Our second day preceded a full day of wine and sunshine. I knew where we were headed next was a unique pocket of the country, especially when it came to its farms, lifestyle and wine into West Elks/Delta County area of North Fork Valley.
Jack Rabbit Hill Farm – Owned by Lance and Anna Hanson.
We climbed a remote, windy road, to a dirt road and finally happened upon a nondescript farm with a small sign “Jack Rabbit Hill Farm.” We unhitched the gate to the farm and bumbled our way up to the house sitting on top of the hill.
Lance and Anna Hanson met us with welcome arms. Lance jollily laughed, “Welcome to out Chitty Chitty Bang Bang!” he called out, as dogs ran around happily greeting us in the warm sun.
Already, I felt this place was special and it was my favorite stop of the trip.
Lance calls their 72-acre property a “diversified craft farm operation” that provides a handful of product lines including their estate wines with grapes grown on the property (1500 cases), their distillery (Cap Rock Distillery, Peak Spirits started in 2005), 11 acres of hops, and their growing demand for keg wines (WineTapistry Keg Wines), that they provide with growing interest, to restaurants in Colorado.
Lance joked that his tasting room was either their patio overlooking the mountains or their large, wooden, rustic kitchen in their home. We tasted his wines in his kitchen, learned his story, and felt his warmth and love for what the does.
When it comes to wine, the M&N 2009 estate grown blend of Pinot Noir and Meunier was one of my favorites.
His vodka and gin at Cap Rock are special (order if you can at local restaurants) and distilled a few feet from his house and winery in his basement.
Finally, the special piece of Lance and Anna’s work is that their farm is completely biodynamic certified, also called “deep organic,” which allows them to operate with a lighter carbon footprint. They don’t have a dream of becoming enormous, but they see themselves growing through these niche markets and providing quality spirits, wines and beer to progressive restaurants as they’ve been doing readily.
It’s worth noting the farm is the recipient of the James Beard Foundation Nomination in 2012 for outstanding wine and spirits professional.
Leroux Creek Inn & Vineyards – Owned by Yvon Gros and his wife Joanna Reckert
Next we went 15 minutes down the winding roads to Leroux Creek Vineyard and Inn to meet Yvon, the acclaimed French man in this unique county. As Toni perfectly called the Inn it’s “Southwest-meets-Mountain-Mediterranean feeling,” with a stucco architecture, a beautiful kitchen and a deck with vines hanging from a trellis overlooking his vineyard.
We sat on his back patio while Yvon (below) baked his own bread, created a savory tart with cheese and chives, asparagus over a tart vinaigrette with fresh chives, and a deconstructed salad of fresh beats, venison, lettuce, hard boiled egg and celery salad. The apple tart had the flakiest, most buttery crust that I gobbled up.
Alongside lunch, we drank and tasted his hybrid wines from the vineyard we overlooked, it was one of the best lunches I’ve had in a long time.
I was blown away (but delighted at the same time) that the North Fork Valley has the largest concentration of organic farms in the United States.
Yvon along with his wife runs an inn and he focuses on wines that blend and his farm is also Biodynamic. I can’t wait to come back and stay here, cook with Yvon, learn about making cheese, harvesting his wine and enjoy the North Fork Valley sunshine.
It’s a little slice of heaven and as he says, like “Provence in America.
Alfred Eames Cellars, Puesta del Sole Vineyards – Owned by Alfred Eames
After our leisurely, very French lunch we drove to what seemed to be in the middle of nowhere (but beautiful), right underneath the Elk Mountains to Alfred Eame’s house, where his vineyard sat in his backyard.
Eames greeted us and much like our day today, the tone was casual. He doesn’t have an official tasting room (he takes appointments for tastings) and we went into his operation and production room to check out his wine, in the backyard of his house.
He stressed he puts nothing into his wines. He keeps it authentic and straight, but it gives for an authentic taste. Eames’ wine
He built an incredible cellar underground, that makes you feel like you’re in Europe with oak barrels and boxes of his wine stored in the cool ground.
Eames is a straight-shooter and he only makes red wine, because that’s what he loves to drink.
Much like the other vineyards we visited, he didn’t have a public tasting but he gladly shows anyone by appointment. If you’re interested in finding his winery and cellar, these directions will guide you.
His operation is authentic and we tasted his bold reds, namely his Pinot Noir estate bottle and Tempranillo (my favorite). Woozy from the late afternoon sun, a full belly, and the Temranillo we headed back to our plane, to digest this information.
In conclusion, Colorado wine has better wine than I expected. It doesn’t mean every wine we tasted was phenomenal, but I was pleasantly surprised. We have to recognize that Colorado wine doesn’t have to taste like California wine and that’s okay. We tout eating local with fervor, but we forget to think about drinking local.
Namely on the Western Slope (and of course, the Front Range) there’s a great group of individuals taking risks on the weather, through love to farm and ferment and sell their grapes. I notice they all do it their own way with the Grand Valley being a bit more commercial and the North Fork Valley laying low, but taking strides with their innovative farming techniques.
I encourage you to either make a trip out West if you’re a Coloradoan or if you’re making a trip, to learn about what the Western Slope has to offer.
I will note that the North Fork Valley area is more remote. It’s technically, less easy to cruise around like Grand Valley where you can rent bikes and cruise between vineyards. Both offer something special, and all will welcome you to their winery and vineyard.
Not sure about you, but my 40 bottle wine cooler is beginning to fill with Colorado wine.
Thank you to DrinkLocalWine for bringing your conference to Denver and for Colorado Wine Board for putting together the tour and being such gracious hosts.
You can read day 1 of Colorado wine recap here.