WineInk: The Open Range of Mark Harvey
Old Snowmass Winemaker
From Bordeaux to the Barossa and Napa to Mendoza, this column often profiles wines and producers from the world’s renowned wine regions. Most of them pretty far afield from the Roaring Fork Valley.
But this week, we want to highlight the wines, and the journey, of one of our own, a longtime Old Snowmass resident who is making wines here in Colorado. Not in Old Snowmass, mind you, but a bit down the road in Palisade.
Mark Harvey is a member of a well-known Aspen family. His mother, Connie, an environmentalist, is in the Aspen Hall of Fame Class of 2006. Mark, a filmmaker, writer, and adventurer, raises cattle and grows potatoes — Yukon Golds, Russets, and a purple variety called Midnight Moons — at the Harvey Ranch in the beautiful Snowmass Wilderness under the shadow of Mount Sopris. The ranch sits at about 8,500 feet and encompasses 1,900 acres, most of it under conservation easement. Harvey has spent much of his life in the outdoors working as a rancher, shellfish farmer, and mountain guide. Sounds like a pretty full life.
But he decided a few years back that he might like to dabble in the notably difficult task of producing wine. With just a couple of years of practice, he has found success in his endeavors with the brand he has appropriately dubbed Open Range.
“I named the wine company Open Range to reflect the wonderful feeling of the wide-open landscapes of the West and the sense of possibility those landscapes give a person,” he said.
The wine from the 2020 vintage – his first, the Open Range 2020 Red Blend – was awarded a Gold Medal at the San Francisco International Wine Competition this past November. And his 2020 Malbec took home a Silver Medal.
“We got an email from the competition,” he said. “That was both unexpected and exciting.” he added in an understatement.
“I was always interested in the process of growing and producing foods. My greatest pleasure is producing food from the pasture, soil, or sea that people can enjoy at the table,” he said when asked how he first got the bug to make wines. “I had taken some chemistry classes in school (the University of Washington), and there was always just something about making wine that appealed to me.”
While he doesn’t have a specific wine epiphany that set him on this path, he does have early memories of being beguiled by wine: “I spent some time in South America climbing mountains in the 1990s and worked as a mountaineering guide for NOLS (the National Outdoor Leadership School) in Southern Chile.”
While he was there, he also developed an oyster and mussel farm in Chile that is functioning to this day.
“The wines in Chile were so good and so cheap. I went to a number of regions like the Valle de Uco in Argentina and the Maipo and Casablanca Valleys in Chile, and I visited several vineyards and wineries to learn something about the craft,” he said.
Cut to 2020: “I would often drive past the vines in Palisade and was curious. I mentioned this to a friend, and she said, ‘You should talk to Kaibab.'”
She was referring to Palisade grape grower/viticulturist Kaibab Sauvage, one of the most knowledgeable and successful practitioners in Colorado wine. Kaibab, along with winemaker Patric Matysiewski, are the duo who operate the dynamic and innovative Colorado winery, Sauvage Spectrum.
“I went to meet with Kaibab, and he showed me some vineyards,” Harvey said. “He said, ‘You should talk to Patric.'” That set things in motion. “Patric and I talked, and I decided to buy some grapes, and I cut a deal with him to work on making wines from the 2020 vintage.”
The first two wines were the aforementioned Red Blend, which featured a unique combination of Malbec, Cabernet Franc, and Petit Verdot and a single variety Malbec. Both wines were from grapes grown in the Grand Valley appellation under Kaibab’s tutelage.
“Patric is great to work with,” said Harvey. “He is smart, organized, energetic. He really gets it. I couldn’t be luckier to have someone as creative and innovative in the process. We work really well together.”
Of course, there is more to the wine business than just wine.
“I knew nothing about wine sales, and there was so much paperwork,” he said with a laugh.
Harvey began to work with wine and marketing consultant Courtney Luick, who helped him through the process of putting together his website and social media, managed the sales and marketing, and entered the wines in the San Francisco Competition.
“Courtney has helped guide me through the whole sales and marketing process,” he said.
That first release of Open Range saw about 200 cases of Colorado wines produced, and Harvey began selling them last summer.
“We have had really great response,” he said.
Four Dogs Fine Wines and Spirits and Jimbo’s Liquors in Basalt as well as Sopris Liquor and Wine in Carbondale all are selling Open Range in their shops. Allegria Restaurant in Carbondale and Free Range Kitchen in Basalt also offer the wines on their lists.
But the wine business can be a cruel vocation, and Colorado is a notoriously difficult region for winemaking. In October 2020, a devastating early season frost destroyed a substantial number of Colorado’s vines, leaving a paucity of grapes available for producing wines in the 2021 vintage.
“We literally could not find grapes in the state to make wine with,” Harvey said.
Determined to not miss a vintage, he started to look for other sources for grapes and settled upon Washington state.
“I have always like Washington wines, and I was able to find a grower there, Kendall Farms, and I bought 12 tons of grapes. The grapes were shipped by refrigerated truck to Patric at Sauvage Spectrum, and a new vintage was produced.”
The 2021 vintage of Open Range consists of six wines grown in Washington and made in Colorado. The wines are all appellation designated, including a Syrah from the Yakima Valley and Cabernet Franc from the Columbia Valley AVA. Then there are four wines from the Horse Heaven Hills appellation, appropriate for a wine named Open Range, including a Red Blend, a Cabernet Sauvignon, a Barbera, and a Malbec.
“We are trying to make full-bodied, dry wines with good acidity,” Harvey said. This vintage was just recently released, and the wines are currently being tasted and sold.
He said he looks forward to making more wines with Colorado fruit in the future.
“I believe in the Colorado wine industry, and the state is making really good wines. This has been a challenge, and I really had no expectations when I started, but it has been a fantastic experience.”
The Open Range journey has proven fruitful, indeed, for Mark Harvey.
Open Range 2021 Syrah Yakima Valley Washington
Cheers to both Mark Harvey and Sauvage Spectrum winemaker Patric Matysiewski for persevering through difficult circumstances to acquire the fruit and make this full-bodied wine. The wine is a dark and deep ruby in the glass and has the notes of blackberries, dried cherries, and a touch of chocolate. There are definite influences of oak, and a raw earthy nature that hits the Open Range theme. A credible and quaffable wine that reflects well on the second vintage of the Old Snowmass based producer.