I spent a fun hour with assistant winemaker, Justin, of Bookcliff Vineyards. Unfortunately owners, John Garlich and Ulla Merz were out of town, but Justin did a great job filling in. John and Ulla began their winemaking venture in 1995 when they bought 10 acres of land in Palisade and in 1999 opened the doors of their winery. After 9 years of having the winery in their home, and needing more space, they opened their present-day winery and tasting room on Lee Hill Road. The facility is impressive, with 24 stainless steel tanks and lots of oak barrels. John and Ulla now own 36 acres of vineyards in Palisade and are proud that their wine is made from 100% Colorado grapes. To find out more about their story, check out their website.
Bookcliff makes several white wines, red wines and blends. Justin had me try their two table wines – Fridays Folly (a red blend) and Lucky Star (their Muscat and dry Riesling white blend). Both were a good tasting table wine for a reasonable price. I also tasted their Cabernet Franc and Syrah, both delicious, but their Ensemble really stood out. In fact, it just won a gold medal!
Most of their wines carry the Bookcliff Vineyards label, however, each year local artist Keith Scramble Campbell paints a label for them using Red Rocks Amphitheater as his backdrop. The label is printed and placed on one of their wines called Flagstaff Star. Keith then adds his own personal touch to a select number of bottles by painting on the bottle and label itself. A definite collectors item.
Bookcliff also hosts several dinner and wine pairings with local chefs. Check out their website for more information.
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If you are looking for a great place to enjoy wine in downtown Denver, you need to stop at D’Vine Wine, aka Wild Women Wine. The winery and tasting room is located just 1 block off the 16th Street Mall on Champa (1660 Champa). D’Vine Wine is a little different than most Colorado wineries, as they source their grapes from California, but make their wine here. They have 17 varietals to choose from. I tasted a few and enjoyed the “Skinny Bitch” which is a Sauvignon Blanc. Its name comes from a wine called “Fat Bastard” that owners, Charlene and Ross Meriwether, used to drink when they lived in Texas. My favorite was “Hot Stiletto” which is a Zinfadel/Syrah blend. Besides the interesting names, D’Vine Wine’s labels are artwork onto themselves. Local artist, Jill Neal, creates all of the winery’s labels.
If you have ever thought about making your own wine, you can do so at Wild Women Wine. One of the pictures below shows bottles hanging on the wall. All of them depict wines and labels that were made at the winery. If you have a wedding, anniversary, holiday or corporate event coming up, this is a great way to express yourself.
In addition to tastings, Wild Women Wine also offers live music on Friday and Saturday nights. It is best to make reservations as the winery fills up quickly.
On Sunday, June 24 from 2-5 p.m. I will be doing a book signing at D’Vine Wine. It is only for their VIP Club members, so sign up to be a member and join us on June 24 for fun and wine!
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So where do those bottle corks come from?? You can find this out and more by following the self-guided tour at Boulder Creek Winery. The winery has set up a 12-step process called “Grapes to Glass.” Each step has information on that particular process with displays and/or pictures. While I have an understanding of crushing, fermentation and bottling, it was the cork step that drew my interest.
One of the pictures below shows the oldest cork tree (in Portugal). I asked Boulder Creek Winery owner, Mike Thompson, “Doesn’t the tree die when you take its bark?” and apparently it doesn’t, and within 7 years the cork has grown back for stripping again. Ever wonder why some wineries use real cork versus synthetic versus screw caps?? COST is one reason. A real cork is about $.42/cork and a screw top is about $.15/top with a synthetic placing somewhere in the middle.
I had an enjoyable visit with Mike, who is a friendly, quiet man and is extremely knowledgeable. He gives credit and praise to his wife, Jackie, for the excellent wines they produce. I tried their Viognier and Cabernet Franc, both delicious wines, but my favorite was the Consensus. This is the 3rd year that Boulder Creek has been making this blend. And Consensus is named after exactly what it is….a consensus of the winery’s VIP Club, who for over a 1 month period tastes and decides which is the best blend. The wine has won several awards.
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If you are looking for something to do on a Wednesday evening, Water2Wine – DTC is your answer. Every Wednesday evening for just one low price you can sample as many wines as you want (should…remember about drinking and driving safely!) as well as enjoy delicious food and listen to good music. They also have a new “Art Uncorked” series where you can sample wine and paint at the same time. Their website lists all the events this winery hosts.
Water2Wine – DTC is a little different than what you might expect from a “normal” winery…if there is such a thing. They make their own wine, under their own label, using grapes from 13 different countries. In addition, you can also make your own wine, under your own label. I had a chance to look at their scrapbook of labels and each one is unique. The labels and the reason for making one’s own wine ranges from weddings, anniversaries and birthdays, to corporate events to holidays.
Owner, Marcus Tipton and his “right hand gal” Dede are very helpful in making your experience a positive one. With so many wines to choose from, they can provide valuable knowledgeable about the various wines. The interior is very relaxing…you can sit at the bar, a cocktail table or sit in the relaxing couches and chairs. They have a Groupon deal coming soon with a discount on making your own wine. I tried their Nebbiolo, which was an excellent combination of light tannin and fruit.
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Avanti Winery is located just across the street from Southwest Plaza in Littleton, which makes it very convenient to do a little shopping and tasting at the same time. Owner, Jim “Griff” Griffin began the shop as a way to promote other Colorado wineries before he started his own winery. So if you are looking for a place to purchase a wide variety of Colorado wines, Avanti Winery is your one-stop shop.
Griff is a fun guy who likes to talk and tell stories. Whether you are new to tasting rooms or a seasoned veteran, Griff makes you feel right at home. He has been in Colorado for a long time and his wife, Jan, is a Colorado native, so they can help you plan a visit to Colorado’s wineries as well as other sites if you are interested.
The winery hosts several parties throughout the year, usually one each month except for July and August. There is one coming up soon that will feature Avanti wines and those from Whitewater Hill Vineyards located in the Grand Valley. There will be wine, food and cigars, and in exchange for a bottle of wine purchase you will receive a 10 minute massage.
Griff opened a bottle of his new The Bambinos, a delicious red blend of Sangiovese, Merlot and Malbec. The bottle’s label features his three dogs, Avanti, Niko and Gracie.
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After my volunteer shift at the Denver Zoo (sorry but I had to put in a plug for the zoo and our new Toyota Elephant Passage!), I headed north to Balistreri Vineyards, which is a short drive via I-270 at the York exit. Balistreri has just completed their brand new Tasting Room….and it is incredible. See the pictures below for a visual. They are currently working on the landscaping both front and back, where they are creating a picnic / garden type area. I forget the number of trees and flowers owner Julie Balistreri told me they were planting, but it will be impressive….maybe that’s because they used to be in the greenhouse business before starting Balistreri Vineyards!
Upon entering the Tasting Room, you are greeted by a friendly, knowledgeable staff person, who will pour you some of Balistreri’s award-winning wines. And there are a LOT to choose from. In addition to the wine sampling, they also provide complimentary cheeses, meats and crackers. In the near future they will be offering picnic-style lunches from the new kitchen. If you are in need of a rental space for any occasion, the back room is your answer. There is even a curved staircase for those brides who want to make a grand entrance!
The Balistreri family – John, Birdie and Julie (and other relatives) make delicious wines in the old, traditional way. John has been making wine since he was 9 years old. They don’t use a lot of machinery (in fact they only have 2 pieces of equipment and one of those is a fork lift) and produce and bottle their wines by hand. One of their signature trademarks is their wax-topped bottles. This is done instead of using paper or plastic wrap once the bottle has been corked.
Since it was early in the day, I only tried a few wines and thoroughly enjoyed their Viognier and Zinfandel.
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Our last winery stop in the Cortez area was at Pleasant View Vineyards. Here we were welcomed by owners, Elizabeth and Allan Bleak, who are the nicest people you would ever want to meet. Their warmth, hospitality and graciousness made us feel right at home, which is a good thing since we noticed Elizabeth toting a 357 magnum. But don’t let that scare you….that’s for the mountain lions and other predator animals that live in the area, not the guests!
The vineyard and their home is 8+ miles outside of Pleasant View and the back way into Hovenweep National Monument. Pleasant View doesn’t have an actual tasting room, but they are working in that direction with a grocery store in town and possibly offering tasting samples at the local Farmers Market.
When we arrived the Bleaks were pruning and tending to their 10+ acres of vines. Their vineyard sits in a little micro-climate, and they are able to grow a variety of grapes. We only tasted their Chardonnay, as we had a 7 hour drive back to Denver, and it was absolutely delicious! In fact, Pleasant View just received a bronze medal for their Chardonnay at the Governor’s Cup Colorado Wine Competition. I think we will be seeing a lot more from Pleasant View Vineyards in the near future.
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Another winery near Cortez is Guy Drew Vineyards, who along with Sutcliffe Vineyards is nestled in the McElmo Canyon. The winery is located about 4 miles from the intersection of Hwy 160/491 and G Road. I point this out because you need to keep an eye out for the WINERY sign on the right/north side of the road. Once there you are warmly invited into Guy and Ruth Drew’s home, which is also their tasting room. Guy and Ruth are very welcoming, friendly and ready to answer any questions you might have.
Guy and Ruth left the corporate Denver world in the late 1990s and built their straw bale house, winery and facilities. And remember, that’s a STRAW bale house, not a HAY bale house….big difference we were told!! Guy took us on a tour of his state-of-the-art winemaking facility. Here, Guy is producing delicious wines at affordable prices and winning many awards in the process.
In his two winemaking buildings he has stainless steel tanks, oak barrels and a new type of maturation container that takes up less room than nine oak barrels. His wine bottling, labeling and corking machine allows Guy to complete the process himself. Guy uses both corks and screw tops for his wines. His crush machine is very impressive, and the crushing speed can be controlled depending on what variety of grape he is crushing.
We sampled several of Drew’s wines both in the bottle and still maturing in the tanks. My two favorites are his Unoaked Chardonnay and Meritage (pronounced like heritage).
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After the Durango Wine Experience, I visited the three wineries near Cortez. Most people find it hard to believe that there are wineries there, let alone that they grow their own grapes. While the terroir does not afford ideal growing conditions, and they deal with high-altitude and cold, winter temperatures, these three wineries are making great strides in producing excellent grapes to make delicious wines.
John Sutcliffe, owner of Sutcliffe Vineyards planted his first grape vines in 1995 and has been producing delicious wines ever since. John also raises livestock and grows hay as well as other orchard fruits.
Visiting with John Sutcliffe was one of the most enjoyable two hours I have spent in a while. Besides the beautiful McElmo Canyon and nearby Ancestral Pueblos, the vast openness of the countryside, can take your breath away. From Cortez, its a 10-mile drive to Sutcliffe Vineyards tasting room, but half the fun is getting there and once you arrive you will not be disappointed.
John is a gracious host and toured us around his tasting room and adjacent home, his vineyards and farmlands and we even took a 3-mile drive to his “cave.” Now I’m not sure if everyone gets a tour of the cave, but this is a remarkable cold storage space for Sutcliffe and I think the only Colorado “cave” of its kind!
After the tour, we basked in the sun, experienced the serenity of the area and enjoyed a sampling of Sutcliffe’s incredible tasting wines. My favorite was the Cinsault….something rare to Colorado wines. John Sutcliffe has definitely stepped forward as someone producing excellent Colorado wines.
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It was my pleasure to spend the Durango Wine Experience’s two main events with Dean Fagner, owner of Four Leaves Winery. I set up my book display at Four Leaves during the DWE Walk About on Friday, May 4, 2012. For one price you receive your DWE glass and walk around downtown Durango stopping at several predesignated places to taste. The big event is the Grand Tasting held on Saturday, May 5th under the festival tent in the First National Bank parking lot. Again, for one price you sample Colorado wines from the Four Corners region as well as hundreds of wines, beers and spirits from mostly the USA, but other areas as well.
Four Leaves Winery is the newest winery in the Four Corners region and opened for business in January, 2012. Its location is perfect for both locals and tourists alike…right across the street from the Durango-Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad at 528 Main Avenue, Durango.The tasting room is beautifully decorated and you feel right at home the minute you walk through the door. On Friday nights they have live music, tastings and food.
Owners, Tracy and Dean Fagner, are the friendliest people you will ever meet, and their staff is welcoming as well. Four Leaves Winery is a little different than most wineries in the fact that the Fagners are making their own wine, but you can also make yours as well. Tracy makes a delicious Chardonnay that you must sample! If you are thinking about making your own wine, just for fun or for a special occasion, this is the place to be. The Fagners also own D’Vine Wine in Manitou Springs, which is a similar concept.
Enjoying wine with Tracy and Dean is a delightful experience!
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