Woody Creek winemaker stomps the big guys
November 23, 2005
Woody Creeker Kevin Doyle will be the first to admit he has the Irish touch when it comes to tall tales. So when he claims his recent feat – winning a pair of silver medals at the Denver International Wine Competition – is unprecedented, it’s a good idea to check the facts.Actually, there is a well-known historical case of an upstart wine-making region coming out of nowhere to shock the world. In 1976, at the Paris Tasting, a panel of judges selected a pair of California wines over their French counterparts. The results stunned the oenological world, and California wines had their coming-of-age moment.Doyle’s achievements, while not on that global scale, are nonetheless impressive. The competition, held in Denver on Nov. 5, featured 300 wines from 16 countries. Any wine that is distributed in Colorado was eligible, and many of the wine-making heavyweights were represented. Woody Creek Cellars, on the other hand, is a one-man operation that the 47-year-old Doyle founded just five years ago on a $50,000 start-up budget.
But Woody Creek Cellars’ 2002 Merlot took a silver medal, beating out Sonoma’s Lambert Bridge – “a legendary Merlot powerhouse,” according to Doyle. Edging Doyle out for gold in Merlot was Pedroncelli, a 75-year-old winery located in an area of California’s Sonoma Valley known as “the Merlot Bench.” Proving he was not a one-wine wonder, Doyle likewise earned silver for his Cabernet Franc, besting the likes of California giant Robert Mondavi.Doyle makes his wines in an old apple-packing shed in Orchard City, a spot near Delta that, until a few weeks ago, was the last dry town in Colorado. His relatively tiny 1,000 cases of annual output is made with primitive equipment and Old World methods. He is guided by an ethos of simplicity that has been mostly washed away by the scientific, mass-production model documented in last year’s wine documentary “Mondovino.””You crush the grapes, you put ’em in a barrel, put ’em in a bottle,” said Doyle, who began learning about wine during his 20 years of waiting tables at such Aspen and Snowmass restaurants as Krabloonik and the Mother Lode. “New school, they put a lot of chemicals in, they use pumps to create heat and friction. To me, God is perfect, and I’m just the shepherd, getting the grapes in the bottle.”Doyle said his competitors were less than gracious about getting beat by a trailer-park resident with all of five years experience in winemaking.
“Not a word,” was the response Doyle said he received. “Because I’m the wrong guy to be winning medals. Not one person said congratulations.”Doyle is hardly the type to be bothered by such a cold shoulder. Having arrived in Aspen in 1976 as an 18-year-old with $1,000 to his name, he relishes the role of brash underdog. Winning the recent medals was nice; being the little guy recognized over the wine establishment was delicious.”There’s hundreds of millions of dollars in capitalization, all of it in New World wineries. And there’s thousands of years of education and prestige, that the little Woody Creature winemaker stomped,” Doyle said.
There is, however, an audience Doyle deeply cares about pleasing: the Aspen wine drinker. A diehard Aspenite, the label on Woody Creek Cellars’ bottles features a set of interlocking hands, a symbol of community that Doyle finds here. His goal is not to make barrels of money, or win medals, but to serve that community, to serve it exceptional, Old World-style wines.”I want to make great Colorado wines – for Colorado,” Doyle said. “I’m an old-school Aspenite. My desire is to sell all my wine in Aspen. Because it’s a drinking town. I’m like the village winemaker.”Woody Creek Cellars wines are available at local restaurants including the Steak Pit, Mezzaluna and Poppy’s, and at most local liquor stores.Stewart Oksenhorn’s e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org