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Blind tasting offers chance to taste-test against the judges

By Dave Buchanan

Just as a mother can identify her unseen child by its laugh, a winemaker can pick out her or his wine without seeing the label.

“I’m pretty sure this is my rosé,” said Brooke Webb, winemaker for Mesa Park Vineyards on East Orchard Mesa, while peering and sniffing at a glass of strawberry-red wine during the recent Best of Fest blind tasting sponsored by the Colorado Association for Viticulture and Enology.

Even though the wine came from a bag-shrouded bottle, “You get to know your own wines pretty well after working with them all the time,” she said.

Brooke and her winemaker husband Brad were among the 50 or so people trying to pick their personal favorites from the 73 award-winning wines, a follow-up to the actual Best of Fest judging competition held earlier.

Of the 165 entries, 73 (44 percent) were awarded medals, with four wines getting the top listing of Best of Fest.These included: Best Red Wine – Turquoise Mesa Winery 2011 Colorado Crimson; Best White Wine – Plum Creek Winery 2012 Sauvignon Blanc; Best Fruit, Berry and Mead – St. Kathryn Cellars Blueberry Bliss; Best Dessert Wine – Graystone 2005 Port V.

In addition, three wines received gold medals (Graystone Winery 2005 Port V; Meadery of the Rockies Cherries ‘N Honey; St. Kathryn Cellars Blueberry Bliss) while 19 wines were awarded silver medals and 51 awarded bronze medals. That’s not many gold medals from 165 entries (you expect about 8-10 percent to wine golds), but since the results weren’t announced until after the blind tasting, no one associated with the tasting could answer why so few gold medals were given out.

In an effort to shine more light on the state’s grape-growing industry, this year’s Best of Fest required entries to contain at least 75 percent Colorado grapes, the minimum to be labeled “Colorado.” Wines also could carry one of the state’s two American Viticulture Appellation areas, which requires 85 percent of the grapes be grown within the particular AVA.

In previous years, any Colorado wine, regardless of where the grapes originated, was eligible for the competition, which marks the lead-up to the Colorado Mountain Winefest presented by the First National Bank of the Rockies. This year’s winefest, the 22nd annual, is set for Sept. 19-22.

Cassidee Schull, executive director for CAVE, said the goal is to highlight the quality of Colorado-grown fruit.

“Our winemakers have always been the stars of the industry, and deservedly so, and now we’re elevating our amazing grape-growing industry, too,” she said.

Doug Caskey, executive director of the Colorado Wine Industry Development Board, noted, “You can’t make great wine without great fruit, and western Colorado has long been known for the great fruit grown there.”

There will be special recognition during the Colorado Mountain Winefest of those wineries pouring and selling Colorado-designated wines, Schull said.

Right: Merlot grapes on East Orchard Mesa were changing colors this week (Aug. 10), a process known as veraison. These and other Colorado grapes used in winemaking are being recognized at the Colorado Mountain Winefest.

The decision to exclude non-Colorado-grown wines upset some winemakers who rely on out-of-state growers either for their main source or to augment shortages in state-grown grapes.

As the state’s winemaking industry grows, the demand increases for the state’s limited grape supply, which last year exceeded 1,650 tons on 680 acres, the second-most production since records begin in 1984.

A report from state viticulturist Horst Caspari said vineyard plantings have fallen sharply since 2000 as the best areas are planted out. Statewide, in 2012 nearly twice as many vineyard acres were removed as were planted but Mesa County reversed that trend, seeing 65 new acres compared to losing 29 acres.

Production stayed high as many of those removed acres weren’t fruitful.

Mesa County and Delta County have 96 percent of the total vineyard area and produce 93 percent of the state’s wine grapes.

Among those grapes winemakers are seeking is an increasing amount of cabernet franc, which for years was used to blend with other red grapes but recently is being vinified as its own varietal.

Colorado is producing excellent cabernet franc, something noted by wine author and educator Richard Leahy of Charlottesville, Va., who coordinated the Best of Test judging.

“I’m really excited about Colorado cab franc,” Leahy said during the blind tasting. Glancing at the line of tasters waiting to sample the award-winning reds, he laughed. “Apparently, many other people agree with me.”

Later, Leahy said, “I like that Colorado vintners are adventurous enough to make regional wines that are truly unique and that also attract a lot of customers.”



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