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Notes from Saturday’s Festival in the Park at the Colorado Mountain Winefest

By Dave Buchanan

Notes from Saturday's Festival in the Park, which still was jumping as I write this (4:30 p.m.):

Judging from the long line of people waiting to get into the Festival when the gates opened at 10:30 a.m., this year's ticket sales should exceed last year's record of 7,200.

"We had sold 6,400 tickets by 7 p.m. Friday, so it's entirely possible we'll beat last year's numbers," said Colorado Mountain Winefest director Sarah Catlin.

Catlin, sitting in the golf cart that hoisted her around the confines of Riverside Park, appeared remarkably cool and collected in spite of the pressures, the crowd and the summerlike temperatures headed into the low 90s.

With her cell phone in one hand and radio in the other, she kept constant contact with her hard-working staff and the 300 or so Festival volunteers.

"I can't worry about it," she said. "If it didn't get done by now, it doesn't need doing."

One indication of how the recession is affecting the Winefest is sales of VIP tickets.

These $180 tickets give you a place to sit down, enjoy a delightful and constantly changing buffet prepared by the talented students in Mesa State College's Culinary Arts program, and sample some wines not being poured to the general admission ticket holders.

There's also some cool swag, close-in parking and other amenities that make the high-dollar ticket a pretty good deal.

But are the extras enough to convince people to open their increasingly squeezed wallets?

We'll find out next week when ticket numbers are released.

Catlin also announded the initial Front Range version of the Colorado Mountain Winefest will appear June 11 at the Shops at Northfield Stapleton, part of the former airport's development near Quebec St. and Interstate 70.

No one offered any guesses as how the latest wine festival might impact the local version, but as was pointed out by Doug Caskey, executive director of the Colorado Wine Industry Development Board, the Denver winefest is a one-day event.

"It won't be the destination event that (Colorado Mountain Winefest) has become and it might draw a different crowd," he said.

Caskey said he's heard from winemakers that their 2010 business has been "significanly off" compared to 2009.

"2009 was about even or maybe a little flat compared to 2008 but this it really dropped off," said Caskey, adding one winemaker described "flat as the new up."

Jenne Baldwin-Eaton, winemaker at Plum Creek Winery, said the walk-in business there was "slow" this summer but August and September have been much improved.

"A lot more six-bottle sales, a lot more case sales, right now it's looking pretty good," she said. "Let's hope it continues for a while."

With an extended Indian Summer, tourism in the Grand Velley doesn't really quit until late October, and a lot of winemakers are hoping the sultry weather continues.

One victim of the recession will be the DeBeque Canyon Winery tasting room on U.S.Highway 6 east of Palisade.

Owner Davy Price said she and husband Bennet, pioneers in the Colorado wine industry, are going to consolidate their operations at their large facility in Palisade near the Palisade Brewery and Peach Street Distillers.

"It's the recession," she said flatly. "Our walk-in numbers have been dropping the last two years and this Fourth of July our business was 75 percent of last year's."

The tasting room has been in it's location for 10 years but the property owner has the lot listed for sale and the Price's are ready for a different start.

"We're going to reconfigure our business plan," said Davy. "We're hanging in there but something has to change."

"But we did a lot of work getting that building ready and I'm going to miss that," she said.

It's hard to remember (or read all the notes) from the many wines tasted today but several stood out.

Tyrell Lawson's 2008 Malbec, his first offering under his personal Kahil Winery label, showed great dark fruit, controlled tannins and a bit of spice, a remarkable effort and one that shows promise.

Lawson, the winemaker for Two Rivers Winery, also produced Theresa High's Colterris 2008 Cabernet Sauvignon. That one is a little young and needs some time in the bottle but it, too, promises to be something special.

Yvon Gros of Leroux Creek Winery caught up with me to taste his 2009 Pinot Gris from grapes grown in Cedaredge and I'm glad he did.

Unfined and unfiltered, the delightful wine was a brilliant mouthfull of pinot gris, with plenty of fruit and enough acidity to overcome what Gros called the "fatness" in the wine.

Fans of this Alsatian style Pinot Gris kept Gros and his wine Joanna busy pouring until their limited supply ran out.

Unfortunately, there won't be repeat next year, Gros said. the vineyards in Cedaredge was smacked by last winter's frosts and the vines didn't produce this year.

More notes to come next time.





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