Tag Archives: Colorado wine

It’s not local wine when you’re buying grapes from another state

local wineColorado craft brewer says its new wine is innovative, but it’s the same approach Big Wine uses

Craft beer made name its name on authenticity and honesty. This was in marked contrast to Big Beer, which kept selling the same worn out and bland fizz for no other reason than because that’s what Big Beer did.

So what happens when a craft beer producer moves into wine? Does it bring the same authenticity and honesty that it brought to beer? Not, apparently, if it’s a leading Colorado craft producer called Odell Brewing.

Maybe Odell Brewing has a reason for making its wine with out of state grapes instead of those from its native Colorado — which is hardly craft, authentic or honest. I asked, but never heard back from the company. Maybe someone there truly believes the twaddle in its news release, that Odell claims it “is dedicated to pushing the boundaries of modern American wine.” And that “we’re committed to making wine that is just as innovative as our beer.”

Because making wine with out of state grapes is the sort of thing that small wine producers criticize Big Wine for doing, and that those of us who believe in Drink Local have been fighting against for years. It’s neither innovative nor boundary pushing; rather, it’s just a way to cut costs, since those grapes will probably be cheaper than buying Colorado grapes.

And Odell’s wines – a red and white blend, plus two roses, and all made with grapes purchased from Oregon and Washington – are hardly breathtaking. And that the wines will come in cans? Not exactly innovative, either, not in the middle of 2020.

Let’s be clear here – Odell can do whatever it wants, and I’m not criticizing the company for making wine. Rather, it’s because Odell is pretending that its wine effort is something that it’s not.

In fact, I can’t help but think that someone at Odell and its wholesaler, Breakthru Beverage (the third biggest in the country) wanted to duplicate the almost unprecedented success of Cooper’s Hawk. That’s the restaurant and winery chain that uses California grapes no matter where its stores are located. For one thing, Breakthru is mentioned in the second paragraph in the news release, and that’s just odd. Why would anyone care who the distributor is?

So good luck to Odell – just don’t expect anyone who knows local wine to pretend your product is local.

Colorado Governor’s Cup 2019

Colorado Governor’s Cup 2019

So who’s the one running his mouth when almost everyone else is tasting or making notes?

Six things worth noting after judging the Colorado Governor’s Cup 2019

• The wines, though fewer in number than in years past, were almost all terrific. One of the difficulties in regional wine is getting past the plateau; that is, quality improves to a certain point and then seems to stall. This year, much of what we tasted had climbed past the plateau. In fact, the judges gave out so many gold medals that the best in show judging featured almost as many wines as we judged on the first day. That rarely happens.

• The highlights were the rieslings and the cabernet francs. The former should always be top notch given Colorado’s terroir, but have been maddeningly inconsistent over the past couple of years. The almost two dozen we tasted were varietally correct, balanced, and enjoyable. The cab francs, which should also do well here, may have been even better. They displayed restraint, one of the grape’s characteristics, but were not thin or dull.

• We discovered a new cold-hardy hybrid that is fruitier and less acidic than the usual suspects, called petite pearl. These grapes are bred to withstand freezing temperatures and to resist disease, but are often difficult to turn into quality wine. Petite pearl, though, seems much more wine-friendly than the others, and it may have the potential to make cold-hardy hybrids more popular. It tastes a bit like gamay, the grape used to make Beaujolais, but with more of a backbone,

• A tip o’ the WC’s fedora to my fellow judges, long-time Colorado wine expert Roberta Backland and Wine America president Jim Trezise. Anyone who can endure at my enthusiasm for grapes like petite pearl shows just how much they care about wine.

Mike Dunne, one of the best wine writers in the country, no longer writes a column for the Sacramento Bee. The paper told him it was a luxury it couldn’t afford. So the third or fourth largest metro area in the country’s biggest wine producing state doesn’t have regular wine coverage. Is it any wonder. …

• “Metrics” are one way 21st century business “quantifies” customer service. Metrics allow companies to game the system so they can show they provide customer service even when they don’t. My flight to Denver was the usual post-modern mess – it left almost an hour late, the bags took almost 40 minutes to arrive, and so on and so forth. So of course I got an email asking me to rate the “flight experience.” The Wine Curmudgeon, being the Wine Curmudgeon, answered it with a comment: “Does anyone at the airline really care about my answers, or do you do this so you can phony up the metrics?”

Photo by Alder Yarrow

Silly wine descriptions

Colorado Governor’s Cup 2018

colorado governors cup5 things I learned judging Colorado Governor’s Cup 2018 last weekend in Denver

1. The quality of Colorado wine keeps getting better. It’s not so much that the best wines are the equal of wines elsewhere in the country, or even that there are more of the best wines (and both were true). Instead, it’s that there are more professionally made, competent wines – all those in the middle that don’t win big awards but are necessary if you’re going to have a local wine industry.

2. Particularly impressive were red wines made with Italian varietals, something I haven’t seen much of in the decade I’ve been judging in Colorado. We tasted a nebbilio and a teroldego; the latter did better in the competition, but both were terrific wines.

3. Drink Local. I’ve been writing about regional wine for so long – I wrote my first piece in the early 1990s – that it never dawned on me that the second and third generations of drink local didn’t know how the movement started. So I got to tell several of the old war stories to a new audience. And yes, I’m enough a ham that I got a kick out of it.

4. Quality of judges. It keeps getting better, too. Four of the 18 judges were MS or MW, an impressive percentage for a regional competition. That’s a testament to Doug Caskey, who runs the Governor’s Cup. He’s one of the most respected people in regional wine, and I hope his bosses and the Colorado wineries appreciate that.

5. The state of 21st century air travel. The less said about flying in and out of Denver the better. Just know that the two men sitting next to me on the way up, who were in their late 20s or early 30s, were complaining. This means the airline business has alienated customers who aren’t old enough to know about a time when we didn’t have pay to check bags, when seats hadn’t been made smaller to cram more people on the plane, and all of the rest. Which, in a perverse way, is an impressive achievement for the airlines.

Winebits 537: Good news – and a conundrum – for regional wine

regional wineThis week’s wine news: A regional wine roundup, featuring more deserved good news and one intriguing conundrum

Bring on the regional wine: Jessica Dupuy, perhaps the top regional wine writer in the country, tells Sommelier’s Guild readers that “While California, Washington, and Oregon continue leading in both sales and overall familiarity, an exponential increase in wine production and vineyard plantings in New York, Virginia, Pennsylvania, Michigan, and beyond has started to paint a more definitive picture of the future of American wine.” Her best bests for top regional wine? Texas, Michigan, Arizona, Colorado, and New York.

Bring on Michigan wine: Paul Vigna, another top regional wine journalist, agrees about Michigan: “Now I’m a believer, having tried samples of everything from still wines to sparkling, including Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah and Gewurztraminer.” This is no surprise to those of who have followed the state’s success, despite weather that doesn’t always cooperate and the state’s up and down economic climate.

But not at Cooper’s Hawk: I met Tim McEnery about the same time we started Drink Local Wine; Tim had a restaurant in suburban Chicago called Cooper’s Hawk that made wine. But it wasn’t Illinois wine – it was made in Illinois using grapes from California. Tim’s business model was based on the assumption consumers didn’t especially care where the wine was from. Needless to say, we had a discussion or two about the idea. Today, as Mike Veseth notes in the Wine Economist, Cooper’s Hawk is the 34th biggest winery in the country (bigger than Hall of Fame regular McManis) with 30 locations in 30 states. Cooper’s Hawk has always been a conundrum for those of us who support regional wine, since there’s nothing particularly local about the product. What does its success say about the drink local movement, which has also had its share of successes?

Six things to ponder after judging Colorado Governor’s Cup 2017

Colorado Governor’s Cup 2017Colorado Governor’s Cup 2017: Top-flight wines and top-flight judges

1. Why the quality of the judges at this competition is always so good – especially since it’s a regional event and not very big. This year, the judges included Doug Frost, the Godfather of regional wine; Wayne Belding, a fixture at most of the country’s major competitions; Dave Buchanan, who has been writing about Colorado wine almost before there was any; and Andrew Stover, who runs the country’s premier regional wine wholesale company.

2. Why the Rocky Mountain Dart Association was holding an event at the same hotel at the same time. I saw more darts in two days than I’ve seen in my entire life.

3. Why the first day of judging, when we did about 80 wines, was so lackluster given that quality had improved in the past couple of years. Though, oddly, we did give a gold medal to a chardonnay, traditionally the worst regional wine varietal. But the second day, when we picked the 12 best wines in the competition, was completely different. Two wines – a cabernet franc and an albarino sparkling – were stunning. The cab franc was so complex and so terroir driven that I wondered for a minute if it was made with Colorado grapes.

4. How a 17-year old wine from Colorado, the 2000 Terror Creek pinot noir, could have lasted this long. Belding brought a bottle from his cellar for us to taste, and it still smelled like pinot noir, earthy and mushroomy, and still tasted like pinot, with herbs and cherry fruit.

5. How long I’ll be on the screen – or if I will be at all – for the Colorado wine video that was being shot during the competition. I did an interview for it, but given the way these things works, the 10 or 12 minutes that I taped could turn into one head shot and a quote lasting a couple of seconds.

6. If anyone knows how to get the lights in a Springhill Suites room to go on and off with some sort of coordination. I always end up having to hit three or four light switches to get the light in the part of the room where I need it.

Winebits 469: Phylloxera, food trends, French presidential wine

phylloxeraThis week’s wine news: Phylloxera in Colorado, wine isn’t a 2017 food trend, and the ultimate sommelier

Grapevine scourge: Phylloxera, the louse that devastates vineyards and for which there is no control, has been found in Colorado’s most important grape growing region. Grape growers and winemakers in Colorado have always thought that they were safe from phylloxera because of their soils and altitude, but the louse thought otherwise. The only solution? Pull out all of the vines in the infected vineyard in Mesa County, the area that is home to three-quarters of the state’s grape acreage, and hope that the louse hasn’t already spread to another vineyard.

No wine here: The most important food trends for 2017 don’t include wine. This is noteworthy in a time when wine consumption is flat and wine has been a regular part of these trends for the past decade. How little does wine matter? Consider that cake for breakfast, eating food waste, and sardines made the list.

The best job? Virginie Routis is in charge of the wine at Elysee Palace, home to the French president. How amazing must that be? She oversees the 14,000 bottles of the finest French wine beneath the Palace, buying, selling, and serving the wine for state occasions. What impressed me is that Routis, whose cellar includes all the wine the rest of us will never drink (Cheval Blanc, anyone?), makes it a point to serve wine from all her country’s regions. Would that that was a consistent policy at the White House, where California wine has traditionally been the only kind served.

8 things I learned during my Colorado wine adventure

Colorado wine

That’s Warren Winiarski of Judgment of Paris fame on the far left, Doug Caskey of the Colorado wine board, Colorado wine writer Dave Buchanan, California wine writer Mike Dunne, and the WC. I don’t know why Doug and I are the only ones with hats.

The eight things I learned during my Colorado wine adventure.

1. The wine quality at the Colorado Governor’s Cup was the best I’ve seen since I judged the first one seven years ago. In fact, the improvement in Colorado wine was hard to believe – there were almost no wines that were so awful that drinking them made you fear for the future of regional wine. The best wines, mostly red blends, cabernet sauvignon, and cabernet franc, were elegant, structured, and well made. The improvement in quality is something my friends in Texas should pay close attention to.

2. Warren Winiarski, who made the winning cabernet sauvignon at the Judgment of Paris, spent two days after the competition visiting Colorado vineyards. Watching him with the winemakers and growers taught me that canopy management isn’t as boring as I thought it was, and I learned a lot to bring back to my students. Also, not everyone is happy when someone with more experience and more knowledge and more skill tells you things you don’t want to hear about how you’re growing grapes and making wine.

3. Colorado’s new grocery store wine law – if it survives the upcoming legal challenges – may be the model used to bring grocery store wine law to the rest of the country. It tries to strike a balance between small retailers, the state’s biggest and powerful independents, and the grocery store chains that will eventually dominate the market.

4. Spotting the wine writers in the hotel lobby is easy. We’re the old white guys reading the newspaper while we eat breakfast.

5. Flying on the state plane (that’s the aircraft in the background in the picture above) made me wish I never had to fly commercially again. Ever.

6. So the less said about American Airlines the better.

7. The acceptance of regional wine by those who don’t taste it regularly is wonderful to see. Mike Dunne of Sacramento, one of the most respected wine writers in the country, and Alder Yarrow of Vinography judged the competition and approached the wines with an openness that too many of my colleagues still don’t have.

8. There’s something about being in a vineyard at 6,500 feet that makes you forget about all the aggravation associated with doing this. Or with life, for that matter.

Photos courtesy of Kyle Schlachter.