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Why no Colorado wines? Don’t blame spoilage

By Dave Buchanan

Excuse No. 71: "I used to live in Carmel and I got spoiled drinking California wines."

Excuse No. 35: "I had a Colorado wine four or five years ago and wasn't impressed."

Excuse No. 64: "They don't taste like wines from California."

Excuse No. 11: "They're too hard to sell: Our customers don't know anything about them."

Or why I don't carry Colorado wines in my restaurant/liquor store.

I heard these excuses within the last two weeks during some travels around western Colorado. Being the nosy sort, I make it a point to look at wine displays and check out wine menus wherever I go, and I'm certainly not opposed to asking restaurant staff and liquor store clerks about their sales and stocking of Colorado wines.

It rarely surprises me to find a lack of Colorado wines, given how small most of the state's wineries are, how difficult distribution can be and how stores and restaurants depend on a reliable supply of wines to sell their customers. But in some cases, having no or only a tiny collection of Colorado wines makes no sense.

When a friend and I recently enjoyed dinner in Palisade, we found the meal delightful but were disappointed to find the wine menu listed only six Colorado wines among the 24 offered. We were told by the server that most customers didn't understand Colorado wine and rarely ordered them.

With only six local wines (four whites and two reds) on the menu and little encouragement from the staff, we can understand why few people order a locally made wine. And this from a restaurant in the heart of Colorado wine country. Of the two Colorado reds on the menu, we selected a Plum Creek Cellars 2008 Palisade Red ($24), a delicious blend of merlot, cabernet franc, cabernet sauvignon and sangiovese.

During another dinner, this at the Twisted Fork bistro in Gunnison where the wine list was right out of a distributor's sales book, restaurant owner Jay Harris said he tried a Colorado wine "four or five years ago" and wasn't impressed. "They didn't taste like a California wine," he said.

But to his credit, Harris did say he would be open to carrying a Colorado wine, if he could get a salesman to visit and he found a wine he liked. "But my distributor doesn't carry those wines," he said, hoping to find a winery or two that made house calls.

And finally, during a stop at Acme Liquors in Crested Butte, I spotted a small display of Colorado wines but the clerk at the checkout said he knew nothing about them.

"We just started carrying those and I haven't tried any," he said, hardly a way to increase his sales. His excuse was No. 71 (see above).

So Colorado wines don't taste like California wines. Nor should they, given the differences in soil, climate, growing seasons and that elusive quality known as terroir. They also don't taste like New Zealand wines or French wines or even New York or Virginia or Argentina wines. That's what makes them so special.

And you'll find something special about all those other wines, too, which is why they are popular and why they sell in stores and restaurants.But if a popular restaurant in Boulder can devote half its wine list to Colorado wines, it seems restaurants on the Western Slope might want to give the local wineries a try as well.

Unless, of course, you're "spoiled," for which I would suggest a little vacuum packing and storage in a cool, dry place.

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