In Italy, wine is like water. It is always served, resting on your table and quite often, cheaper than the cost of water when you’re dining out. The Italian in me loves wine. It’s my choice drink. However, I admit although I love it, I do not understand a lot about it. I am not a wine writer. I am a purveyor of food writer and sharer of experiences around culinary explorations.
That said, when I heard about DrinkLocalWine making its way to Denver this year, I knew it was something I wanted to be part of. Colorado Wine Board and Drink Local Wine put together an incredible event, showing off the bounty of this wonderful state. And I am grateful for their hospitality.
I attended the welcoming dinner on Friday the 27th at the Governor’s Dinner to kick off the weekend with local wine makers and writers from around the country, then spent the next morning learning about our interesting climate, what local food and local wine mean to restaurants and consumers and what it will look like if we want to grow the Colorado wine industry. It should be noted that this fourth annual regional DrinkLocalWine conference was the most attended and record-breaking.
Then on Sunday, a small group of us hopped on a private plane (the Governor’s plan no less) to head west. To drink. To taste. To learn.
I took the co-pilot seat in the 8-seater.
Here are my general thoughts and favorite wines from the first day.
Grand Junction – Two Rivers Winery, owned by Bob and Billie Witham.
Two Rivers has the beautiful backdrop of the Colorado Monument. Two Rivers was quite the operation (they first processed grapes in 1999) and they also have a chateau for events and staying over night. They produce 44 tons of grapes each year with about 14,000 cases of wine.
I was touched by Tyrel Lawson, their winemaker who at the age of 26 couldn’t be sweeter, sharing wines with us with his “Yes, ma’am’s,” and shy smile.
They have won 140 different awards in International Competitions and in 2007, five of those were gold medals. I enjoyed their 2011 Reisling paired with mini-key lime pies (below) and their 2011 Merlot.
Along with Grande River (our last stop of the day), these two are the state’s largest growing grape operation. Subsequently, these two locations felt the most grown-up, bustling with people and tastings.
Grand Junction – Whitewater Hill Vineyard, owned by John Behrs and Nancy Janes.
Nancy’s energy is infectious and who can’t help but love a husband-wife team? They left the high-tech world in 1998 to grow grapes in the Grand Valley. John is the grower and farmer and Nancy is the winemaker.
They have 10 different wine grape varieties on 37 acres, growing for other wineries (I saw this a lot out there) and for their own production. They make 16 different wines, also award-winning.
I loved their small tasting room, overlooking the Bookcliffs and their beautiful vineyard.
My favorites were their 2009 No Oak Chardonnay (retails at $14) and their 2008 Ethereal blend (retails at $29). It blends cab franc, cab sauv, merlot and shiraz.
We tasted her 2009 Cab Franc, out of the barrel, as well.
Palisade – Mesa Park Vineyards, owned by Brad and Brooke Webb and Brooke’s parents, Chuck and Patty Price.
One of the things I felt closest to during these two days were the stories. When you are able to connect to the people behind the wine and meet them face-to-face, it becomes even more real. Brooke and Brad’s story touched me, because I felt I could relate to it so closely.
As longtime wine lovers, they took a trip to the Western Slope and stumbled across the small vineyard they hadn’t been to before. They learned it was for sale and without thinking about it, realized the long drive home they wanted it. Brooke convinced her parents (her father the winemaker and mother runs the tasting room now) to come with them, they sold everything in Denver and made Palisade and this adorable vineyard their new home and livelihood.
They all take on different roles and I was amazed to learn so many of these wineries didn’t have winemaking in their blood. They loved wine, and came to learn thus turning it into a business. That also includes Brad a longtime banker who is now the farmer and producer of grapes.
Their 2006 Cabernet Franc Reserve was delicious and a gold medal winner at Colorado Mountain Winefest in 2008.
It is noted that their social media and website, is the best looking of all the wineries we visited. A tech geek like me can’t help but notice.
Like Two Rivers, Grande River Vineyards is a big operation. They were the 5th licensed winery in the state. Their tasting room is large and they have a popular concert series on their lawn in the Summer. They’re open everyday of the year except Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year’s Day.
Their location is literally right off I-70 making for a popular stop for tourists, or unsuspecting travelers who make a spontaneous stop.
A special treat during our tasting, was Steve and Naomi’s daughter Jill (on the left) who served delectable small bites, paired with our wines. Keeping it in the family.
I personally enjoyed the 2004 Meritage Red (Bordeaux blend) and the 2011 Viogner with green curry shrimp and falafel. Jill’s kitchen is now officially open and plans to expand their food offering.
We ended day one in downtown Grand Junction at Il Bistro Italiano (been around since 2008) where Plum Creek Winery also showcased their wines, paired with the incredible dinner we had from Brunella Gualerzi, Chef/Owner of Il Bistro. Plum Creek’s winemaker Jenne Baldwin (love seeing female winemakers) had been with them for almost 20 years and shared the paired wines with us as we ate. An incredible view into Colorado Wine, day one.