Fine wines from the Four Corners
September 3, 2009
Make no mistake, Guy Drew is an optimist.
Anyone who would choose to make wine at a mile high in a sagebrush-filled canyon where temperatures hover above 100 degrees in August and plunge below zero in February has to be. Guy Drew accepted that challenge a decade ago and, in the ensuing years, has succeeded not only in making wine but making very good wine.
Recently I visited Guy and his wife Ruth at their blufftop wine estate, Guy Drew Vineyards, in McElmo Canyon, Colo., just west of Cortez, not far from the Four Corners.
Napa Valley it ain’t.
At first glance McElmo Canyon may be the most unlikely place in America to grow grapes for fine wine. Rugged, dry and high, the canyon was home to the Anasazi, the Navajo word used to describe the ancient Native Americans who lived for centuries in the surrounding cliffs and hillsides building dwellings that remain intact to this day.
Sometime in the 12th and 13th centuries, the Anasazi people simply disappeared. Popular theory holds that climate change (a drought lasting 300 years or so decimated the region) may have been responsible for the Anasazis’ departure. Not a good omen for a winemaker.
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Today, people reach McElmo Canyon on a dry and dusty road that sits between 10,000-foot-high Sleeping Ute Mountain to the south and the Canyon of the Ancients National Monument to the north. Here Guy Drew and his wife bought an old homestead hay farm and proceeded to build a state-of-the-art winery housed in a straw-bale building. Their home, also constructed of straw bales, is magazine beautiful.
These pioneering winemakers have 18 acres of vines on the property planted to Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay, Malbec, Merlot, Syrah, Riesling, Sauvignon Blanc and Viognier. Guy also makes wine with fruit purchased from a growing number of other properties in the Four Corners region that are planting vines in fields formerly dedicated to fruit or hay, and a little from Palisade near Grand Junction.
During my visit, I had an opportunity to taste through a number of the 17 different wines Guy has made, ranging from a fruity unoaked Chardonnay that was crisp, clean and refreshing on a hot August afternoon to a Bordeaux blend he calls “Metate,” after the stone used by the ancients to grind maize or corn.
My favorite pours were the 2004 Guy Drew Vineyards Metate, a blend dominated by Cabernet Sauvignon and rounded out by equal parts Cabernet Franc, Syrah and Petit Verdot, and a spicy 2005 Guy Drew Vineyards Syrah. In both wines there was plenty of structure and very good fruit, with an emphasis on cherries. I’m sure that if tasted blind in a place other than McElmo Canyon, one would be hard-pressed to place their Colorado origins.
On the same day, I visited Sutcliffe Vineyards, about eight miles down McElmo Canyon and, tasting their red wines, I had much the same feeling. These were the best Colorado wines I have tasted. Guy Drew and John Sutcliffe are the only vintners working the hot land of Montezuma County and, judging from their wines, they may have, inexplicably, found the best terroir in the state.
Recognizing the unique nature of the area, Guy has drawn up papers to establish an AVA (American Viticultural Area) in Montezuma County. He claims that he is finding other sub-climates in the county that are worthy of inclusion and will submit his request to the Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau once he is confident he has an accurate outline of the region’s potential.
In the meantime, he is hard at work traveling the state, before this year’s harvest, selling his wines and working as an evangelist for the Four Corners region.
He will make a trip to Aspen and the Roaring Fork Valley this week, and will show an unoaked Chardonnay and a Russell Vineyard Riesling, along with 2004 and 2005 Meritage reds, his Cabernet Franc, Petit Verdot, Syrah and a 2006 Metate.
If you’re in the business, the wines are worth your time, attention and support. Not just because of Guy Drew’s pioneering nature, though that is a good reason, but because they are very good wines.