FD: Wine Column October 08, 2008

Grape harvest starts late, up 11.44%

Mirroring a season that started two weeks behind, the wine grape harvest in western Colorado finally is off and running.

“It’s going full-blown right now,” said Horst Caspari, state viticulturist at the Colorado State University research station on Orchard Mesa.

“Winemakers have been playing catch-up the last couple of weeks,” Caspari said late last week. “But most of the varieties are ready to go.”

Chardonnay and merlot should be finished by this weekend with some viognier and early sangiovese coming in next.

Cabernet sauvignon might be another week or so off, but the syrah is nearly ready, Caspari said.

A stop Saturday for some syrah grapes at Pat Brennan’s vineyard on Orchard Mesa found Brennan and his workers going full speed to keep up the mixed harvest of grapes and apples.

“We have some cabernet sauvignon, merlot and riesling still hanging along with a couple other varietals,” Brennan said, standing in a shed surrounded by boxes of Golden Delicious apples while bags of MacIntosh and Galas were stacked nearby. “We’ll pick them when (the winemaker) wants us to.”

At this stage in the grapes’ development, growers and winemakers now are watching sugar and acid levels.

As grapes ripen and sugars go up, acids tend to go down, and as the levels changes, it offers one opportunity for an individual winemaker to express his or her style.

Particularly in white wines, when you have more sugar, wines generally are fruitier, heavier. Higher acids result in lighter, crisper wines.

Rieslings in the Grand Valley, for example, seem to have bigger fruit flavors with higher sugar levels than rieslings grown in the North Fork Valley.

Winemakers may blend grapes from both areas to achieve the flavor and acid balance they want in the final wine.

The recent spell of cool weather set harvest back a bit but also provided grapes a longer hang time, allowing them to ripen slowly as flavors and acids develop.

Caspari noted the late harvest allowed winemakers an unexpected break: Usually harvest and crush, the busiest time of the year, is interrupted by Colorado Mountain Winefest. This year, winemakers were able to enjoy their time at Winefest without the added burden of a maddening crush back at the winery.

The state now has 72 wineries and counting, with at least two more in the planning and/or construction stage.

According to the Colorado Development Wine Board, the state’s wineries showed an 11.44 percent in overall growth based on wine produced in the 2008 fiscal year.

That growth eclipsed the 9 percent growth reported last year, prompting Wine Industry Board executive director Doug Caskey to remark, “The wine industry in Colorado is the highest velocity growth category in agriculture.”

It’s bound to grow more, particularly after Colorado’s wine country was featured in Sunday’s New York Times Travel section.

In an article titled “Biking Colorado’s Wine Country,” reporter Stefani Jackenthal focused on the Western Slope and wrote of a three-day trip pedaling around the Palisade wine region.

Here’s an excerpt: “The cool mountain air warmed as the sun peeked over the massive caramel Book Cliffs, which appeared chocolate brown in the morning shadow. The range seemed to follow us as we pedaled weather-worn gray roads past bushy cottonwood trees, pastel wildflowers and fruit farms.”

Somehow Jackenthal blended the Grand Valley AVA and the West Elks AVA into one wine-growing region but that’s a minor complaint. The exposure will be good for Colorado wines and the many businesses tied to wine production.


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