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Spring brings changes to Stone Cottage Cellars

By Dave Buchanan

An early summer afternoon view across the vineyards at Stone Cottage Cellars on Garvin Mesa near Paonia. The winery and vineyard sit at 6,200 feet, offering superb views of the North Fork Valley.


I wonder if there’s a time when winemakers get any sleep.

They worry about late frosts and early heat spells, frigid winters and dry summers, about having too many leaves and not enough grape clusters.

“Well, mid-January isn’t too bad,” laughed Karen Helleckson after being was asked that very question on a recent cool spring morning. “There’s a bit of break there, somewhere.”

Karen and her husband Brent own and operate Stone Cottage Cellars on Garvin Mesa near Paonia, and early April finds them and every winemaker in western Colorado waiting for bud break, the time when grape vines reawaken and winemakers find out which of their vinous children survived the winter.

Like many of the wineries in the North Fork Valley, the Hellecksons close their tasting room during the slow months of winter, but that just means the work goes on indoors.

There are new wines to rack (a non-disruptive method of clarifying wines by siphoning them gently into new barrels or tanks) and older wines to bottle, tasting room tables to build and, oh yes, that new house to finish before their May 1 opening date and the summer guest season arrives.

“Right now, we’re waiting on bottles and new labels,” said Brent, looking anxiously across his vineyards to the road where the UPS truck should be showing up any day.

Waiting for bud break is a time of cautious anticipation. The tender shoots can be susceptible to late spring frosts, and a cold front moving in this week may drop North Fork Valley temperatures into the mid-20s.

April also is the time when tourists start to show up at wineries, shaking off the winter doldrums and looking around to see what they might have missed during the dark months.

On that list of coming events and places to go, there is the Helleckson’s initial Colorado Wine and Dine Escape May 10-12.

The Mother’s Day weekend event includes National Wine Tourism Day (I bet you didn’t even know such a holiday existed) and features two nights lodging, special wine tours and seminars and a Stone Cottage Cellars dinner at the Living Farm Cafe in Paonia.

The $595 per couple price includes lodging, meals and a hand-picked case of Stone Cottage wines. Call 970-527-3444 or here.

Brent Helleckson says events such as this market more than simply his fine wines.

The event will bring people into the tasting room, which during a recent review was about a third filled with cases of wine after the Helleckson’s doubled their production last year.

“We’re almost entirely tasting room driven, 95 percent of our sales occur right here” in the tasting room, Brent said.

Many other wineries, he said, use a combination of tasting room sales along with retail stores, restaurant and wine clubs to market their wines.

“And we can’t do that,” said Karen. “We can’t be all over the state selling wines to liquor stores in addition to doing a good job here. There’s only the two of us.”

Brent said the May event highlights what makes Stone Cottage stand out from other wineries.

“One of the things that we have to offer that other wineries don’t necessarily have is the fact you can come to the winery, enjoy the view, see the vines, spend some time relaxing and taste our wine,” he said.

During a brief pause, a visitor gazed past the slowly awakening vineyards and across the valley, where the spring-green fields sloped up toward cloud-wreathed Mt. Lamborn, basking in a halo of morning light.

“It’s really more than simply coming up here and tasting wine,” Karen added. “It’s the beauty of where we are.”


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