers. Full-bodied wine with an herby/earthy nose, lots of dark fruit (currants, blackberries and cherries) and soft tannins.

There also is a line of barrique-aged wines and a line labeled Superior, including (among other varieties) a Cabernet Sauvignon Barrique and a Cabernet Sauvignon Superior. More info on the website.

Imagery Chardonnay 2016, $16 – This pleasing blend of California-grown Chardonnay (95 percent) and Chenin Blanc (5 percent) is from Imagery’s new California tier of wines. The wine offers hints of apple and lime and pear with just enough oak to add some body and mouthfeel. The Chenin Blanc added some fullness for a fine mid-winter white wine.


The gift of learning to be a glass artist

December 24, 2017 Comments off
122417 Wine friends

When serious wine drinkers get together to taste wines, there are sure to be many glasses on the table. The range of styles and shapes are selected to match the selection of wines.

What is more ubiquitous this holiday season than countless electronic versions of your favorite Christmas carols? How about the equally untold recommendations for your “perfect” Christmas wine?

In case it’s of interest, a recent Google search for “selecting Christmas wines” yielded 9.03 million results in .61 seconds.

I found everything from wines deals to wine clubs to assurances I will pick my “holiday wines like a pro.”

A pro what? A pro wrestler?

As in, trust me, where can you go wrong? Maybe it’s best we don’t tell you all that you might find if you dare to look.

How about a set of “Ugly Christmas Sweater” wine bottle covers complete with Santa Hat bottle toppers, or a Wacky Legs Mrs. Claus bottle topper, or 12 ways to re-use wine bottles for Christmas decorations?

And who can resist the DYI handbook of making Christmas crafts (“beyond easy”) with used wine corks? Well, I can, for one.

There are some sensible gifts for Christmas. The first that comes to mind, given the crowd with which I occasionally tip a glass or two, is better wine glasses, or stemware, as they are known.

Riedel Veritas Champagne Wine Glass_White Fill

The new Riedel Champagne wine glass is shaped less like a traditional flute shape and designers say this allows the wine’s flavors and aromas to open.

“Better,” of course means you can run the gamut, from functional and affordable (Libbey, $20 for four) to super-premium and super-cool (Zalto and Riedel, from around $55 and up).

What’s the difference? Well, for your typical Christmas and Thanksgiving crowd (“I drink wine only on the holidays when it’s served at someone else’s house”), a set of basic (i.e., inexpensive) wine glasses/containers will do.

Millions of gallons of wine have been drunk from all sorts of containers and the only negative might be a hangover or two.

A friend is adamant about drinking her wine from a jelly jar (this is reflective of her choices of wine) and hasn’t yet succumbed to any mysterious diseases. She also doesn’t hold much for the disingenuous “swirl, sniff, sip” canard that sometimes overwhelms the very reason the bottle was opened.

But improving your wine glass can make a difference if your interest in wine is greater than it being simply an alcohol transport system.

So why the many options in wine glasses? So many shapes and sizes but you’ll notice all wine glasses share several traits: A stem to hold it, a bowl that’s wider at the bottom and a small (or nonexistent) rim.

The stem keeps your hands off the bowl, since hands tend to change the serving temperature of the wine and leave fingerprints on the clear glass.

The bigger the bowl the easier you can swirl, letting the wine’s aromas circulate and become evident. You’ll notice glasses for red wines generally have larger bowls than glasses for white wines. Partly this is because red wines need more time and more contact with the air to open and release their aromas.

201217 FD wine Drusian cropped

Francesco Drusian makes world-class Prosecco in Valdobbiadene, Italy, and his choice of glass is not the traditional narrow flute but rather a glass with a wider mouth and rounder bowl. A crystal glass, of course.

Bowl shape and size is a personal choice, and some well-known wine critics use the same style of glass (in many cases a white-wine glass) for all their wine tasting.

Hand-blown (or, more correctly, mouth-blown) glasses tend not to have a rim because of the manufacturing process. No rim means less likely to dribble and it allows the wine to spread evenly onto your tongue.

Today’s highly skilled and innovative glass makers have developed wine-specific glasses with the rim and bowl shaped to direct the liquid onto certain parts of the tongue and palate. (Geek alert:) Related theories hold certain wines reveal their nuances better in specific sections of the mouth.

Regular glass or crystal? The difference between crystal and glass is that crystal may contain a certain amount of lead, which strengthens the glass.

Regular glass is lead-free but is thicker, doesn’t have crystal’s clarity or delicate chime when struck and survives your dishwasher, kids and cats better than crystal.

Lead is used in glass-making because it has a low melting point and thus keeps the glass liquid longer and easier to work with. It also makes the glass stronger, a key component when seeking out the thinnest glass possible.

Some stemware makers (such as Schott Zweisel), aware of concerns about the lead in glassware, now use zinc oxide, barium oxide, or potassium oxide in place of lead.

Crystal stemware is known for its sparkle and feel, having a certain microscopic roughness because of the crystalline structure not found in polished glass.

Crystal wine glasses also are more expensive than regular glass, another reason to handwash.

While lead-free wine glasses, such as those by Riedel and Zalto, are surprisingly durable, they still need special care when being washed and hand-washing is recommended for these and all your better stemware. You can use a machine (I am NOT suggesting this, although some restaurants do it), but make sure the glasses are secure and won’t bounce around.

Stemless wine glasses (or tumblers) are popular today for their casual, unsophisticated manner and functionality. Similar to the discussions between cork and twist-cap closures, there are drinkers who like the tumbler-style glasses and those who prefer the elegance and tradition of stemmed glasses. The stem, as many a server has learned the hard way, is the most-fragile part of a wine glass and where breakage tends most often to happen.

Plastic stemless wine glasses? Save them for camping.





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.