CSU’s Palisade venture to groom students in wine industry careers
A 2-year-old state law may open the door to the state’s newest winery along with new opportunities for Colorado-born winemakers.
A proposed agreement between Colorado State University and Grande River Winery will establish a CSU winery at Grande River, taking advantage of a 2008 Colorado law that allows multiple wineries to share winemaking facilities.
“I see this as a win-win situation for CSU and Grande River,” said state enologist Steve Menke, an associate professor of enology at CSU, who works mostly out of the Orchard Mesa Research Center.
“We have trouble (at CSU) finding a location where our internships can work because the wineries and vineyards around here are too small to take them in full time,” Menke said. “This will give me a place to take new interns for experience in a commercial setting and also provide a place to do research.”
The agreement still needs approval by the CSU Board of Regents, Menke said.
Menke and Grande River Winery owners Steve and Naomi Smith have been fermenting plans about the proposed winery for more than a year, Menke said.
The proposed winery has the working name of Ram’s Point Winery, after the CSU mascot.
“It seems like a natural thing to have Steve make wine within our facility,” Naomi Smith said.
It also will fit well with plans to increase agritourism in the valley, she said.
“I’m really hopeful we can develop a lot of synergistic opportunities in the Palisade area and statewide,” Naomi Smith said.
The Smiths, who recently downsized their winemaking operations, will continue to make wine at their Grande River facility.
The shared-premise law, House Bill 1359, allows Colorado wineries to operate an alternating proprietorship in which two or more wineries share crush pads, processing tanks, bottling lines, storage areas and employees.
Previously, state law allowed only a single winery to use a premise.
It’s an affordable way for a broke but talented winemaker to get a start in the business.
Bob Witham at Two Rivers Winery in Grand Junction was the first to use the shared-premise law by letting his winemaker, Tyrell Lawson, make his own wines as well as those of Scott and Theresa High.
The proposed Ram’s Point Winery will be run through a foundation because by law CSU is not allowed to compete as a commercial enterprise, Menke said.
“We’ll operate as some sort of 501 nonprofit to allow money to be taken in,” Menke said.
“We try not to compete but rather work as a research and educational winery.”
Any money that comes into the foundation will be used to fund the research, Menke said.
“When I came here to start the program, I said that within several years I wanted to have a commercial winery where I can do research and education as well,” Menke said.
“So, this is a nice step in that direction.”
Menke said he hopes the new facilities, along with the current CSU facilities on Orchard Mesa and Rogers Mesa, which is near Hotchkiss, will enable CSU to offer a degree in horticulture with a concentration in enology and viticulture.