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Paonia wine festival a relief, a delight

By Dave Buchanan
I wrote in today’s newspaper column about the Mountain Vineyard Wine Festival held Saturday at Orchard Valley Farms and Black Bridge Winery in Paonia. I’ll repeat myself a bit here but it’s unavoidable, given the readers of this blog might not read the paper. My column appears here on the The Daily Sentinel Web site. After spending three days at the chi-chi Food & Wine Magazine Classic in Aspen, heading to Paonia for an afternoon of cool jazz, good food and some pretty nice Colorado wines was a wonderful relief.kathy with 05 2.jpg *Kathy Bradley of Black Bridge Winery pours a 2005 Pinot Noir. The unique label was designed by her husband, Lee. Don’t get me wrong. The Food & Wine Classic is loads of fun, very educational and you meet some really famous food-and-wine people along with some not-so-famous-but-deserving type of folks. I’ve almost never had a bad time at the Classic, although it’s getting more and more difficult to snag invitations to the hottest parties simply due to the demand for those tickets and the relative size of the facilities. You can’t make a party better by cramming 250 people into a space designed for 175, I know, I’ve seen it happen. The Paonia wine festival, on the other hand, attracted only about 200 people who paid $50 apiece for a lovely afternoon sampling local wines and local food. If you’re unfamiliar with western Colorado, Paonia is a farming/ranching town about 90 miles southwest of Grand Junction and near the head of the fertile North Fork Valley, one of epicenters of the state’s organic, locavore movement. The wine festival featured 11 Delta County wineries, most of which are in the West Elk American Viticultural Area (information here and here). One thing I found is the Delta County winemakers aren’t lacking in ability. They just need to get out the word about their wines. The offerings Saturday ranged from a youthful but approachable syrah/cabernet sauvignon blend from Bill Musgnung (Bethlehem Cellars) to the elegant pinot noirs of Lee and Kathy Bradley (Black Bridge Winery), Steve Rhodes and Alfred Eames. Rosés, always welcome on a hot summer day, also were popular. John Mathewson of Terror Creek Winery, one of the highest commercial vineyards in the world (6,400 feet), was pouring their newest wine, Chalet, a rosé blend of pinot noir and gamay while Anna Hanson of the organic Jack Rabbit Hill winery was presenting her 2007 Wild Rose rosé, a delightful Bandol-type rosé made of 100 percent Foch grapes. I've thought for several years that pinot noir might be the signature red grape of the North Fork Valley, although both Rhodes and Eames Petersen remarked about the difficulty of consistently getting a good crop from that finicky grape. There were wonderful vintages in 2005 and 2006 but the entire 2007 crop was lost due to a 2006 late fall and early 2007 spring frosts. It's just like farming, and the romance of being a winemaker disappears quickly when you have no wine. I’ll write more about the Mountain Vineyard Wine Festival in my next post.

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