Kelly J. Hayes: WineInk | AspenTimes.com

Kelly J. Hayes: WineInk

Kelly J. Hayes
Aspen Times Weekly

I hope this column has become something more than just a listing of various wine festivals and events, but some, such as this past week’s Snowmass Wine Fest, deserve to be highlighted.

Such is the case again.

This week Palisade, Colo., will play host to the 17th Annual Colorado Mountain Winefest. Beginning Friday, Sept. 19 , the Festival is perhaps the best way for one to get a full immersion in Colorado’s burgeoning wine industry.

The event’s focal point will be Saturday’s “Festival in the Park,” an all-day tasting affair with more than 250 wines from 45 Colorado vintners on the banks of the Colorado River in Palisade’s scenic Riverbend Park. But there are other events as well, including seminars on grape growing, food and wine pairings, and a tasting conducted by Tommy Leman, district manager of Riedel Crystal, who will discuss how the shapes of different glasses enhance the flavor profiles of wines.

Perhaps the most intriguing event is a Saturday morning “Bicycle Tour of the Vineyards.” This 25-mile loop begins and ends at the Peach Bowl Park and, in between, will showcase some the most beautiful vineyards in the state. Note that a separate ticket is needed for the ride.

To get tickets or specifics on the individual happenings, call 1-800-704-3667 or go online at coloradowinefest.com. The Festival serves as a fundraiser for the Rocky Mountain Association of Vintners and Viticulturists, the trade group for the state’s grape growers and winemakers. All profits from the event are used to help the industry learn, promote and grow, which can only be a good thing.

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Earlier this year, Kevin Doyle, the enthusiastic owner and winemaker of Woody Creek Cellars posed an interesting question: “If you recognize that California, Washington, Oregon and probably New York are the most significant wine-growing states in America, which state would be number five?”

As I went through options in my mind (Hmm, maybe Virginia where Thomas Jefferson had plantings in the 1700’s. Perhaps Missouri, which has a history as a prolific producer of grapes, or Texas which has a growing number of wineries …), Kevin looked at me like a Cheshire cat.

“How about Colorado?” he asked with a glimmer.

That’s an interesting thought. After all, the state has around 65 registered wineries. There are two American Viticultural Areas ” the Grand Valley AVA, which runs along the Colorado River through Palisade and Grand Junction, and the West Elks AVA that encompasses parts of Paonia and Hotchkiss.

And the wines have been showing well at various competitions. Both Plum Creek Cellars from the Grand Valley and Two Rivers Winery from the West Elks garnered silver medals at the San Francisco International Wine Competition and Balistreri Vineyards 2006 Zinfandel, Talbott Vineyard, took a double gold at the Taster’s Guild International Wine Competition.

But do Colorado wines have the chops to be the fifth finger in the discussions of America’s great wine-growing regions? Maybe someday.

In terms of production, Florida and New Jersey are neck and neck for the fifth spot in the states. Behind them are Kentucky and Ohio (which share the largest AVA in the country, the Ohio River AVA) followed by Virginia and North Carolina. Colorado comes in 22nd.

In terms of quality, I recently tasted a fine cabernet franc from the Childress Winery in steamy Lexington, N.C., an excellent sparkler from New Mexico’s Gruet, and a riesling from the Hill Country of Texas. All indicated that good wine is being produced, not just from sea to shining sea, but in the heartland as well.

Colorado wines are being grown at elevations ranging from 4,000 to 7,000 feet above sea level. Though there are micro-climates that influence the various production regions, the rule is low humidity and dry arid, summers. The biggest challenge posed for these high-mountain vineyards is the annual return of old man winter.

What is certain is that the growth of the industry, coupled with the passion of its producers, ensures that better wines are being made with each and every vintage. The Colorado Mountain Wine Fest is a great place to see the vineyards, taste the wines and meet the winemakers.

Enjoy.

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