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Growing market for Colorado wine won’t dim lure of Grand Valley

By Dave Buchanan

Wine writer Fred Tasker recently noted that Americans drank more wine last year for the 19th year in a row, up 2 percent to 360 million 12-bottle cases, according to wine consultants Gomberg, Fredrikson & Associates.

And second, Americans love American wine: California makes 58 percent of all the wine we drink. That’s not surprising, considering California produces about 90 percent of all U.S. wine.

That’s 207.7 million cases worth an estimated $22 billion in retail sales. Colorado can’t quite match those numbers, producing 141,000 cases in fiscal year 2013 with reported sales of $28.2 million (up $9.1 million from 2012) and an economic impact of $144 million.

However, a study recently released by Colorado State University, from which the above Colorado wine statistics were taken, says Colorado wines are grabbing an increasing market share, up last year to 5.48 percent of total wine sales in Colorado.

And second, that Coloradans, on average, drink 3.1 gallons of wine per year, 24 percent more than the national average.

Why Colorado, whose 5.1-million population ranks 22nd, would consume more wine per capita than California, Texas, or any of the 19 other larger states, may be that we attract tourists not afraid to open their wallets for wine.

“The tourist business is so big and attracts so many people to Colorado and particularly to the big three resorts of Aspen, Vail and Telluride,” said Doug Caskey, executive director of the Colorado Wine Industry Development Board. “Just in those three areas there is an awful lot of wine consumed.”

That’s not to say other resort areas, such as Crested Butte, Summit County, Steamboat and Winter Park don’t pour their share of wines, but it’s really in the highest-money markets where most of the juice gets shared.

“Those three markets really change and elevate the rest of the Colorado wine market,” Caskey said.

That almost-5.5 percent of the market share is a 1.66 percent increase over 2012. Part of that growth, among many reasons, has to do with more wineries, particularly Western Slope wineries, finding shelf space in Front Range liquor stores and restaurants.

This helps build that market share on the populous Front Range, which is good, but also means some of those Denver-Boulder-Colorado Springs wine drinkers might not visit the Western Slope as often.

In past years, I’ve heard visitors here for the Colorado Mountain Winefest and the Grand Valley Winery Association’s annual barrel tasting say they make several trips each year to the Grand Valley and elsewhere to stock up on wines unavailable on the Front Range.

But this year several local wineries said their tasting room visits in 2013 were down compared to years past.

That indicates some wine buyers are finding their favorite Colorado wines closer to home, not needing those four or five trips here to fill their cellars.

However, that doesn’t mean the Grand Valley will lose its appeal for wine lovers.

Tickets for the 2014 Barrel Into Spring tasting, sponsored by the Grand Valley Winery Association, went on sale Jan. 1 and by Monday 75 tickets were snapped up.

Bob Witham, owner of Two Rivers Winery and Chateau and secretary of the winery association, said he expects both weekends (April 26–27 and May 17–18) to sell their allotments of 350 tickets each. (Tickets cost $70 per person. Information: 241-3155 or here).

This tells Cassidee Shull, executive director of the Colorado Association for Viticulture and Enology, that the Western Slope will continue to draw people eager to share the experience of visiting their favorite wineries.

“We offer them the destination weekends and the events in the vineyards that they can’t get anywhere else,” Shull said. “Maybe they don’t come here as many times each year as they did before Colorado wines were so available but that doesn’t mean they will stop coming. It’s these unique adventures and the excitement of things like tasting the wine where it’s made and meeting the winemaker that will bring these people back every year.”

 

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