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Colorado Champagne? Only one, winemaker says

By Dave Buchanan

A recent article on two Colorado wineries headed this month to the U.S. Ambassador’s tasting in France brought a response from Rick Turley, owner and winemaker at Colorado Cellars, one of the oldest wineries in the state.

One of the wineries, Varaison Vineyards and Winery in Palisade, mentioned it made a Colorado Champagne and Turley was quick to take ownership of that label name.

He said Colorado Cellars is the only Colorado winery producing what can be officially labeled as a Colorado Champagne.

“We call it ‘Trinity Colorado Champagne,’” he said. “It’s produced in true methode champenoise and approved by the federal government.”

Truth in labeling is a major concern for winemakers the world over.

Much of the wine world agrees on the true origins of some wines, which is why you see capitalized the words Chianti, Burgundy, Chablis, Champagne and others that pinpoint the places those wines originated.

That’s also why non-French sparkling wines also are known as Prosecco (Italy), Cava (Spain) and Sekt (Germany).

A 2006 trade agreement between the U.S. Tax and Trade Bureau and the European Union restricted how terms such as “Champagne” may be used and included a grandfather clause for some older brands already using that term.

Under the “grandfather” provision, the use of a semi-generic name (such as Champagne) on a label of wine not originating in the European Union is allowed provided the name appeared on a Certificate of Label

Approval (COLA) prior to March 10, 2006. You can read the TTB statement at

Additionally, the Internal Revenue Code of 1986 says a semi-generic name may be used as long as the label also includes, “in direct conjunction with the designation,” wording as to the true place of the wine’s origin.

The idea, according to the Tax and Trade Bureau, is to protect consumers from “false or misleading labeling” as to the origin of the wine inside the bottle.

Carrying a label of origin makes sure the consumer knows if that bottle labeled “Champagne” originated in France, New Mexico (Gruet makes a Champagne) or Colorado.

Hence, a Colorado Champagne.

Not every EU country agrees with this generous ruling. In Jan. 2008, Belgian authorities destroyed 270 cases of California sparkling wine labeled “André Champagne.”

Turley said his label has been grandfathered in since 1990, the first vintage Colorado Cellars released.

“We do everything by hand,” said Turley, touching on the main reason more Colorado vintners don’t make a sparkling wine.

It’s time-consuming, expensive, and often calls for specialized equipment that is used, at most, only a few times a year.

“We’re really making it by hand because all the equipment we use in regular winemaking doesn’t duplicate for Champagne,” he said. “You know how Champagne corks are different from regular corks? We have a hand corking machine for the champagne.”

Somebody has to pay for all that extra work, and we all know who that is.

“It’s a high ticket item,” he agreed. “It’s about $30, it’s handmade and it sells out.”

Turley said his Colorado Trinity Champagne is available at Fisher’s Liquor Barn and College Liquors.

“We make a very small quantity, about 100 cases,” Turley said. “We let it ferment in the bottle and hand-turn it every day. It takes two years to produce.”

Colorado Cellars originated in 1978 as Colorado Mountain Vineyards and holds Colorado license No. 4, said Turley.

Turley adopted the Colorado Cellars label in 1986. He also has trademarked the name Rocky Mountain Vineyards.

Some of the vineyards near his winery were among those planted in 1968 by Gerald Ivancie, recognized as the first commercial winemaker in Colorado.

“But we were the first winery to make and sell a wine made from 100-percent Colorado grapes,” Turley said.

That first wine, Turley said, was a rosé labeled “West Wall Blend.” He said Colorado Cellars now makes 25 different wines.



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