Two special places on the face of this earth where the vitis vinifera vine has found a home rich in flavor-giving minerals and bathed in an intense high altitude sun lie in Western Colorado: the Grand Valley AVA at the mouth of the DeBeque Canyon and the slopes and mesas of the West Elks Valley AVA. Trip Advisor, in an October 2012 article, names Colorado number nine among the top ten wine destinations in the United States. (I am on a mission with the hope to upgrade that rating.) The wineries where this surprisingly rich fruit is made into wine are on both the Western Slope and the Front Range of the Rocky Mountains, from Colorado’s northern to its southern border, and they are not to be missed by any ardent lover of wine, unless they suffer from the degrading disease called bias. If you have wondered which wine to buy, I may be able to help you find Colorado’s red gold. Great wine regions are often found in challenging terroirs. Colorado is not alone with its challenges of severe winter cold and spring frosts. Bordeaux is challenged by the lack of sunshine to ripen the grapes sufficiently in some years — discouragingly so, and for the smaller chateaux, this can be a serious economic setback. (In 1991, seventy percent of the crop was lost.) Germany’s Rhine and Mosel River valleys lie on a northern extreme for vinifera vines and struggle to reach a Brix level (sugar content of the grape) that will produce a mere nine percent alcohol at times. They even have to resort to chaptalization (adding sugar) — named after Jean-Antonine Chaptal who promoted the practice for practical reasons. Burgundy’s rains can seriously dilute a harvest in some years, disappointing both winemaker and consumer, while the southern hemisphere also has places where it demonstrates that grapes struggle on the edge of too much heat or too much cold, and yet they produce some of the world’s great wines. Special places are often found on the edge of acceptable growing conditions, and Colorado is one such place. Colorado wines have largely gone unheralded. That’s because some of the wines made before the recent surge in quality were (well, let’s admit it) “awful plonk.” One bad wine will be remembered more than a dozen good ones. However, the wines are not that way any longer since great progress has been made. Many of the wineries you will read about are creating excellent wines that are winning international medals, and one Colorado wine (from Carlson Vineyards) has even won the title of “Best Semi-sweet Riesling” in the World! Another (from The Winery at Holy Cross Abbey) has won best Merlot in the world in its price range. Bookcliff Vineyards’ 2010 Cab Franc was named the best Cab Franc in the $15-$20 range at a recent Los Angeles International Wine Competition, competing against wines from all around the World. We could mention others. Colorado wine has come of age, as I hope to convince you, and if you have an open mind and a mouth that hinges, it should not be difficult. As you read, you may also learn more about wine because we will discuss how conditions affect the grapes that are grown here in this special place. You will be able to pick your favorite wineries from the descriptions and you may find many. So follow future posts to mine the rich “red gold” and join the “rush!”
The above article is an excerpt from my book, Experiencing Colorado Wine. You’ll find many great Colorado wines described in it and you’ll find the description of the pairing of several with a great recipes by great Colorado chefs. Order your autographed copy, Experiencing Colorado Wine at Square Market.