Exploring with Paula

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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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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