Having first met in Crested Butte, fallen in love in Colorado, and cultivated our passion for making really good wine here in Colorado, there’s no place we’d rather be. There’s something about this land, the people, and the way time passes here. You can see it in the vibrant sunsets, draping the sandstone cliffs that tower over the Western Slope’s orchards and vineyards, feel it while shaking hands and exchanging laughs with a farmer as you load up the season’s harvest, and taste it while taking that first sip of a new vintage, as fall’s cooler air funnels into the valley and golden aspens glow in the low-angled afternoon sun.
Colorado is truly a special place, and we aim to share as much of it with you as possible. From the terroir, to the history, and the adventures that await, come back here often for our family’s favorites of Colorado and Crested Butte.
Colorado is not the easiest state to live in, for both humans and plants. Our winters are cold, snowy, and long, often lasting into June with surprise frosts, sometimes shocking the plants (and us) while we wait for summer. Our summers can be arid, hot and at times short, like this year when we celebrated Labor Day with a foot of snow in Gunnison Valley. As winemakers, we face challenges of a short growing season, drought, and extreme weather events.
One of the greatest challenges of the Colorado climate for viticulture is the frost events that occur in late spring and early fall. In spring, once the vines’ buds have burst open an unexpected frost can freeze the new green vegetation (containing the flowers that will produce grapes) and damage the crop for the season. In early fall, the vines have not yet entered full ‘dormancy’, in which they have hardened their green vegetative tissue. In a serious cold event that green tissue can freeze and die, preventing transfer of sugars and nutrients to the plant and impacting the following year’s crop and the vine’s overall health. These frost events impact the crop load, vine strength, and limit the growing season time.
In the same way that these extreme conditions make Colorado viticulture an act of resiliency and perseverance, the conditions also allow us to make very distinctive and beautiful wines. When a vine has too easy access to water and nutrients, the result is large grape clusters that are diluted in flavor, with a lower sugar to tannin ratio. This makes wines that are simpler with less structure. Additionally, excess resources for the vine allows it to grow a very large canopy, which shades the fruit and prevents ripening. Alternatively, when a vine experiences mild water stress, there is a light, porous canopy that perfectly ripens grapes and allows the root system to search deeper in the soil for water and nutrients. Our arid, hot climate with warm days and cool nights helps us achieve this balanced canopy. The fruit from these vines produce wines that are well structured, balanced, and show off the unique terroir.
Achieving vine balance and mitigating freeze damage were big topics at this year’s VinCO, a conference on Colorado winemaking and grape growing, with several lectures from viticulturalists, enologists and researchers from CO and beyond. Many industry experts provided strategies to protect the vines from extreme temperatures, information on cold-tolerant varieties and climate data from CSU. With the collective sharing of information and wealth of knowledge and enthusiasm from the Colorado wine community, we can continue to make great wine, even with the unpredictable Colorado weather.
Colorado has two American Viticultural Areas (AVAs), the official US term for a specific vineyard zone. AVAs are based on the specific geography, soil and climate that make the area unique for winemaking. This is similar to France’s AOP designations or Italy’s DOC classifications that we see on many labels of European wine. For a wine to be labelled as an AVA, 85% of the fruit must come from that zone. AVAs help us know where our wine is from, and also gives us a greater understanding about the special characteristics from a certain area.
Colorado’s first AVA is The Grand Valley, located outside of Grand Junction and Palisade, a major fruit growing region full of orchards and vineyards. The Grand Valley is situated alongside the Colorado River, with an elevation around 4,000 feet above sea level, a relatively mild climate (for Colorado’s standards) and alluvial soils, which all contribute to its ability to grow great fruit. The Colorado River allows for irrigation in the vineyards, but also keeps surrounding temperatures milder in the winter, reducing the risk of frost, and provides a cool breeze in the summer. The contrast between the warm days and cool nights allows for great ripening conditions, and varieties such as Syrah and Cabernet Franc thrive here. Check out our Cabernet Franc sourced from Black Bear Orchards in this region!
The West Elks is Colorado’s second AVA. It is located along the North Fork Valley of the Gunnison River through Paonia and Hotchkiss, another prominent fruit growing region of the Western Slope with rich alluvial soils. The elevation is higher than the Grand Valley, at 5,000 to 7,000 feet above sea level. This altitude creates a cooler and shorter growing season than the Grand Valley, which is why varieties such as Pinot Noir, Riesling, and Pinot Gris work quite well here. Our recently bottled 2019 Pinot Noir has grapes sourced from this region, stay tuned to check it out!