Kelly J. Hayes: WineInk |

Kelly J. Hayes: WineInk

Kelly J. Hayes
Aspen Times Weekly

That tune from Laura Nyro’s album “Eli and the Thirteen and The Thirteen Confessions” has always been one of my favorite songs about wine. Recorded in 1968 when Nyro was just 20 years old (and later a hit song by the 5th Dimension), “Sweet Blindness” captures the innocence, the pure joy and the buzz of homemade, backyard wine.

The song popped into my head last week when Liza DeBartolo at the Aspen Historical Society called. The Society has launched a new Tuesday evening series called Time Travel Tuesdays, featuring various lectures and discussions about life in the Roaring Fork Valley in days gone by.

This upcoming Tuesday, June 23, the subject will be “Vintage Vinting: The History of Wine in Western Colorado.” It too should conjure that backyard, good-time feeling from a simpler time when people made wine for fun, just to drink with friends and family.

Time Travel Tuesday will take place at the Wheeler/Stallard Museum (6th and Bleeker in Aspen’s historic West End) and will begin at 5:30 p.m. Members of the Aspen Historical Society can attend for no charge. For others there is a recommended donation of $5.

Speaking at the event will be lifelong local rancher and Aspen Times columnist Tony Vagneur, and Lance Hanson, the proprietor of Jackrabbit Hill Winery in nearby Hotchkiss.

For those who read Vagneur’s column in Saturday’s Times, you know he is a gifted storyteller who helps to keep the origins of the valley alive in his reminiscences. Tony told me in a recent cell phone conversation (that in itself seemed an anachronism) that he remembers when he was a kid, people would visit other families in the valley on Sundays to sample their homemade wines. “A lot of the local families that settled down here in the valley came from France and Northern Italy,” he explained, “and they would buy grapes by the boatload to make their wines. Everybody had a jug and we would get together and drink it like Kool-Aid. Not to get the buzz on,” he chuckled, “but just ’cause we liked it.”

The Vagneurs originally settled in the Roaring Fork Valley in the 1880s after coming from the Aosta Valley region of Northern Italy, not far from the famed Piedmont wine region. Tony remembers that his grandfather had an underground wine room with a dirt floor and a huge wooden barrel that he and his buddies discovered one day when they were in their early teens. Boys will be boys.

Hanson is of the most innovative and important vintners in the state. Jack Rabbit Hill has 70 acres of farmland on the Redlands Mesa with 22 of them hosting certified-biodynamic vineyards. In addition to wine (JRH makes fine Chardonnay, Riesling, Sauvignon Blanc and a Cabernet Franc-based red wine called Barn Red), he produces spirits under the Peak Spirits label. You can find their Cap Rock Gin and Cap Rock Vodka on the top shelves of the best bars and restaurants in the Roaring Fork Valley.

“I plan to talk about our experience with organic and biodynamic grape growing in Western Colorado,” said Lance from Chicago, where he attended last week’s All Things Organic Trade Show, “We believe that western Colorado is ideally suited for organic and biodynamic viticulture because of its climate.”

Wine has an uneven history in Colorado. In the early 1900s there were as many as 1,000 farms growing grapes suitable for the production of wine. But in 1916, four years before the rest of the country was stifled by prohibition, the state General Assembly made Colorado a dry state. It would be another half-century before a modern winery was established. Today there more than 70 wineries in the state.

Tuesday’s Time Travels discussion should provide an interesting perspective on the past and the future of Colorado’s thriving industry.


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