Better than Fair results

A few of the 89 wines judged during the 2013 Mesa County Fair Commercial Winemaker’s Competition are lined up after the awards were given. Colorado winemakers continue to make progress, with fewer flaws and more variety.



Simply put, the best way to assess the state of Colorado wines is to taste as many as possible.

That can be tricky, since Colorado now has more than 100 wineries spread from the Four Corners region to Estes Park and points in between.

The easiest way is to have the wineries come to you, and that’s where I found myself a few weeks ago when I joined three other wine enthusiasts in judging the Mesa County Fair’s commercial winemaker’s competition.

The results of the day-long sipping and sniffing reinforced what we all suspected: Namely, Colorado wines continue to make progress.

The better wines were quite good, with interesting blends and a purity of varietal flavors.

At the same time, there still are winemakers who seemingly are making wines based on intuition rather than formal winemaking practices.

The other judges were Cindy Onken Glimm, wine educator at Metro State University in Denver; Dave Tewksbury, owner of Tewksbury & Co., a wine and cigar store in downtown Denver; and Mesa County Commissioner Steve Aquafresca, who also is a huge supporter of the Colorado wine industry. 

The best news is that the four of us agreed on several wines deserving of special recognition, including two Double Gold winners — Whitewater Hill Vineyard’s 2011 Ethereal red blend and Avant Vineyards’ 2011 Grand Valley Cabernet Sauvignon/Sangiovese blend.

The Ethereal also was awarded the “Best of Show Commissioner’s Cup” award for earning the highest point score during the day of judging.

In addition to the double gold winners, two other wines won gold medals. Those were the Plum Creek Cellars’ 2008 Grand Mesa and the Reeder Mesa Vineyards’ 2009 Land’s End Red.

In all there were 53 silver and 20 bronze medals awarded out of the 89 entries from 12 wineries.

That’s barely over 10 percent of the state’s wineries, a dismal participation rate that may reflect the industry’s overall feeling of insecurity or simply an unwillingness on the part of the wineries to commit time (putting together the entries) and money (paying the entry fee).

Or, perhaps the winemakers share the feeling expressed in an article by Robert T. Hodgson in the Spring 2009 issue of The Journal of Wine Economics.

Hodgson writes that because of a lack of “concordance” in how wines are evaluated and rated at various competitions, “wine competition medals have little, if any, value except for advertising purposes.”

But that alone might be enough reason to compete.

People love to see the bling, and if you walk into any winery in the state, chances you will see a display of bottles wearing more hardware than a general from a third-world army.

Medals sell wines, is what winemakers have told me, and that sounds like a good reason to enter competitions.

Plus, as Parker Carlson once told me, entering competitions let’s a winemaker see where he or she stands in the current state of winemaking.

The County Fair competition was open to wineries across the state, since most of them use grapes grown in Mesa County, but Grand Valley wineries dominated the competition.

“We’re really happy with the (winery) numbers but we’re still struggling to get Front Range wineries,” said Jo Carole Haxel, manager of the Mesa County Fairgrounds. “It’s a lot of work for them to send wines over here.”

We agree on that point. But the work pays off. Three Colorado wineries – Steve and Naomi Smith’s Grande River Vineyards, Glenn Foster’s Talon Winery and Ben Parson’s Infinite Monkey Theorem – have in recent months received some positive feedback from Wine Spectator Magazine.

All of the wineries saw their wines receive points in the mid- to high 80s on the WS 100-point scale, not earth-shaking but good enough to be a breakthrough in how the rest of the nation sees Colorado wines.

“I’m not disappointed (in the scores), it took a long time for them to even acknowledge us,” said Smith, who truly is one of the pioneers of the Colorado wine industry. “Getting the attention of the national market is something that we have to get to reach that next level.”

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