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Grape harvest kicks off just in time for 2012 Colorado Mountain Winefest

By Dave Buchanan

Say it quickly and “wine harvest” and “Winefest” sound similar, but looking around the valley as the 2012 grape harvest gains steam, one notices more work, less fest when it comes to turning grapes into wine.

Hand-picking grapes in the early light leads to long, hot days where endless lugs of plump berries are dumped into that seemingly bottomless destemmer and raucous pumps force crushed grapes through pulsing, boa-sized hoses to the immense tanks where the must (the grapes, skins and seed) will sit while the juice picks up color, structure and flavors.

Occasionally a hose connection explodes, spewing a blast of juice and crushed grapes over everything and everyone in the way.

All you can do is sigh, wipe your face and grab a squeegee and broom. The show goes on.

The smells aren’t unpleasant, an industrial-strength fruit odor that weighs heavily, and soon there will be fruit flies everywhere.

I mean everywhere, including the one gnawing inside my ear. Excuse me, while I, umm, ah-h-h, much better. Does anyone ever bother to point out these times to those newly retired folks dreaming of the “romantic life” of a winemaker?

As you’ve read here and elsewhere, grapes this year are ripening early and winemakers from Palisade to Redlands, Paonia to Olathe and around Montezuma Creek are juggling manpower, time and equipment as picking crews make the rapid transition from peaches/apples/veggies to grapes.

Adding to the controlled chaos is Thursday’s kick-off to the 21st annual Colorado Mountain Winefest, which runs through Sunday.

Monday, Parker Carlson of Carlson Vineyards in Palisade was busy pumping the moist-damp must for his popular sweet red wine Sweet Baby Red (this year it’s merlot and orange muscat) from the poly maceration tanks into the large pneumatic press (pictured at right).

“Earlier we just de-stemmed and crushed the grapes and now we’ll press them and let the juice sit in the tanks for a couple of weeks,” said Carlson, keeping an eye on the garnet-colored stream of grapes pouring into the press. “Usually we let the wine ferment longer but we want to keep the sugar levels up for our Sweet Baby Red.”

Across the valley, Jenne Baldwin-Eaton at Plum Creek Cellars was pressing a light load of sauvignon blanc grown in the winery’s Redstone Vineyard in Delta County.

“There wasn’t much this year because the vines are still young and haven’t reaching full production,” Baldwin-Eaton said. “So far the harvest is looking really good and we should start picking merlot Thursday.”

(Errata — An earlier story forgot to say it was the Plum Creek Cellars Palisade Festival non-vintage white wine, a blend of Riesling with smaller amounts of chardonnay and sauvignon blanc, which won double gold at the 2012 Best of Fest Wine competition. That earlier report said the award went to the Plum Creek Palisade Red.)

Having harvest hit full stride this week means Carlson, Plum Creek and the rest of the wineries will be smacking it down with harvest just as the Winefest revelry begins.

The presses and crushers and assorted equipment will slow a bit Saturday, freeing teams from every winery to take care of business at the Festival in the Park, and you can bet more than a few winemakers and Winefest attendees will be feeling the effects of the various dinners being held around town Friday evening.

Tickets still are available ($43 general admission, $185 VIP) for the Festival in the Park, which starts at 10:30 a.m. Saturday. The day features chef demos, live music, seminars and the unique opportunity to chat one-on-one with winemakers from around Colorado.

For information, go here.

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