Archive for November, 2015

Winery Visit – Colorado Cider Company (part 2)

As winemakers say, “you can’t make a great wine without starting with great grapes.” The same philosophy holds true for ciders…it’s all about the apples! While we think about making cider from grocery store apples, these dessert or eating apples are not the variety that makes good cider. What actually determines an appropriate cider apple is the amount of tannin, acid, and sugar associated with the apple variety. Here are the 4 major types and a quickie overview of their characteristics:
Sweets – low in tannin, low in acid and high in sugar
Bitter Sweets – high in tannin
Sharpes – high in acid
Bitter Sharpes – mix of tannin and acid

Years ago, dessert apples were primarily limited to a certain geographic region or area, but sophisticated transportation methods and longer shelf life offered wider availability to people. Cider apples were not ever shipped widely and were mostly connected to geographic regions. Then with Prohibition, the cider apples disappeared mainly because of their unpalatable eating flavor. Now though, with the expanding cider industry we are back to seeing a more localized growing and production operation for cider apples.

As I mentioned in Part One, Colorado Cider Company gets the majority of its apples from Colorado, but depending on the harvest may also need to source from Washington, Oregon, Utah and/or Idaho. As with grapes, the two largest areas for apple orchards in Colorado are the Grand Valley and the West Elks area (Hotchkiss, Paonia, and Cedaredge). An interesting fact I learned from Brad is that it takes about ~11 pounds of apples to make 1 gallon of juice, and with Colorado Cider producing the equivalent of 30,000 cases….that is a lot of apples!

In my book, Exploring Colorado Wineries, I discuss how a grape becomes a wine, so here is a brief overview of how Colorado Cider Company turns an apple into cider.
#1. Like grapes, apples are picked or harvested in the fall. BTW – almost all cider is a blend of apples.
#2. The apples are then crushed and pressed, like grapes.
#3. The apples are now in juice form, without the skins.
#4. Fermentation takes place, usually in stainless steel tanks, with yeast being added. The most common yeast used is a white wine yeast that acts as a “workhorse” but imparts no flavor. The juice is fermented completely dry.
#5. The juice goes through a racking and fining process that removes most of the sediments and yeasts.
#6. The juice is then filtered.
#7. A little sugar (usually apple juice) is added back in. This determines whether the cider will be dry, off-dry or sweet.
#8. The cider is bottled and capped with a crown cap (like a beer bottle).
#9. The bottled cider is pasteurized in a water bath, which varies depending on the time in the bath versus the temperature of the water.
#10. The company labels are placed on the bottle.

#11 is the best part….drinking the cider! Ciders are processed to be consumed immediately but have ~1 year shelf life. This is a lower shelf life due to less alcohol, than like wine.

Hopefully I have spiked your interest about ciders and you will venture out to explore and enjoy Colorado Cider Company and other cideries around our state!!

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Winery Visit – Colorado Cider Company (part 1)

A little history lesson….Who would ever connect cider with Julius Caesar?? Written history tells us that when the Romans invaded Britain they discovered the locals drinking cider and found the beverage to be quite enjoyable. The first apple seeds from Europe were brought over and planted in the Massachusetts Bay Colony in the early 1600s. Then, as cities expanded, cider (and beer) was considered safer to drink than water. But then Prohibition came along and consumption of any alcoholic beverage was greatly decreased. It’s actually only been in the past few decades that cider has seen a renewed emergence in the USA, although the UK and many parts of Europe never experienced a decline in consumption.

For us in Colorado, we should be glad that owners Brad and Kathe of Colorado Cider Company decided to begin their operation in the metro Denver area! Back in 1988 Brad worked for Wynkoop Brewery (and we all know the history there) and also worked with Coppersmith Brewery of Ft. Collins producing beer and cider. Brad and Kathe actually lived in Buenos Aires for a few years, opening up a brewery there. When they moved back to the USA, it was cider that called them, not beer…we should be glad of that fact, too! Colorado Cider produces delicious ciders that are refreshing and enjoyable, not like the typical, overly sweet national brands you get in liquor stores.

Many people believe cider to be a sweet, apple-juicy beverage, but Colorado Cider disproves that point with their numerous cider options. They produce 9 varieties and a few seasonals. Their “Glider Cider” line offers 3 choices of off-dry, dry, and cherry and comes in a 4-pack. My personal favorite is their “Grasshop-Ah” with notes of citrus and flavors of light hops that also comes in a 4-pack. The other ciders include PomeMel, Ol’Stumpy, Pearsnickety (made with CO Bartlett pears), Uvana (a 50/50 blend of CO wine grapes and apples) and Newtown Pippin (made from American Heirloom apples). A new product to be released soon is a bourbon barrel-aged cider, like an apple port, called Pommeau….I can’t wait to try that one!!

The cidery’s majority of apples, fruit, and wine grapes comes from Colorado. In fact, all the fruit is pressed in Palisade and then a tanker truck delivers about 5500 gallons of juice to their production facility and tasting room in Denver. In addition to sourcing fruit from other orchards, Brad and Kathe are looking forward to the 2016 harvest when they will produce ciders using apples from their own 3000-tree orchard located in Hotchkiss.

Stay tuned for PART TWO of my blog about cider when I discuss apple varieties and production…but in the meantime, visit Colorado Cider Company’s tasting room so you can discover for yourself the tasty selection of ciders available. Explore and Enjoy!

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New Mexico Wineries

Having visited 98% of Colorado’s wineries, I decided to explore some of New Mexico’s wineries and sample their wines. It was an interesting visit and I was impressed with several of them. The state is basically divided into two zones – Northern and Southern. I explored the Northern section visiting wineries around Santa Fe, Taos and Albuquerque. I also coordinated my visit with the Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta, which was absolutely incredible and something that had been on my bucket list!

The NM Wine & Grape Growers Association publishes a nice little pamphlet with a map and listing of the wineries. You can also obtain information from its website….click here for the link. The pamphlet is a very useful tool, although nothing like my Colorado guidebook!! I stopped at 11 wineries, and only 2 did not charge for the tasting. On average it was a $6 fee for 6 tastings of 1 oz pours. The tasting rooms also supplied you with a handout for taking notes….a VERY useful tool and something I recommend anytime you taste wine!!

Like Colorado, grapes are grown all across the state, with the majority coming from Deming (near Las Cruces) in the southern part of NM. What was very interesting to learn is the Spanish influence that permeates their wine industry. In fact, history shows that NM was producing wine for 150 years before California and the first vines were actually planted in 1629 by a Franciscan monk. There are currently over 60 wineries and tasting rooms in the state that produce almost 1 million gallons of wine per year.

Since I don’t have to be “politically correct” regarding NM wineries/wines, I will offer my opinion on the wineries we visited (see pictures for winery names). My favorite for both the wines and the tasting room was Casa Abril Vineyards and Winery. Owner/grape grower/winemaker Raymond Vigil loves to talk and share his enthusiasm for his wines, which I thought were outstanding. My next favorite was Casa Rondeña Winery. Their wines were also outstanding and their tasting room area and grounds offered places to sit and enjoy their wines in a tranquil setting. I would give Don Quixote Winery & Distillery, Estrella del Norte Vineyard, La Chiripada Winery, St. Clair Winery & Bistro, and Vivác Winery a “definitely stop and taste.”

Since the New Mexico wineries are only a 6-8 hour drive, they make for a fun 3 to 4 day adventure to explore and enjoy!

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Winery Visit – The Infinite Monkey Theorem

There is always room for debate when it comes to “Being #1” …whether it’s in sports, cities or international wineries, but if I were a betting person, I would say that The Infinite Monkey Theorem (TIMT) is the #1 largest winery in Colorado. At a production rate of 40,000 cases, that is a substantial amount of wine! Owner and winemaker Ben Parsons has initiated many unique and cutting edge ideas into his winery and wine production, enabling him to garner that #1 spot. First, I would start with the winery’s name….TIMT is not named after the owner or an area, but an interesting theory. Click here if you want more info on that. Second, Ben says his winery doesn’t have a tasting room, but rather a “taproom.” Next is the location….an “urban winery” founded with a sense of community and situated in the RiNo District, currently the hottest and most vibrant area in Denver.

To expand on the innovations at TIMT, one must include what the winery is doing with its wine. At the taproom you can purchase 12 wines on tap and/or purchase growlers to go. Ben is also putting his wine in cans, something he began doing in 2011, and was the second USA winery to use this form of container for wine. (BTW – Francis Ford Coppola’s “Sophie” was the first and there are now 8 wineries using cans). And if you have flown on Frontier Airlines recently you know that you can purchase TIMT’s wine in a can onboard. TIMT cans 4 types of wine….Chardonnay, Merlot, Rosé and Moscato; and for us outdoor enthusiasts having wine in a can is a great idea!

TIMT takes about 220,000 tons of Colorado fruit and puts approximately 3/4 of it in bottles and 1/4 into kegs. They have 50,000 cases of wine in cans from fruit sourced from California. I don’t have room in my blog to discuss all of TIMT’s wines, so here is an overview of a few…. Whites: a Sauvignon Blanc/Semillon white, Bordeaux-style blend in a bottle, an off-dry Riesling also in a bottle, and a rich, full-bodied Viognier in kegs. For Reds: the Cab Franc tastes of black currents, green chili, Sorrento peppers, and violets and received a 90 from Wine Enthusiast magazine and the Syrah, with concentrated dark fruits received an 89 in Wine Spectator. Those ratings are a nice testament to any winery, here or abroad!

November 16, 2015 will be another landmark date for TIMT as it opens up another winery in Austin, TX. But for those of us in Colorado, a visit to TIMT in RiNo is a great experience, especially May through October when you can enjoy its wines sitting on the patio with friends and/or family and also partake in dinner from the food trucks. I must admit that I get annoyed with all the articles on Colorado beer, so it was wonderful to see that Ben was named in the top “40 Under 40” article in Wine Enthusiast….way to go!!

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Winery Visit – Kingman Estates Winery

The question is….how do you begin a winery and 3 years later are ranked eighth largest winery in Colorado (according to the Denver Business Journal)? The answer is….ask Doug and Karen, owners of Kingman Estate Winery… for that is exactly what they have done! They will tell you their secret “is one customer at a time to build your reputation.” They also believe it is not about selling wine, but about selling a relationship and experience. And I would also have to interject to say it is also about the winemaking! I first met Doug and Karen at a wine festival back in 2012 and I think they have participated in every wine festival in our state since then!! Festivals, numerous liquor stores, and their Tasting Room (and production facility) near I-25 / 58th are where you can purchase their wonderful wines.

Kingman Winery sources the majority of its grapes from Palisade, as long as it’s a good producing year. As winemaker, Doug prefers Colorado grapes because he believes the grapes aren’t quite as fruity as California’s grapes and provide a more intense flavor due to our soil and climate. The winery will be producing 9 wines for 2015….4 whites, 4 reds and their blend of Cab Franc, Cab Sauv and Riesling that is called Marv’ lous 1680. Marv’lous is one of their top sellers and, in my opinion, a delicious wine. While interviewing Doug I also tasted his Viogner and Riesling, both of which I would rate as winners!

Doug is on the Colorado Wine Industry Board and his goal, and that of the CWIB, is to increase the visibility of Colorado wines/wineries. In fact the new logo is “Raise a Local Glass.” This board and that of CAVE (Colorado Association of Viticulture and Enology) assist Colorado’s grape growers and winemakers. Many people don’t know that we have a state viticulturist and an enologist to provide assistance to farmers and wineries with growing grapes and making wine. CAVE also organizes the Mountain Wine Festival that is held in Palisade every year. (BTW – mark September 17, 2016 on your calendar for that wine festival!).

Kingman has a great Wine Club that offers “Quarterly Pick-Up Parties” and a “Fall Customer Appreciation Event.” On 11/14/15 and 12/31/15 they are having a Winemaker’s Dinner combining their wines and the skills of Chef Connie Ruel (see picture below for 11/14 menu). Future Winemaker’s Dinners are planned for every two months. This is an incredible opportunity to pair delicious wines with delicious food….what could be better?? So….explore and enjoy!

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