Leroux Creek harvest party brightens fall day
Saturday was spent at Leroux Creek Vineyards clipping ripe Chambourcin grapes and trying not to cut myself with the clippers I recently sharpened. It's harvest time for winemaker Yvon Gros and each fall he summons friends and family (this year his brother Joel, shown in the photo below admiring some of the grapes, came over from the Eagle River Valley) to pick and crush his 5 acres or so of Chambourcin, a red-grape hybrid that does well in Colorado's cool climate.
Yvon and his wife Joanna own and operate the Leroux Creek Inn and Spa, a classic French-style B&B reflecting Yvon's roots in Provence and Joanna's warm hospitality. Leroux Creek Vineyards typically produces two hybrid-grape wines, Chambourcin (red) and Cayuga (white) in addition to Chardonnay and Merlot. Yvon grows the Chambourcin and Cayuga and gets his other grapes from local growers.
Hybrids aren't as delicate as the vinifera grapes (you know, the familiar European varietals such as Merlot, Cab Sauvignon, Chardonnay, etc.) and among other advantages manage to hold up to the early fall frosts and late spring frosts that kill the other grapes. This year that was important, as Yvon was able to make wine after many local wineries (he's in the West Elks AVA along the North Fork of the Gunnison River) were struck by a spring frost that destroyed their grapes.
Maybe some of it was luck, though. Dick Nunamaker, a grape grower a few miles away in Cedaredge, lost all of his Pinot Gris and Merlot this spring when an April frost dropped temperatures in his vineyard to 28 degrees for several hours. Noonamaker said the frost came at the worst possible time for his grapes.
"If it had come a week earlier or a week later, the grapes wouldn't have been so affected," said Noonamaker. "Or if it had lasted only one hour instead of four, I might have saved some grapes."
Yvon, however, said the temperature never got cold enough at his vineyard to harm his grapes.
The loss of the Pinot Gris means Yvon won't be able to repeat the delightful 2009 Pinot Gris he made from Noonamaker's grapes. Unfiltered, with a bit of a light fizz on the back of the palate, this fruity and floral Pinot Gris was totally Alsatian in style, "like a Vouvray," Yvon remarked as he served it to his hard-working crew of pickers.
But not filtering a wine has its dangers, including leaving some live yeast in the wine that may start a second fermentation at the most unexpected moments. Like, when your storing the wine in your basement.
More than one home winemaker who hasn't completely fermented his wine or didn't cold-shock it enough to kill the yeast has woken in the night to sound of exploding corks deep in his cellar.
And although Yvon said he had fermented the Pinot Gris far enough there wouldn't be any problem, I noticed he was very careful when opening the bottles.
"I really like that style of wine but you have to be careful you don't blow out a cork," he said. He took sip of the straw-gold wine. "This is really good, very nice."
He didn't make much of the Pinot Gris, about 15 cases he said, and he nearly sold out his supply when the wine proved to be a crowd favorite at Colorado Mountain Winefest in September.
"I was surprised it sold so well, I almost haven't anything left," he said, although he managed to find a few bottles to serve his hot and hungry grape pickers for a mid-day pick-up.
He had picked his Cayuga a week before and 37 of us part-time pickers had his Chambourcin picked and in the destemmer by sundown.
Most of the pickers left after the splendid afternoon meal, which included pit-roasted lamb, a selection of salads including garden-fresh tomatoes, sauteed carrots and young squash, and plenty of crisp, hot-from-the-oven French bread.
Plus lots of wine, which might be why so many pickers went home for a nap after a morning of working in the hot Colorado sun.
I just stuck a couple more bandages on my wounds and plugged on. I figured the Chambourcin was enough to replace whatever little blood I lost.