This upcoming week…drum roll please…is Colorado Wine Week.
Yes, in 2011 Gov. John Hickenlooper designated the first week in June as a time to acknowledge the influence of the Colorado wine industry and indulge in the fruits of the 108 bonded wineries that inhabit our state. And while most of the celebrating will take place on the Front Range, you can participate simply by purchasing a bottle of the local juice and supporting the industry.
Hickenlooper has a well-deserved reputation as a beer man. As founder of Denver’s Wynkoop Brewery he was an important player in the early days of the Colorado suds scene. But as governor he has been a big booster of small business, local products and supporting the states agricultural communities. The burgeoning Colorado wine industry dovetails perfectly with Hickenlooper’s policies and vision, as it is a clean business that burnishes the state’s image and boosts the tourist industry. It is the kind of business that is easy for a state government to get behind.
This year’s Colorado Wine Week kicks off on Sunday, June 2, and runs through June 8. The opening weekend will feature what is a billed as a farm-to-turntable party (DJs one can assume) at The Universal, the hot Denver breakfast spot in the Highlands neighborhood, running from 7 - 10 p.m.. Go figure. Throughout the week there will be restaurant specials, wine-cocktail parties, etc. with the culmination on Sunday at the Colorado Urban Winefest at Infinity Park in Glendale next to the Cherry Creek Mall. Info and tickets for all of these happening can be found at www.winecolorado.org.
The Urban Winefest is Denver’s largest gathering focusing exclusively on Colorado wines. In its three years it has become quite a popular event. A production of CAVE, (Colorado Association for Viticulture and Enology), the Urban Winefest will feature close to 40 different wineries from throughout the state pouring hundreds of wines. Local restaurants will be on hand pairing small plates with the pours and there will be cooking demonstrations. Tickets are $40 and the event lasts all afternoon.
To me the most intriguing event will be the reception and tasting of the Governor’s Cup winning wines on Friday, June 7, from 4:30-7 p.m., at Metropolitan State University’s Hospitality Learning Center at the Springhill Suites, 1190 Auraria Parkway at Speer Boulevard in Denver. The Colorado Wine Industry Development Board (CWIDB), a state-run agency that is part of the Colorado Department of Agriculture, held a tasting of 225 Colorado-produced wines this past April. A panel of 17 judges rated the wines and awarded the Governor’s Cup to the very best of the wines in a variety of categories ranging from “Best Bordeaux variety or blend” to “Best Mead.”
The public will be able to taste these wines in the spectacular new Metro State teaching facility just outside the friendly confines of downtown Denver. The facility, which has a wine-tasting room that is state of the art, is a part of the Springhill Suites and offers students actual, “real life,” hospitality experience working in the hotel. The tasting will include many of the winning wines with a number of Colorado’s top winemakers in attendance. Cost is $55 per person and if you are headed to Denver for the weekend it will be a great way to kick it off.
Interestingly, the “Best of Show” and “Best Red” Governor’s Cup winner was a 2010 Cabernet Franc from Creekside Cellars. Though Creekside is based on the Front Range, in Evergreen, the grapes were sourced in Palisade, near Grand Junction. It marks the second straight year that a Cab Franc, a grape that has traditionally been used for blending with Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot in Bordeaux blends, has won the blind tasting. Last year’s winner was the Winery at Holy Cross Abbey’s 2009 Cabernet Franc, which comes from a winery based in Cannon City that also sources its’ grapes from Palisade.
While Cab Franc is increasingly being released by winemakers on its own, it is still not a grape that one would consider to be mainstream or even trendy. So is it simply coincidence that the Colorado Cab Franc has won the Cup two straight years? According to Doug Caskey, executive director of the CWIDB, “Cabernet Franc often excels in Colorado’s short growing season as a varietal wine.”
Ah, the short growing season, there’s the rub. While the Colorado wine industry has exploded since its inception in the late 1970s and early 1980s, it is still a tough haul. The topography and climate of Colorado mean that grape growers are constantly challenged by the inconsistencies of nature.
So those who toil in Colorado’s ever-improving wine industry deserve a toast and a tip of the hat. This is the perfect week do so.
Kelly J. Hayes lives in the soon-to-be-designated appellation of Old Snowmass with his wife, Linda, and a black Lab named Vino. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.