Owner and winemaker Ryker Brandt of Ryker’s Cellars may be the newest winery in Colorado, but his wines don’t taste like someone just starting out, as they reflect his years of cellar experience. Ryker’s wine career began in 2002 in California’s Santa Cruz Valley where he spent 6 years beginning as a volunteer during crush season and leaving as cellar master. It was there that he fell in love with white wines produced with Austrian and German varietals. Meeting up with a friend during a high school reunion Ryker packed up his bags and moved back to Colorado.
Sticking with the wine business he worked for several wineries and wine stores in the area, all the while obtaining his winery license, warehouse space and producing wine. In June he joined the wineries of Colorado Winery Row, and it is here that he is producing his delicious wines.
He gets his grapes from both CA and CO, but I must point out that he gets GRAPES, not just juice from these areas to make his wine. I must admit I was unaware that actual grapes came in from other states as opposed to just juice. Ryker receives CA grapes in 1,000 lb boxes that were picked one morning, chilled to 30 degrees, put on a truck, and within 24 hours arrive at his production facility. His American Red Wine is currently made with Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Petit Syrah all from CA. He feels the Cab provides the body, the Merlot the fruitiness, and the Petit Syrah an incredible inky purple color with spice.
Ryker’s Cellars’ whites include an American Chardonnay (CA grapes) and a Viognier and Riesling, both using Colorado grapes. Ryker says his “whites never see an oak barrel” and that is why his Chardonnay is light, fruity and unoaked tasting. The Viognier is rich and fruity with hints of caramel and butterscotch, and his Riesling is dry and filled with green apple and citrus, and is a perfect pairing with spicy food.
Ryker’s Cellar’s label (see pic below) incorporates both Colorado and Denver in particular. His future plans are to incorporate more and more CO grapes in his wines and plans to add a Mead and a fruit wine into his offerings. Stop by his tasting room / production facility Thursday-Saturday (or call for an appointment other times), say hi to mascot Ushi, and enjoy some delicious wines.
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If you like Cabernet Sauvignon, Verso Cellars is your winery! Owner and winemaker, Paul Phillips says, “I like Cabs so that’s why I only make that variety.” And for 10+ years he has been doing that exceptionally well. Paul began his operation by researching Cabernet grapes from nurseries all over the world, and discovered there are over 2,000 different Cab grape varieties. He wondered “what ones do I choose for my wine?” I must admit, that in listening to Paul tell me about the varieties, I was overwhelmed and fairly confused, so I give Paul a lot of credit to have figured this all out! But he did, and in 2001 he planted 6 different Cab clones in Orchard Mesa, and his journey began. In 2008 he sold his 2,200 vines on 15 acres, but the grapes for his wines still come from the orchard there.
Paul ages all his wine in French oak. For his production, he uses 1/3 new barrels, 1/3 one year old barrels and 1/3 two year old barrels. A delicious “food wine” is Paul’s goal, and he lets the weather dictate what happens to the grapes, usually harvesting a few weeks later than many of the other growers.
In addition to making wine, Paul also teaches classes on cheese making. He makes an acid-based cheese (ricotta) and a rennet-based cheese (mozzarella). An acid-based cheese uses vinegar or lemon juice with milk, while a rennet-based cheese uses extracts from a cow’s stomach (there is also a vegetarian or plant-based rennet) to mix with milk. The mozzarella cheese making method gets involved with curds and whey and is a little more involved than making ricotta. You will have to take Paul’s class to learn all about it!
Verso Cellars is also part of Colorado Winery Row, which is located at 46th and Pecos in Denver (just off I-70). Together with the other wineries – Bonacquisti, Garfield Estates and Cottonwood Cellars, they are open for tasting Thursday through Saturday afternoons. They also hold several events during the year. On September 21 from 5-8 p.m. their monthly “Friday Uncorked” is happening, which features a local band, cuisine from various food trucks, and of course, wine tasting. I will be part of their festivities as well, and will be selling and signing my book – Exploring Colorado Wineries.
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Whether you are in Palisade or Denver, you can stop at Garfield Estates Vineyard & Winery for a taste of their delicious wines. Garfield Estates’ main tasting room along with their production facility and vineyard is located in Palisade. Here they produce their award-winning ALL estate-bottled wines. As owner Carol Carr says “we are growing great wines.” She explained to me that most growers want to produce 6-8 tons/acre of grapes. This allows them to achieve the maximum yield. However, a winemaker wants the grapes grown at 3-4 tons/acre, which allows the grapes to be more concentrated on the vines. Carol and Jeff Carr, being both grape growers and winemakers, can achieve the ultimate with their grapes, and actually grow grapes and then pick them for a specific wine they have in mind.
Carol says Garfield Estates is actually 3 businesses….farming, the winery and the tasting rooms. For 12 years Jeff has turned his passion about wine into being the winemaker and Carol turns Jeff’s passion into a working business. The Carr’s passion is all about making world-class wines from 100% estate-grown grapes. They are also part of the Grand Valley Winery Association, which includes 8 wineries that grow their own grapes and make their own wine.
About 2 years ago, the Carrs decided to add an additional tasting room and chose the Denver area. They joined Bonaquisti Wine Company and Verso Cellars to form Colorado Winery Row (just off I-70 & Pecos), and was later joined by Cottonwood Cellars. CWR makes for a fun, urban setting, where Thursday through Saturday you can sample wines from 4 different wineries. They also have several events during the year.
Stop by Garfield Estates for a taste of delicious estate-grown wines….my favorite is the Syrah!
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If you live in metro Denver (or are just visiting) this is a winery you need to stop at! Bonacquisti Wine Company is producing some delicious wines. Their most popular wines (and my favorites as well) are Vinny No Neck, which is a blend of Sangiovese and Cabernet Sauvignon. The wine is named after owners Paul and Judi Bonacquisti’s 7 year old son, Vincent. The other favorite is Bella Risa, a white blend that includes different varietals each year. It is named after their 9 year old daughter, Marisa. Bonacquisiti’s produces other whites and reds (I particularly enjoyed their Zinfandel and Sangiovese) and a port wine. Paul obtains his grapes from Colorado and a few other states, and crushes, ferments and bottles his wine onsite at the tasting room. He says his blends are his specialty.
Paul is a jovial guy, who enjoys talking with people about wine. He grew up making wine as a hobby. He learned the skills from his Dad, who was a jeweler by trade, who learned winemaking from his father, who came from Italy to work in the coal mines near Trinidad, Colorado. About 6 years ago, Paul changed careers, obtained his Level 2 sommelier certificate and launched the winery. Trying to decide where to open up shop, he discovered the Sunnyside neighborhood, as he wanted “to create an urban wine tasting experience.” He was later joined by Verso Cellars, Garfield Estates and Cottonwood Cellars, and together they market themselves as Colorado Winery Row. The four wineries’ tasting rooms are open afternoons Thursday through Saturday and conduct various events, especially during the summer months. In fact, I will be there this Friday, July 20 signing/selling my book – Exploring Colorado Wineries.
Bonacquisti’s has some of the most beautiful labels I have seen. They began as actual paintings by local artist, Daniel Luna. (see pictures below). When you stop at the tasting room, be sure to view this amazing art work while you are sampling some delicious wines. Paul, and Koda, a weimaraner / yellow lab mix will be there to greet you!
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If you are looking for a fun evening event, stop by Colorado Winery Row this Friday, July 20. Their “Fridays Uncorked” will be featuring Jo Myers and the Mama’s Boys, with food trucks from The Crock Spot, Denver Cupcake Truck and Chocolate Lab Denver. The activities take place from 5 – 8 p.m. And of course, there is plenty of wine to sample or purchase by the glass.
I will be there selling and signing my book – Exploring Colorado Wineries – Guidebook & Journal and offering a 15% discount. The book is an excellent way to discover Colorado’s wineries. It also makes a great gift for the holidays, birthdays, anniversaries or corporate thank yous.
See you this Friday!!
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