Winefest may get some competition

Wine lovers and enthusiasts at the Colorado Mountain Winefest surge toward the booth for Denver-based Balestreri Vineyards. Julie Balestreri’s hand-crafted, unfilterd wines are a perennial hit at the Winefest.

Just past its 18th anniversary, Colorado Mountain Winefest is facing some decisions.

As with most teenagers, decisions made today will affect life for years to come.

While the good news is the four-day event remains the state’s largest and most popular Colorado-wine festival, that’s part of the bad news, too.

That success Winefest has enjoyed — it has added a fourth day and this year sold a record 7,200-plus tickets, increasing gross revenue by 6.5 percent — has cities on the Front Range green-eyed and desirous of hosting a similar event east of the Continental Divide.

“There’s been talk for several years about having something similar to Winefest on the Front Range, but nothing concrete has ever come of that,” said Doug Caskey, executive director for the Colorado Wine Industry Development Board and a member of the Colorado Mountain Winefest board of directors.

Those Front Range voices are a little louder now, given the increased cost of bringing an entourage to western Colorado while maintaining a normal presence back home.

And the prospect of selling out a year’s worth of wine, which most wineries do at the Palisade event, without leaving home makes an event even more desirable to wineries there.

Anything that develops on the Front Range should include input and direction from the local festival.

“If anything develops, hopefully it will be in conjunction with CAVE,” agreed Caskey, referring to the Colorado Association of Vintners and Enologists, a trade organization of grape growers and winemakers that uses the Winefest for its major fundraiser.

CAVE is a statewide organization but, as Caskey noted, most of the wine industry energy radiates from the Western Slope.

“I certainly would want us to be part of something on the Front Range,” affirmed Winefest director Sarah Catlin. “Maybe something like a Mile High Colorado Winefest or something. I’d take it to a nice location and make it so nice people would want to come because it’s really special.”

That’ssomething develops over there.

As for the Colorado Mountain Winefest, it’s quite at home in Palisade, emphasized Catlin.

“I met with the town of Palisade and informed them we would not be moving Winefest out of Palisade,” she said. “It’s the hub of our wine country and the venue is perfect for Winefest.”

However, with roughly 7,000 visitors celebrating this year’s Festival in the Park, you have to wonder how many more people can fit before Riverbend Park gets a little too crowded.

The Grand Valley hasn’t many other places to go. Canyon View Park is bigger, but the lack of trees and competition with soccer, baseball and other events makes that a difficult venue.

Besides, it’s not Palisade.

And simply raising ticket prices to the point crowds would diminish runs counter to the philosophy behind Winefest being a community event.

You can relax on one count. Catlin and her staff have no intention of making this a junior Aspen Food and Wine Classic, with its chi-chi hauteur and $1,000 tickets.

But a little mix of mini-Aspen wouldn’t be a bad thing. Kick it up but keep it affordable and focus on Colorado wines.

“We don’t want an Aspen Food and Wine, which is largely food oriented,” Catlin said. “We want people to come and taste the wine and buy the wine, but we also want people to have other things to do.”

She dreams of adding a gourmet food component, an idea supported by several others close to Winefest.

Bring in a headliner chef, a few food-and-wine pairing seminars, and build on the success of simple things, such as the sold-out box lunches provided by the culinary students at Mesa State College.

“This was the first year we tried box lunches and we sold 725,” Catlin said. “They were a huge success and we really didn’t advertise it. People bought them.”

There are other ideas fermenting, and those, like all good wines, will be evaluated after further development.

The goal, said Catlin, is that as Winefest grows into its next stage, it lifts the Colorado wine industry and the host town of Palisade along with it.

“Making Winefest better with make it better for the community,” Catlin said. “And it also will help the town of Palisade go to the next level.”


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