New shared premise law aids start-up winemakers

Among the busy tents during this year’s Colorado Mountain Winefest (and at times it seemed every tent was busy) was the tent shared by Theresa High’s Colterris Wines and Tyrel Lawson’s Kahil Winery.

Lawson shared more than the tent. He not only makes his wine, he also is winemaker for Colterris as well as Bob Witham’s Two Rivers Winery and Chateau.

Two Rivers Winery keeps Lawson busy producing six varietals (Chardonnay, Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Riesling, Syrah and Port for a total of 14,000 cases), but he still finds time to make Colterris (a big-bodied Cabernet Sauvignon) and his own Kahil Winery 2009 Malbec.

“That’s all I’m making right now,” said Lawson, 24, while pouring samples of his wine. “Next year, I hope to have a white wine, maybe a Pinot Gris.”

Thanks to a recent change in the state’s wine regulations, Lawson and Witham are forging new paths in the Colorado wine industry.

Witham, who was the first Colorado winemaker to combine a first-class winery with a luxury lodging and conference center, recently entered into a shared premises agreement with Lawson.

The two wineries, taking advantage of a state law passed in 2008, are sharing crush pads, processing tanks, bottling lines and barrel storage and casking areas, Witham said.

Prior to the law, only a single winery could use its premises, which meant a great deal of initial cost for a new winery plus watching much of that equipment sit idle for months.

“We worked pretty hard to make that law happen,” Witham said. “The concept isn’t new, it’s used in California, Washington and Oregon and the federal regulations work around those possibilities.

“But this gives our winemaker an opportunity to make wine under his own label in a cost-effective way while growing his brand.”

For Lawson, it’s the chance of a lifetime.

“It’s a huge opportunity,” said the Fruita Monument High School grad. “It allows me to have my own license and to be considered a winery and establish my own label.”

Lawson is a fly angler and said the name Kahil is a derivative of cahill, a dry fly pattern.

Lawson is a small producer (411 cases this year) but at least he’s producing, something many would-be winemakers can’t afford due to start-up costs.

“There’s normally tens of thousands of dollars or more in that initial investment and this (shared premises agreement) allows me to get into the wine industry,” Lawson said.

It’s a step other wineries are watching closely, said Doug Caskey, executive director of the Colorado Wine Industry Development Board.

“There’s no question this is going to be good for the state’s wine industry,” Caskey said. The agreement “will have a lasting and positive impact on winemakers throughout Colorado, making it easier for new wineries to enter the business and for existing wineries to expand more rapidly.”

The one drawback to the agreement is Lawson can’t share Witham’s tasting room, Lawson said. That makes it difficult to get his wines in front of the public, so with whatever spare time he can find he’s busy visiting stores and restaurants around the valley.

“The sales portion is tricky,” he admitted. “So far, I’m in Crossroads (Wine and Spirits) and Fisher’s (Liquor Barn) and two restaurants, Dolce Vita and The Winery.”

Witham’s astute business sense told him sharing his winery with Lawson not only makes sense for the industry as a whole but also for his own winery.

“This agreement not only gives someone else a shot without the huge capital investment, it helps us retain a talented winemaker,” Witham said. “We offered this as an employee benefit and I can see it working out for both of us.”

Among the guests at Winefest was the wife-husband team of Linda LaRocca and Steve Voynick of Twin Lakes.

The two have made Colorado Mountain Winefest a regular part of their late-summer ritual since 1992, missing only one year when Voynick was ill.

“This is so great and the weather is fantastic,” said LaRocca, while Voynick added the temperature has dropped to 24 degrees “a couple of times” at Twin Lakes, a few miles south of Leadville.

The two take careful notes of every wine they taste, and at the end of the day compare and contrast and buy a few of their favorites to take home.

The consensus favorite this year? Colterris, the 2009 Cabernet Sauvignon from Theresa High.

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