Exploring with Paula

Winery Visit – Bookcliff Vineyards

People are always asking me, “Paula, where do the Front Range wineries get their grapes?” For Bookcliff Vineyards, located in north Boulder, the answer is simple…you get them from your 37 acres of owned and managed vineyards in Palisade! Owners Ulla and John believe “it is important to know where the grapes come from and to have a connection to agriculture.” Bookcliff is the only Front Range winery that I know of that has its own vineyard and uses 100% Colorado-grown grapes. The winery has been in operation for a while – since 1999 – and has been planting their own grapes since 1997. It all began after a backpacking trip to Moab with a winery stop in Palisade and a visit to the Palisade wine festival. And we should be glad that Ulla and John made that stop because they are producing some delicious wines!

To prove how incredible their wines are…they are the only Colorado winery that has won 4 Jefferson Cups. (Click here for more info.) This is an annual, invitation only, national competition among 700-800 wines and only 20-25 wines receive a cup. Now that is impressive! The owners believe in fruit-forward wines and try to preserve the character of the grape, since each variety has its own distinct taste. As growers, they like Colorado’s high altitude and sunny days to provide more minerality and tannins to the grapes, and feel that grapes grown here do not taste like California grapes…YEAH!!

Bookcliff’s top sellers are Friday Folly White and Red, which are non-vintage, value wines. Their Cab Franc, which I tasted and is delicious, has been in their repertoire since 2002 and has won several gold or double gold medals. Their Malbec is a new kid on the block and actually won the 2014 Jefferson Cup. Another interesting wine is Touch of Red Rosé, which is produced similar to a German-style wine where 75% of the grapes are fermented dry and 25% are kept as grape juice. This mixture is then blended together, which takes a lot of effort and also care to prevent further fermentation in the bottle.

The winery participates in several special events…Bookcliff, as well as the other 2 wineries that make up Boulder Wine StudiosSettembre Cellars and What We Love, The Winery – have teamed up with the First Friday NoBo (North Boulder) Art Walk. Bookcliff also hosts special wine and food pairing dinners with local Boulder chefs. Whether it is stopping by the winery on a Thursday through Sunday afternoon for tasting or at one of their special events, a stop at Bookcliff Vineyards is a must do!

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Winery Visit – Settembre Cellars

Settembre Cellars isn’t a new winery, they have been around since 2007, but their new tasting room and production facility opened just recently in north Boulder. So what have owners Tracy and Blake been doing during this time? ….focusing on making wine, building up inventory and learning the business (Blake earned a degree from UC Davis), and doing all this out of their home, garage and basement cellar! Tracy is a local “Boulderite” and CU graduate and met Blake while he was earning his PhD in Electrical Engineering. Finding a commonality of Italian food and wine, they fell in love, married in the month of September and honeymooned in Italy – hence the name Settembre.

For Settembre Cellars I think their motto could be summed up in two phrases: “food friendly wines” and “be local.” In fact all their grapes are sourced 100% from Colorado! Before opening the winery they were “localvores” with a connection to 63rd Street Farm that is still in existence today. Additionally Tracy and Blake pour wines at Savory Spice Shop in Boulder as a fun way to experiment with pairing wine and spices.

As winemaker, Blake’s approach is to allow the grapes to speak for themselves. He uses an extended maceration process, averaging 45-60 days versus the usual 10-12 days. The grapes are hand sorted to remove as much of the stems as possible, which reduces the astringency from tannins that could arise from this extended maturation. He use a gentle press method and bottle ages the wines before release. All this gives Blake the Old World elegance, balance and depth he is looking for in his food friendly wines.

Settembre Cellars offers a variety of tasting choices….from flights of mixed or just reds to a flight + a glass of your favorite. I was fortunate enough to taste several of their wines and found them all delicious – a dry Riesling and a stainless steel-aged Chardonnay, a crisp Rosé and impressive Syrah and Sangiovese. The winery is open afternoons from Thursday through Sunday and is actually next door to two other wineries – Bookcliff Vineyards and What We Love, The Winery – so spend an afternoon sampling wines in Boulder…sounds like a lot of fun to me!

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Winery Visit – Compass Cider

As I mentioned in my previous blog, great things are happening in Old Town Ft. Collins and Compass Cider is one of them! Compass Cider is on the north end of downtown in a 100-year old building that used to be a livery, a car dealership and an arts center. In fact, when owners Bob and Liz were remodeling they found a pitchfork, horseshoes and a 90-year old whiskey bottle! Bob and Liz like to travel so decided “compass” was a good name for their new establishment and many of their ciders reference travel and compass points…although their “11 Stitches” has more to do with a demolition accident than a compass!

In addition to making delicious ciders, one of the goals of Compass Cider is to educate people not only about cider itself but also pairing cider with food. We always hear about wine & food pairing or beer & food pairing but who has heard about food complementing cider?? They have done an incredible job in their kitchen and all of their food is fresh and made in house. An interesting item on their menu is Dukkah, which is an Egyptian dip made with toasted nuts and seeds. Their Asiago Scone Bites and Beer Braised Bratwurst pair deliciously with several of their ciders. You will have to try them out for yourself!!

As we all know, cider is not just a sweet, apple juicy fermented beverage, and Compass confirms that. I had the opportunity to sample several of their ciders. One of my favorites was Lat 40, which is a light, crisp and refreshing dry cider. Compass produces quite a variety of ciders and the menu is always changing. They produce several dry ciders, semi-sweet varieties, like their 11 Stitches, and sweet ciders like their ginger cider and cherry cider. Their cider production takes anywhere from 2 weeks to 3 months, with 6 weeks being the average time. They use a variety of yeasts which I learned plays a big role in the fermenting of the apples. I am no cider-making expert, but Compass is, and if you want to learn more about cider production click here, as Compass’ website does an excellent job explaining the process.

Any time (closed Mondays) is a great time to stop by Compass, where you can sit inside, or outside on their patio. Tuesday night is “service industry night” where its happy hour all day for people in the service industry. Thursday is music night with live music from 7 to 10 p.m. It is always enjoyable to explore different things, so step out of your wine drinking habit and stop by Compass Cider for a change of pace….you will be glad you did!!

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Winery Visit – Blue Skies Winery

I remember many years ago my husband and I visited Old Town Ft. Collins….there wasn’t much there and downtown was only a block or two square. Well, that has all changed and Old Town Ft. Collins is a renovated, multi-block area that is THRIVING! There are a variety of retail shops as well as restaurants, breweries, a cidery, a distillery, and a winery called Blue Skies. I stopped in at Blue Skies Winery and chatted with owners Kate and Pat Atkin. If you think the winery name is about Colorado’s sky, that may be partially true, but it’s actually that Pat has been a skydiver for 26+ years….check out the “i” in Skies!!

Here is a little piece of advice….beware of what friends or relatives give you as a gift. For Kate and Pat that was a gift certificate to D’Vine Wine in Manitou Springs and the rest was history. Having two professional careers where they weren’t seeing each other much, they wanted to find something where they could work together, and that is how Blue Skies was created.

Blue Skies sources most of their grape concentrate from California. They make their wines in small batches, which enables them to tweak their recipes, change yeasts and/or add their own special touches to the wines. You too can make your own wine at Blue Skies. You get to start at the beginning of the winemaking process with fermentation, a few weeks later rack down and filter the wine and then finish with a bottling party and attaching your own custom label. It normally takes 10 to 12 weeks for the entire process, so if you are thinking “this would make a great holiday gift,” you need to begin soon. But Kate told me you can always purchase a batch of available wine and just enjoy your own bottling party.

One really great aspect about Ft. Collins is the word “local.” Kate told me “It means a lot to locals to use local products and support local businesses.” As an example, Blue Skies uses Welsh Rabbit cheeses and Nuance chocolates for their sweet and cheese plates that pair deliciously with their wines. Definitely get the Tipping Point Card, which includes Blue Skies, Compass Cider, CopperMuse (distillery) and Pateros Creek Brewing. Purchase a beverage at each location and get a free drink at your favorite!

Blue Skies Winery is a great place to stop and enjoy a sampling of wine or a glass of wine, especially on Friday nights when they have live music, or sample their wine during Old Town’s Foodie Walk (3rd Friday of the month) or other evening events. It’s a fun time…so explore and enjoy!

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Winery Visit – River Garden Winery

For us “city slickers” who live along the Front Range, going to “the country” is a delightful adventure, and last week I was able to combine a visit to the country and a winery visit at the same time! Welcome to River Garden Winery located in Ft. Lupton (between Brighton and Greeley). At River Garden Winery you not only get to sample wines, you also get to experience the outdoors, walk through the vineyard and taste grapes, and learn from farmer, winemaker and owner, Bob Stahl.

Bob and his wife, Mary, have a fondness for the country, having grown up in the Ohio countryside, and after living in Arvada for many years built their own home in Ft. Lupton in 1992. The winery/ tasting room/ event center was Bob’s labor of love, as he and his brother built it all by themselves over a 5 year period. Bob turned from “builder Bob” to “farmer Bob” when he planted an acre of experimental grapes….they grew like weeds and the River Garden vineyard had begun. Every year for 5 years Bob uprooted trees by the river bottom and planted ¼ to ½ acre of grapes until reaching 5 acres. Who says grapes can only grow in certain parts of Colorado??

Bob plants cold hardy grapes and I was lucky enough to have him explain to me what that means. So here is a little lesson on cold hardy grapes…..They are a cross between vitis vinifera (common winemaking species) and wild American grapes. The vitis vinifera adds the flavor and the American grape adds the ability to withstand temps to -20 degrees, plus or minus. Currently there are several universities and private breeders who experiment with cold hardy grapes. The process can take ~10 years as the potential grape starts as a seed, withstands years of cold winters, produces fruit, and then produces fruit that is good for winemaking….if it completes that criteria it is named and available. There are many growers in Colorado that are planting cold hardy grapes to hopefully alleviate the freezing (and loss) of the vines during our winters.

River Garden produces Estate Bottled wines from its cold hardy varieties with names like LaCrescent, LaCrosse and Marsechal Foch…names we aren’t necessarily familiar with as these are the cold hardy names. Bob also produces a few unique wines he calls “farm wines.” His top seller is a Pumpkin Spice Wine, which is 100% pumpkin (not the jack-o-lantern variety), yeast, sugar and spices. His Sparkling Cranberry is sold out but he plans to have some available for Thanksgiving…sounds like a nice pairing with turkey!!

Take a drive to country – actually not that far east of I-25 – and enjoy the peacefulness of the country with a glass of wine….what could be better!

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Winery Visit – Purgatory Cellars

I bet most people would not list Croatia as a wine producing country. But if you don’t believe that’s true, read the article in the April 2014 issue of Wine Enthusiast. And luckily for us, Croatian winemaking has come to Colorado in the form of Purgatory Cellars! Winemaker and part owner, Marko Copic, has spent the past 20 years making wine in Croatia and the last 5 years working towards the “American Dream” of opening a winery in the USA. He spent several years making all the furniture for the tasting room and bar, which is actually an old wine barrel, and spent 4 months, 8 hours per day just sanding all the furniture…now that is a labor of love! See pictures below.

Marko connected with Gary Tassler (the other owner) and the two put their talents together and created an amazing winery located in Parker. In fact they designed and built most of the winery themselves. Gary and Marko are producing some original wines in VERY unique ways! The most unusual is Amphora (pronounced aahm for a), which is a clay “vessel” infused with honeycomb to make it impermeable, as well as a winemaking technique. The Amphora is only made in Georgia (country) and was used by the Greeks and Romans 3000+ years ago for winemaking. Fermentation takes longer using this method due to cooler temperatures. I tried a Riesling produced in stainless steel and the same grape used in Amphora and there was an incredible difference…you will have to stop by the winery and taste it for yourself! Currently they have 1 Amphora and are receiving 2 others…one that is 7’ tall and holds 600 gallons!

Purgatory Cellars uses oak fermenters, handmade by a friend of Marko’s, which allows for longer fermentation and maturation as well as aging afterwards. This is also a different approach to winemaking than regular oak barrels, stainless steel tanks or plastic containers. The winery sources most of its grapes from Colorado and a few red grapes from New Mexico. I sampled many of Purgatory’s wines and found them all delicious.

In the future the winery is hoping to add Merlot, Cab, Cab Franc, Viognier and a Semillon to their repertoire. As part of an “education tasting” Gary and Marko are taking the same Chardonnay grape and producing it 4 different ways….in stainless steel, oak barrel, Amphora and on lees. Should be interesting to try them and see the differences.

I suggest you stop in at the winery to taste all their wines and also see for yourself the unique wine press that is over 100+ years old!

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Winery Visit – Waters Edge Winery

Waters Edge Winery is a new winery along the Front Range named for owners Jennifer and Chad Hulan’s love of scuba diving, the mountains, and everything outdoors. In fact many of the wines are named after Colorado’s 14ers – such as Massive, Uncompahgre, and Oxford. The winery is located across from the Streets of Southglenn just west of University on Arapahoe Road. Using their background in business, marketing, and the knowledge gained from being trained by master winemakers, the Hulans were able to fulfill their desire to live the “American Dream” by opening up a winery in the state they love.

The winery sources its grape “must” from all over the world, which enables them to offer wines not normally produced here in Colorado. By bringing in the “must” (grapes, seeds, stems that has been crushed) they are able to make their wines in a craft winery setting. Using 50 gallon tanks allows them to make more than 30 varieties of wine. They produce single varietal whites and reds as well as blends.

One unique wine is their Mexican Coffee port called Ellingwood (14,042’ in the Sangre de Cristo range). This port also comes as a “Chocolate Shot” which is the port inside an edible chocolate shot glass. YUM! The other unique wine is an Almond Sparkling wine that is fresh, bubbly, and light with a hint of almond. I also want to highlight a blend of Cab, Merlot and Old Vine Zinfandel called Bombastic, which is very “jammy” and served with a peanut butter cup…you have to try it! What is really special about this wine, is that for every bottle sold, Waters Edge donates $1 to Pets for Vets, a program that brings together unwanted rescue dogs and Veterans returning from war with PTSD.

The question is what to do at the winery. Here are a few suggestions…. During the week (closed Mondays) stop in for a tasting, a glass, or a bottle of wine. On most weekend nights they have anything from music to magicians, and food trucks in “an intimate entertainment setting” and stay open until 11 p.m. You can bring in your own food or purchase Boar’s Head meats and cheeses, olives and/or chocolate from the Chocolate Therapist (downtown Littleton). If you are looking for that special gift for someone they can create a personalized wine label for you in just 5 minutes. And a really unique experience is their “Adopt a Wine” program where you “adopt” 5 gallons of a wine currently being fermented and then have your own bottling party.

So grab your partner, friends and/or relatives and head over to Waters Edge Winery for a unique tasting experience!

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Ruby Trust Cellars – A message from the Winemaker

Ruby Trust Cellars is not your typical winery and neither are their wines, which is actually a good thing! Ruby Trust doesn’t have a tasting room, in fact just a production facility located near Happy Canyon Road and Santa Fe, south of Denver. Fortunately for us, owner Ray Bruening opens his doors to the public a few times a year allowing us to sample some of his delicious wines. I was lucky enough to stop by Ruby Trust’s open house a few weeks ago. Currently the winery only makes red blends and some of the names are Gunslinger, The Smuggler, Fortune Seeker, Bandit’s Pass and Stranglehold. Their wines are available in many liquor stores and restaurants throughout Colorado.

Who explains more about the wines than the winemaker? So I turn this blog over to winemaker, Braden Dodds and his thoughts on their 2013 release…..
Every vintage is unique, they say… and they are right. Each harvest since our first (2009) here at Ruby Trust has offered different challenges—and now, on the cusp of the release of our fifth vintage, I pause to briefly reflect on the factors that contributed to the wines of the 2013 vintage.

In my experience, the primary factor that contributes to the maturation of grapes in Colorado versus most other wine-producing regions of the world is the weather. “If you don’t like the weather, wait ten minutes,” has long been a quip served up to out-of-state visitors by Coloradans; but for a winemaker, the uncertainty of changing weather patterns can be inordinately stressful. Such a scenario was never more evident than in the autumn of 2013: Dancing around the rain on one hand and the heat on the other on a daily basis made deciding on the optimal date to harvest the fruit extremely difficult.

Once all of the grapes were in, we were faced with the challenges of careful sorting, acute attention to fermentations, and the lengthy process (burning the midnight oil on many occasions) of determining our oak-aging program. By mid-November, the vintage was finally in barrel. With the brunt of the workload behind me, I was still unsure of what these children of 2013 would produce—all of the wines were “closed,” each one giving much less of itself in its early stages than any previous vintage.

If there is one thing that my partner, Ray, has taught me in our five years of nurturing the wines of Ruby Trust to fruition, it is patience. As a winemaker, I invariably want every wine I sample from barrel to put its best foot forward every day… and if it doesn’t, I feel a pressing need to change something. We had given so much to the raising of our offspring of the harvest, and we felt like we were receiving precious little in return. But like any of the progeny of Mother Nature, our 2013 vintage needed time to blossom. Our patience began to reap rewards when, after a year in barrel, the wines started to open up, revealing soft tannins, bright acidity, and rich, expressive fruit; the disparate elements were finally coming together. With more than ten harvests under our belt, I felt that this one had become the most rewarding. While bottling the wines several months ago, many of our regular volunteers scored 2013 as our best vintage yet! Neither Ray nor I could disagree.

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Catriona Cellars – Winery Visit

For Woody and Catherine Woodworth, owners of Catriona Cellars, it’s all about “love and balance.” In fact they even have a marble statue out front of the winery emphasizing that viewpoint. It is that attitude that started them on their journey 20+ years ago when they opened a garden center in historic downtown Monument. Did you even know that Monument has a historic downtown area?? You should stop by for a visit!! About 15 years ago Woody began sourcing grapes from California to make wine for personal use and also began teaching classes as part of his homebrew shop for beer and wine making. If you have ever met Woody, you know that for him it is all about “the passion” and “following your dream.”

But after a while Catherine wasn’t following “the dream” of the garden center anymore and told Woody to turn his hobby into something more….so Catriona Cellars was born! After 2 years of planning, designing, re-designing, obtaining custom-made items, and turning a garden center into a winery, an incredible establishment was built. Here you can sample Catriona’s delicious 9 wines at their tasting bar, have lunch or dinner inside or on the patio and shop in the gift store.

But let’s talk about the wine! For Woody, it’s all about blending wine together to apply his passion and creative side into making delicious wines for the people. He uses both the California and Bordeaux philosophies of blending wines to make his own blends. During Catriona’s inaugural year 7 wines received 9 awards at the Colorado State Fair, including Best of Show Overall! Their top seller is “Orchard White,” an off-dry Riesling, and their Moscato is blended with Palisade peaches. They have both a sweet and dry Rosé. Their second biggest seller is the Cellar Reserve Red Limited, which is a blend of Malbec, Syrah, Cab and Merlot. An interesting note is that Woody uses Italian Chestnut barrels for his barrel select blends….I didn’t think anything but oak was ever used for barrel fermenting and aging!

A unique dining experience is called “The Chef’s Table” and is held in Catriona’s rebuilt and restored cellar. Chef Jonny prepares a special 5-course meal that is paired with Catriona’s wine. The table seats up to 10 and the cost is $75 per person.

The winery’s future includes 5 new wines being created this year, so the next time you are driving along I-25, take a ½ mile detour at the Monument exit and visit Catriona Cellars….you will be glad you stopped!

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Enjoying Cider

Last night I attended my husband’s beer club meeting since their guest speaker was Brad Page, owner of Colorado Cider Company. It is interesting about cider that it really isn’t a beer, yet its not a wine either….and maybe that is a good thing for cider! Unfortunately for cider I think people do not understand its unique and delicious characteristics and believe all cider is like drinking sweet apple juice. And that is NOT the case!!! Hopefully as more people experience good cider, like those being produced by Colorado Cider Company, cider’s reputation as an enjoyable beverage will grow.

During the presentation we tasted a variety of ciders, some off-dry, some dry and all delicious. Colorado Cider has three trademarked ciders….Glider, Ol’ Stumpy, and Pearsnickety. We also tasted Newtown Pippin named after an apple and one of my favorites. But here is what was REALLY interesting…..first, you need to know that I am not a “hop head” and avoid an IPA beer at all cost, and second,  I loved Grasshop-ah, which has hops in it! During the beer club meeting we learned about “dry hopping” and how if you leave the hops in the beer too long it has a “grassy” taste that isn’t always a good thing. But the type and amount that Colorado Cider puts in its Grasshop-ah is perfect.

After we tasted Colorado Cider’s varieties we tasted a few “commercial” ciders, and to me, they were what people think cider to be…sweet and apple juicy. So how do people get away from the commercial ciders and begin to explore what true cider is all about?? I have two suggestions….first, travel around to the various cideries in our state (by the way we have 7 along the Front Range) and sample a variety of ciders…you will find they are not all sweet and appley. Second, attend the Cider Days festival in Lakewood on October 3 and 4 where you will be able to sample over 50 ciders. Click Here for a link to the festival.

As my slogan says: “Explore and Enjoy” and try some delicious Colorado ciders, I think you will be pleasantly surprised!!

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