Exploring with Paula

Stoney Mesa Winery – Winery of the Year

People are always asking me, “Paula, how do Colorado wines compare to wines from other states and Europe?” And my answer is that Colorado wines are winning both national and international awards, competing against the best of the best. I think many people have the mistaken notion that only wines produced in the western USA and Europe are high quality wines. In my opinion and with all the awards Colorado wineries are winning, that is far from the truth!! If you peruse Colorado wineries’ websites you will see them mentioning their award winning wines. And if you visit a tasting room, you will see all the wine bottles sporting medals.

I would like to acknowledge Stoney Mesa Winery, located in Cedaredge, who won “Colorado Winery of the Year.” Bret Neal is the man behind Stoney Mesa and is the owner, farmer, winemaker, and all-around jack-of-all-trades. The winery is one of the oldest in Colorado, beginning in 1990. The vineyard grows a variety of grapes, with Riesling being the majority. Click Here to link to an article written by the Delta Independent about the winery and the award.

If you haven’t visited the West Elks area in a while, I suggest a road trip soon!! This area and the Grand Valley are Colorado’s two AVA areas (American Viticultural Areas) and grow the majority of grapes and fruit used in Colorado’s wine production. The West Elks has 19 wineries located throughout Paonia, Hotchkiss, Cedaredge and Olathe. Most close their tasting rooms over the winter, so get your road trip planned before November….might I suggest “leaf peeping and wine tasting???”

Congratulations to Bret Neal and Stoney Mesa Winery for winning Colorado Winery of the Year and for producing delicious wines to represent Colorado’s wine industry!!

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Ten Bears Winery – A nice “city break”!!!

For me, getting out to the farmlands or the mountains is a relaxing endeavor. There is just something about no rush hour traffic, no city noise, or no hustle / bustle of the city that calms and renews me when I’m in the country or mountains. I had the opportunity to experience that pleasure this week at Ten Bears Winery. Nestled in the foothills just northwest of Ft. Collins, Ten Bears Winery is a great place to stop, enjoy some delicious wines, and sit on the patio listening to nature.

Bill Conkling, owner and winemaker, is expanding his winery in LaPorte. He added an outside patio to his tasting room so you can sit and drink wine while enjoying the mountain views and a new barn to assist with increased production. He is also considering the possibility of conducting small events in the new barn. What most people would find amazing, is the fact that he is also growing his own grapes! These are the cold hardy variety. I’ve blogged about cold hardy grapes before, but to refresh your memory, these are a hybrid grape of Vitis Vinifera and wild American grapes. The Vitis Vinifera grapes provide the flavor and the wild American grapes increase the ability to withstand our colder Colorado winters. Bill grows two types – LaCrescent (a white) and Marquette (a red).

Bill planted these vines in 2009, and as you all know, it’s a 5-7 year process before you have enough grapes for an ample harvest. 2014 was the first year that Bill produced wine with his Marquette grapes and blended that into his delicious Poudre River Red wine. He used the LaCrescent grapes in some of his white blended wines. 2016 is proving to be a good harvest year (all across Colorado actually) and Bill is planning to make a stand alone Marquette wine with his own grapes. I’m looking forward to trying that!!!

Most people don’t expect a winery with a small vineyard to be in Northern Colorado, but Ten Bears is just that….a great place to sample delicious wines while sitting on the patio, looking at the mountains, and listening to the birds. The next time you need a “city break” head to Ten Bears Winery, you will be glad you did!!

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A winery with a craft brewery feel??!!

A new winery in Palisade is growing exponentially, and the reason may be connected to their attitude of utilizing a craft brewery model instead of a winery strategy. Red Fox Cellars’ motto of “respectful, but unbound by tradition” emphasizes this unique approach. I recently had the pleasure of meeting the Hamilton family and learning about their interesting journey into the wine business.  It began when parents Sherrie and Scott were looking to move from Denver to the Grand Valley area. Their objective was to find a fruit or vineyard agri-property, and they accomplished that goal by purchasing 7 acres of vineyards. Then came the idea of a winery!

It is son Chad who is utilizing his home brewing background to create the unique wines and ciders that Red Fox produces. Have you ever sampled a bourbon barrel-aged Merlot? It is the winery’s best-selling wine, and I can attest that it is absolutely delicious!! Their “Bourbeaux Blend” is a spin on the classic Bordeaux-style blends, but uses a rye whiskey barrel-aged Cab Franc in the mix, along with some of that delicious Bourbon Barrel Merlot. Red Fox produces 2 Rosés. One is a traditional, dry-style Rosé, using a cold soak method and their estate grown Tempranillo grapes and the other is a Saignee style Rosé. Click here to learn more about Saignee and why the French usually discard this. Red Fox uses the sometimes discarded bled off juice as a vehicle for experimentation, aging this Rosé lightly in a rye whiskey barrel that was also used to age tart cherry wine. I’m personally looking forward to tasting a 2013 Estate “field blend” of Nebbiolo, Barbera, and Dolcetto that were all fermented together (as opposed to blending the wine after fermentation). The winery is waiting to release it until it reaches perfection!

Again using Chad’s beer background, the winery also produces 8 ciders, 7 of which are dry. I had the privilege of sampling their Roasted Chile Cider, which has a nice apple taste with a subtle chili taste (not like some where you are overpowered by chili pepper spice!). In addition to making several varieties of apple cider, Red Fox also makes a “champagne-like” cider called Cidre Grand Cru that is spiced with orange peel and coriander, like in a Belgian Wit beer.

What can we look forward to from Red Fox Cellars?? Ask daughter-in-law Kelly, who heads the marketing for the winery. She says to check out their website for details on their new patio events, which will include movie nights and Friday Food Truck Night. Son Kyle, who is a jack-of-all-trades around the winery says to look forward to “Beer de Champagne,” which is a collaboration with Black Project Spontaneous Ales using just over 50% Riesling and the balance a Lambic wort (similar to a sour type beer). Also coming soon to the menu are a “bourbon barrel-aged, sparkling, tart cherry wine” and a “rye whiskey barrel-aged, sparkling, peach wine” (wow, that was a mouthful!), which will be made from the Palisade peaches growing just outside the tasting room. Obviously a stop at Red Fox Cellars offers some delicious and unique tasting experiences, so stop on by soon!!

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My Incredible Wine Weekend!!

What an incredible “wine weekend” I just experienced!! It all centered around the Grand Valley Winery Association’s Barreling into Spring event. This annual happening is held in April and repeats again in May. Unfortunately tickets for 2016 are sold out, so mark your calendars for 2017. A piece of advice….purchase your tickets early!! The weekend includes unlimited tastings at 7 wineries and tons of food paired with the wineries’ wines. What is really special about the event is the opportunity to talk with the winery owners/winemakers as well as sample wine right out of the barrel, hence the name of the event.

The 7 wineries that encompass the Grand Valley Winery Association are Carlson, DeBeque Canyon, Garfield Estates, Grande River, Graystone, Plum Creek, and Two Rivers. Click on their name for a link to each winery’s website.

I had the privilege of being at DeBeque Canyon Winery for the weekend selling my book – Exploring Colorado Wineries. For many years DeBeque was located on Kluge Street in downtown Palisade, but 2 weeks ago moved their tasting room and production facility to 351 West 8th Street (aka Hwy 6 or G Road) in Palisade. This new facility, housed in a former restaurant, offers them a much larger tasting room (see pictures below). The production facility is currently under construction and will be located right next door.

I cannot say enough wonderful things about DeBeque’s owners….Davy and Bennett Price and their daughter, Theresa, as well as the tasting room staff. In my opinion and not to offend anyone, Bennett knows more about growing grapes and making wine than anyone else in our state…plus he’s a really nice man! He was part of the original group that created Rocky Mountain Vineyards back in 1978, which helped launch Colorado’s present day wine industry. He has helped numerous other grape growers plant vines and has provided helpful insights and information to new wineries.

As we all know, visiting Palisade / the Grand Valley is a fun experience, and it is convenient that the 27 wineries are in close proximity to each other. I love driving into the valley and seeing all the vineyards and fruit trees as well as the beautiful Book Cliff Mountains. Plan a weekend get-a-way to the area soon….you will be glad you did!!

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A New Tasting Room in Colorado

There is a new tasting room that just opened up in Colorado!! It’s called Two Brothers Vineyards Tasting Room and is located in Black Forest. For those of you not familiar with Black Forest or remember the devastating fire that ravaged the area, it is located between Castle Rock and Colorado Springs. The exact address is 6755 Shoup Road 80908. Hours are Thursday through Sunday from noon to 7 p.m. Other times, please call ahead at 719-495-7340.

Owners of Black Forest Meadery, Adam and Shawna Shapiro, have created this tasting room enabling you to sample meads, ciders, and wines all at the same location. What a great idea! I have been encouraging people to sample meads and ciders from Colorado as they are NOT the sweet, fermented beverages you find sold commercially in liquor stores. Black Forest Meadery has available 4 of their meads…..Forest Mead, Mead in the Woods, Melody in the Woods, and Wildfire, which vary from semi-sweet to dry.

Colorado Cider Company, whose production facility and tasting room are located at 2650 W. 2nd Avenue in Denver and Ten Bears Winery, located in LaPorte just northwest of Ft. Collins, round out your experience at the tasting room. They are offering 5 flights for $6, which includes your choice of 2 meads, 2 wines, and 1 cider. You can also purchase any of these beverages by the glass or bottle. For my Facebook and website friends, the tasting room is offering a special “buy one, get one free” offer. Just tell them Paula or Exploring Colorado Wineries sent you to receive the discount.

The tasting room has patio seating where you can watch the sun set over the mountains while enjoying your beverage. You can also bring in your own food or order food from a nearby restaurant. I encourage you to stop by Two Brothers Vineyards Tasting Room soon!! As their theme says….”Buzz by for a taste in the trees.”

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Black Arts Cellars – a new winery in SW Littleton

I’ve heard of winemakers using their geologist knowledge, their engineering skills, and especially their taste buds, but I had not heard of any winemaker using “black magic” until I met the owners of Black Arts Cellars. Okay, so maybe John and Liz Cowperthwaite aren’t exactly using black magic, but John is a little superstitious and “the winery name is a tip of the hat to the magic.”

It is this philosophy that appears in many aspects of Black Arts Cellars. The wine’s names and labels use 16th century tarot card symbols and old French spelling. (see pictures below) Le Toille (Syrah) is the star card, and its bold flavors of cherry and dark fruits with medium body and soft tannins make it definitely a star! La Mort, uses the death card to represent the dark, inky black fruit flavors of Petit Sirah. Opposite that is Le Soleil, representing the sun in their Sauvignon Blanc. The Lover card used on the L’Amoureux label is a blend of Roussanne and Viognier, which I sampled and found it was truly a loving blend of these two grapes. In fact, it won a Silver Medal at the 2015 Denver International Wine Competition. Finishing out the current production is a Cab Franc called La Maison Dieu and is represented by the Tower card.

So how did Liz and John get started in the winemaking business? It began with years of enjoying wine, and then on a vacation in Western Australia they visited a winery with just 3 people overseeing the entire operation. The light bulb went on and they thought they could do that as well. Over the past 10 years John has gone from making wine in small batches in the garage to producing more and more each year, while also taking classes at UC-Davis. He began his business plan 4 years ago, following an urban winery model and just this past June opened Black Arts Cellars in Southwest Littleton.

Since June, they have sold out of their Rosé, a blend of Grenache, Syrah, and Mourvédre, but plan to make it again soon. The Rosé is aged in oak for 4-5 months and in fact, all their reds are aged in oak as well, but the white wines are stored in stainless steel tanks before bottling. John and Liz are planning to bottle within the next few weeks and will have 8 wines available for tasting (and purchasing!).

Having “art” in their winery name, they have teamed up with the Ken Caryl Art Guild, displaying many works of art on a rotating basis. Watch their website for an event showcasing the art, along with live music, food, and of course, good wine. Black Arts Cellars is just off C-470 at Ken Caryl and a great place to stop, enjoy the view, and sample some delicious wine! You will also get a warm welcome from their Weimaraner, JP!!

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Changes at Carlson Vineyards

There are changes taking place at Carlson Vineyards, but things are also staying the same. So what does that mean?? After many years in the winery business, Parker and Mary Carlson have sold their business…the change! What isn’t changing…according to new owners Garrett and Cailin Portra is “the spirit and soul of Carlson Vineyards.” For those of us familiar with Carlson we know their top seller is Sweet Baby Red, which is a blend of 8 grapes (primarily Merlot, Lemberger, Syrah, and Orange Muscat, and the rest a secret!). The winery is known for its fruit wines, semi-sweet and sweet wines as well as their dry whites and reds.

Garrett isn’t a “newbie” at Carlson, having worked at the winery for over 5 years. During that time Garrett experienced every aspect of the business….from cellar assistant to tasting room to management, and additionally took courses at UC-Davis and online certificate courses through Washington State. Garrett grew up in Missouri’s livestock and hay business and earned his degree in environmental science. When he met Cailin in college, whose father owned a small winery in Missouri, their destiny was sealed!

Carlson’s fruit wines are made with 100% Colorado fruit and its Peach Wine is produced from Palisade’s own delicious variety. Carlson Vineyards grows its own grapes on 3 acres and sources its other grapes primarily from the local area. Garrett says he will continue to produce their “world class fruit wines” and balanced sweet wines as well as their top selling Gewürztraminer and Riesling whites, and of course, Sweet Baby Red!

So what will be new at Carlson? Garrett is working on a Lemberger / Cab Franc blend and will be “re-vamping” some of the other reds, using a barrel fermenting and blending approach. Also coming soon is a dry Rosé made from 100% Lemberger. Since Sweet Baby Red is so popular, Garrett is working on a Sweet Baby White made from Riesling, Gewürztraminer, and Orange Muscat.

Stop by Carlson Vineyards located in an old peach packing shed, although plans are in the works for a remodeled tasting room. Carlson is also part of the Grand Valley Winery Association, who will be having their “Barreling into Spring” event this April and May. Click here for details.

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Wine Study – Viognier

This wine study is about a wine that is becoming quite popular and more familiar to us. It is….Viognier (pronounced vee-own-yay). The grape emerged in southern France around the mid-1960s, and is the only variety of grape allowed in the Condrieu appellation in the Rhône Valley. Any bottle originating from Condrieu is totally Viognier. Outside of the Rhône but within Europe, you can find Viognier in some areas of Italy and Spain. Throughout the New World you can find Viognier being grown in the USA, Chile, Argentina, Australia, New Zealand, and South Africa.

Since the 1990s it is the rapid increase in Viognier plantings in California and Australia that has helped emerge the wine onto the world stage. In addition to California, only a handful of USA states are planting Viognier, and luckily for us, Colorado is one of them! In fact, Viognier is one of the top white wine grapes being grown here.

Viognier is usually produced dry, is generally medium-bodied, and can range from low to high acidity depending on where the grape is grown. It is usually high in alcohol (above 13%) and is consumed young…within 2-4 years of vintage. The wine typically has medium-intensity aromas of peach, pear, minerality, and floral characteristics. On the palate these same characteristics hold true, as well as notes of honeysuckle and overripe apricot. It is the terroir that really affects Viognier’s features, as the grape requires a long, warm growing season but not a climate that is too hot.

I sampled 5 Viogniers for this wine study. One from Colorado’s Book Cliff Vineyards (Please note: many other Colorado wineries produce exceptional Viogniers, but I happened to be near the winery to purchase a bottle, so used them in my study. Additionally, they use Colorado grown grapes for their Viogniers and I wanted to ensure I was sampling CO grapes for my comparisons), one from California, Chile, Australia, and France.

Here are my results….All the wines were above 13% alcohol with a vintage year of 2014 (with the exception of CA, it was 2012). All were light straw in color. On the nose all were medium in intensity with aromas of primarily pear and floral. Some wines also had notes of honeysuckle, peach, and mineral. On the palate most had low to medium levels of acidity, with the exception of the Chilean wine, which was quite crisp. The general tastes were pear, peach, honeysuckle, floral, ripe apricot, and mineral.

In the blind tasting it was Colorado that received first place! I must say I was extremely excited by this, and proves that Colorado produces great wine and can compete against other wine regions!! Second place went to Chile, third to California, fourth to Australia, and last to France.

I hope you will purchase a few bottles of Viognier to try this new and different white wine and conduct your own wine study. And, the next time you are visiting a Colorado winery….ask to try their Viognier, I think you will be glad you did!!

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Wine Studies – Pinot Gris

If people were asked to name the most consumed white wine, I’m sure they would answer: Chardonnay. This grape is so versatile, can grow in just about any wine region, and I’m sure has been sampled by anyone reading my blog. Therefore, I’m going to skip over Chardonnay and talk about Chardonnay’s competitor….Pinot Gris/Grigio.

Pinot Gris is a mutation of Pinot Noir and has a long history in eastern France. But in the Old World (considered Europe’s wine regions) it is Italy who stands out as a top producer of Pinot Gris (for them, Grigio). In the New World (any wine region outside of Europe) it is Oregon that has replaced many of its Chardonnay vines with Pinot Gris, and of course California is a top producer as well.

The wine can be quite diverse based on its terrior (refers to the natural effects of land, soil, climate, growing season, and conditions in a particular area) and the winemaker. In the glass, the color ranges from almost clear to a light gold. On the nose, its aromas can be subtle to pronounced. Aromas can range from delicate apple or pear fruit smells to more complex aromas of mineral, honeysuckle and musk. On the palate those aromas can come alive and also include apricot, peach, and tropical fruits. The wine can vary from medium to high acidity, usually with medium body, and most are produced dry.

I compared 4 wines. In my experience, tasting 4-5 wines from various regions offers the ability to experience the diversity (or similarity) in the grape and the winemakers’ styles. Unfortunately Colorado is not a big producer of Pinot Gris, so I sampled wines from northeastern Italy, Wiliamette, OR (I was never sure how to pronounce this until I saw a t-shirt that said “It’s Willamette, dammit”!), and Monterey County and Sonoma Coast, CA. It was quite interesting the variety of the wines.

Here are my results…the wine from Italy received the #1 spot. It balanced both earthy and fruit tastes with minerality, was dry with medium body, high acidity, and offered complexity (more flavors representing themselves after swallowing). Next were the 2 wines from CA, although the Somona wine offered more crisp acidity and well-balanced fruit and mineral tastes, and I felt was complex for a CA Pinot Gris, which can sometimes be soft on the palate without a lot of tastes and aromas. With OR being a top USA producer, I was surprised that its wine came in last. The reasoning behind its last place finish, was that it tasted more like a Chardonnay than a Pinot Gris. What is interesting to note, is that legally a wine only has to contain 75% of the grape on the label, so maybe the other 25% was Chardonnay, and that is what stood out in the flavors?? In defense of Oregon’s Pinot Gris, while in OR a few years ago I sampled some phenomenal wines and believed them to be quite delicious.

So try a sampling of Pinot Gris for yourself and let me know your thoughts!

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WINE STUDIES – Getting Organzied

Over the past few months I have continued my exploration and studies about wine. Several years ago I had decided to learn more about wines instead of simply enjoying them and that is what actually began my journey to writing Exploring Colorado Wineries – Guidebook & Journal. Between organizing the first and second editions of the book, I earned my Level 2 Sommelier certification and enjoyed that learning experience. I thought it would be fun, and hopefully interesting to you, to blog about my new wine studies. So throughout 2016 I will be sharing my experiences with you.

In my opinion, the first “rule” of wine study is TO TAKE NOTES so you can reference and remember what you have tasted. It is important to create a “tasting journal” that acts as your library of information and a “tasting form” so you can evaluate each wine in the same manner.

My “TASTING JOURNAL” is a 3-ring binder divided into several sections. Each division represents a major wine region of the world. My tabs are: France, Italy, Germany, Spain/Portugal, Other Old World, Australia, South America, Other New World, and USA, which is again divided into Colorado, NW area (CA, OR, WA) and Other USA. You can further divide each section into Reds and Whites if you choose. Within the region, I alphabetize each wine tasted by its grape. While this may seem overkill it helps me be able to locate tasted wines and information easily.

If you think the sections in my journal are overly organized, wait til you learn about my “TASTING FORM!” This is a combination of a form from my original studies as well as the form used by the International Sommelier Guild, where I took my course. The most important aspect of your “tasting form” is to use the same form with each wine you taste so your recordings and observations are consistent.

The first part of the form has basic information – Grape, Region, Vineyard, Year, Alcohol %, Date Purchased, Where Purchased, and Price. This information can be extremely helpful if you want to purchase that wine again. I also have an open area where I paste the label. There are 2 types of labels – those that easily come off the bottle when soaked in a little warm water and those that are made of paper and just rip. You will soon discover which labels are easily removed and which are not! I always make a photocopy of the label prior to trying to remove it from the bottle.

The remainder of the form is the tasting descriptions. Color, Aroma/Bouquet, and Taste are the main items. When describing Taste try to be as specific as possible. List all the fruit tastes, other tastes (like chocolate, smoky, grassy, floral), whether the wine is sweet or dry, high or low in tannin or acidity, and what is its body. Then give the wine a grade (using either an A-F or 1-5 system) and the date you tasted it. I also have a section for Overall Comments. If you have my book, in the Tasting Section I provide a list of descriptive words to assist you, or the Wine Aroma Wheel can be helpful as well. If you want to be even more descriptive you can add information about the wine’s balance, complexity, trueness to type, and what food the wine would pair with.

So get yourself organized, create your binder and your tasting form, and begin YOUR wine studies. The next blog will be about Viognier…one of Colorado’s signature grapes.

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