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Colorado Urban Winefest coming of age with ‘best showing’ of Colorado wines

By Dave Buchanan

DENVER – Colorado Urban Winefest continues to improve with age, not unlike the Colorado wine industry itself. Final attendance numbers showed around 1,500 wine enthusiasts turned out, including a robust walk-up traffic on a pleasant late-spring day, for Saturday’s third annual Colorado Urban Winefest presented by Westminster Total Beverage.

“I’m really happy with the turnout and it’s really a gorgeous day,” said Cassidee Schull, director of the Colorado Association for Viticulture and Enology, the event’s main sponsor.

This year’s fest was at Infinity Park in Glendale, a stadium and sports complex better known for its rugby teams, and while there wasn’t any tackling being seen, at least not until after the winefest, Saturday’s weather — mixed sun and clouds with a cool breeze — along with the extensive acres of grass fields, kept fest-goers and winery representatives comfortable all afternoon.

“Yeah, this is a great place,” agreed Mike Thompson of Boulder Creek Winery, one of the 36 wineries present. “I really like the layout here.”

The week’s top wine award went to winemaker Michelle Cleveland of Creekside Cellars in Evergreen (photo at right), winner of the Governor’s Cup Wine Competition with her 2010 Grand Valley Cabernet Franc. Deep dark fruit and a judicious touch of oak highlighted this wine, which was named top Bordeaux varietal, Best of Show, Best Red Wine and Double Gold medal winner.

“I’m really pleasantly surprised at winning,” said Cleveland, who grew the grapes on Creekside Cellars’ 10-acre vineyard in the Vinelands near Palisade. “I only wish I had more.”

Cleveland made only 44 cases (about 104 gallons) of the wine, which sold rapidly. “I have only one case left, and probably not that anymore,” she said, ruefully. “I didn’t think it would sell so fast.”

The label on the wine simply states “Franc,” with “Colorado’s Cabernet” across the bottom. It’s testimony to how much Cleveland and other winemakers enjoy working with what is becoming the state’s signature red wine.

Indicative of the grape’s growing popularity is that two other winemakers also won Double Gold medals for their 2010 cabernet franc – Jackie Thompson at Boulder Creek Winery and John Garlich at Bookcliff Vineyards – while last year’s Governor’s Cup top wine was a 2009 Cabernet Franc from Matt Cookson, winemaker at the Winery at Holy Cross Abbey in Cañon City.

“I’ve been making a cabernet franc since we opened (2002),” Cleveland said. “I really like oak, but only if it’s balanced with the fruit and this had huge fruit.”

Unlike its genetic descendant cabernet sauvignon, which often struggles getting ripe in Colorado’s short growing season, cabernet franc manages to reach maturity even in the shorter seasons.

“Remember, 2010 was a poor production year” following the deep freeze of December 2009, Cleveland said. “But we had a good crop. Kyle (Schlachter of the Colorado Wine Industry Development Board) and I share the same vision of promoting cabernet franc as Colorado’s grape.”

Another notable increase has been the number of winemakers crafting dry rosés. Jay and Jennifer Christianson won a gold medal and Best Rosé with their Canyon Wind Cellars 47-Ten 2012 Grand Valley Rosé, which is priced at $12.95 and shows a well-made wine also can be affordable.

Many people familiar with rosé automatically drift away from what they think will be something sweet but a recent trend among Colorado winemakers (Garfield Estates also offers a dry rosé) to produce a dry rosé with great fruit has revived interest in the wine.

Among the selections Mike Thompson (left) was pouring was the Boulder Creek 2011 Colorado Dry Rosé, and he said, "It takes a little education, and you have to get them to taste it, but once you do, it’s really popular.”

Around 225 wines were judged by the tasting panel of experts including restaurateurs, sommeliers, writers and chefs, most of who seemed quite pleased with their task.

“They showed tremendous excitement over all the Bordeaux red grapes produced in Colorado, including merlot,” said Doug Caskey, executive director of the CWIDB.

One of the judges, wine blogger Jeff Siegel (“The Wine Curmudgeon”), noted the competition “was easily the best showing from Colorado in the decade or so I have judged its wines.”

Youu can catch up with all of Wineopener's Colorado Wine Week news at

(This entry was updated to show attendance numbers and reflect the correct winners in several categories.)


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Winning the grand prize for your wine must be amazing, there is a lot of work for that wine to be produced so it’s no wonder the winery owners are so proud of their work when they receive it! If only there would be a similar contest for berry fruits, I intend t grow a berry garden, I’ve ordered the plants I need on and I’m really excited about the project!

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If you ever want to discover new wines, winefests are the way to do it. Looking for the perfect premium wine there will increase your chances of finding it, you’ll really start appreciating wine after giving it a try.

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