FD: Legislature to honor local pioneering winemaker

Nearly seven months to the day after he died, pioneering winemaker Doug Phillips continues to make his mark on Colorado’s wine industry.

Phillips, founder and co-owner (with his wife Sue) of Plum Creek Cellars in Palisade, will be honored this week with a joint resolution in the state legislature.

He passed away July 15.

According to Doug Caskey, executive director of the Colorado Wine Industry Development Board, the resolution was initiated by Ron Smith, an original member of the Colorado Wine Board and a longtime friend of Phillips’, and by Secretary of State Bernie Buescher, who will speak on the floor of both chambers Thursday in a special ceremony.

The proclamation honors Phillips not only for his resolute determination to elevate Colorado’s fledgling wine industry to a national level but his groundbreaking work in another field: workers’ compensation law.

The resolution cites Phillips’ courtroom mastery (many a young attorney quickly learned that Phillips was a formidable courtroom adversary) and said he was a “forceful advocate” for workers seeking just recompense, “avoiding animosity and acrimony” while remaining a “gentleman” in the courtroom.

Anyone who was getting to know Phillips soon realized he carried the same demeanor and drive to his wine making, whether it was emphasizing the quality of Colorado fruit or boosting the entire industry to heights not yet scaled.

Always ready with a good story, but never without a critical-but-kind eye on the progress being made around him, Phillips’ had the ability to needle you gently, urging you to do better than you thought possible until you surprised yourself with the end result.

When Phillips and then-winemaker Erik Bruner started Plum Creek Cellars in 1984, there were fewer than five Colorado wineries. A quick count recently turned up about 72 licensed wineries.

Phillips was credited with the writing and eventual passing of the Colorado Wine Industry Development Act in 1990, which opened the door for Colorado’s wine industry to expand.

“It’s amazing and it’s very, very thoughtful,” said Sue when contacted Monday. She will be at the Capitol for the reading of the resolution.

“During his final days, Doug said that passing the wine act meant a great deal to him and it was his thought it would elevate the entire wine industry,” Sue said.

Plum Creek Cellars celebrates its 25th anniversary this year and will start off with a “huge bottling” to replenish the winery’s store rooms, Sue said.

Caskey, who worked and celebrated with Phillips as the state’s wine industry grew through the years, wrote, “Doug was a pioneer and visionary for our industry. He persisted to make quality wine from exclusively Colorado grapes for more than 20 years while other scoffed that quality wines would never come from Colorado.

“We are all making and drinking better wine today because of Doug Phillips.”

Legislative sponsors are Sens. Josh Penry, R-Grand Junction, Laura Veiga, D-Denver, and Rep. Laura Bradford, R-Collbran. The text of the resolution is available at
http://www.leg.state.co.us. Click on Current Regular Session Information, going to SJR09-008.

Western Slope restaurants were shut out during the recent 2008 Restaurant Recognition Awards sponsored by the Colorado Wine Industry Development Board.

The awards were given in two categories: Best Colorado Wine List and Best Use of Colorado Food and Wine.

This year’s winners, announced Feb. 2 in Denver, included The Warehouse Restaurant and Gallery in Colorado Springs (best wine list) and Vesta Dipping and Grill in Denver (best use of Colorado wine and Food).

Vines Wine Bar in Parker nabbed an honorable mention for best Colorado wine list.

The lack of local restaurants on the list was highlighted when a recent night out in Grand Junction turned up few Colorado wines and only a handful of mixologists or servers readily familiar with Colorado wine.

There may be several reasons, but it seems mostly a simple lack of education about how the quality and variety of Colorado wines. Educating wait staffs about Colorado wines will enable them to educate their guests, which builds demand and sales.

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