Wine Column: Sept. 09, 2009

When you’re a winemaker, Labor Day means just that: a day of labor.

As the nation was revelling in the last big holiday of the summer, the area’s winemakers weren’t finding much time to celebrate.

It’s harvest time, at least in the Grand Valley, where teams of pickers have fanned out, carefully eyeing leaf-covered rows of early ripening whites such as sauvignon blanc, chardonnay and pinot grigio along with some early reds.

“We’ve got some early white varietals that maybe we’ll pick tomorrow,” said Norm Christianson of Canyon Wind Cellars in Palisade during a conversation last week.

“We’re starting in right away with sauvignon blanc and some pinot grigio and then chardonnay right on top of that.”

It’s the time of year when time itself becomes a rare commodity, when Mother Nature turns the hands of the clock irrespective of the wishes of man.

“We’ll probably have some tempranillo ready Saturday,” said grape grower Neil Guard of Avant Vineyards last Friday. “Oh wait, that’s tomorrow. I forgot, today we’re picking chardonnay.

“There’s a lot going on right now.”

The chardonnay that Guard is picking is ripe but a fraction short of highest possible sugar levels because his wife, business partner and resident winemaker Diane Guard, has her eyes on making some sparkling wines, which require grapes with a slightly lower sugar level.

Diane can’t call her fizzy wine Champagne because that name is reserved for wines coming from that specific region of France.

“Maybe I’ll just put ‘Brut’ on the label and under that put ‘methode champenoise,’ ” she said Friday, churning the plastic barrel of crushed grapes with her arm. She said her arm works best for pushing the cap and mixing the grapes when she does her small-batch winemaking.

“But my arm gets pretty sticky,” she noted.

While the Guards were figuring out how to deal with no-show picking crews (they eventually called on neighbor and fellow grape grower Bruce Talbott), other grape growers were saying this year’s harvest may be a little on the light side.

An early freeze last Oct. 14 killed many young vines, which means they didn’t form grapes this year.

“I thought it all was looking pretty good but I must have had some frost damage I couldn’t really see until later,” said Doug Vogel of Reeder Mesa Winery near Whitewater. “We were right in the middle of picking, and that thing hit so hard it froze all the plants, and we still had more than half to pick.”

Vogel might be more susceptible to frost damage than elsewhere in the area because his winery south of town sits 1,000 feet higher than grape growers along the Colorado River nearer Palisade.

The fact he grows riesling, which calls for longer hang time and can survive cool temperatures, serves him well.

Grape growers were affected differently across the valley, said state enologist Steve Menke of Colorado State University.

“If you were in an area that normally doesn’t get cold early, your grapes weren’t ‘hardened off’ and you probably were affected” by the October frost, Menke said. “But if your grapes were in an area that normally got cold early, the grapes had started to harden and weren’t as affected.”

But the widespread frost “definitely hurt the current crop,” Menke said.

As an example of how grapes can vary within the same vintage, I mentioned in an earlier column that Doug and Chris Vogel’s 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon recently won Best of Show at the Colorado State Fair wine competition.

Doug Vogel purchased the cabernet grapes from Mesa Park Vineyards on East Orchard Mesa.

“One vineyard behind his barn always seemed to have better grapes, and that’s what I bottled in January or February,” he said.

The rest of the grapes, from what had been considered a lesser vineyard, were kept in oak barrels and wasn’t bottled until late July and early August.

That wine turned out so well, it surprised everyone and took the state fair ribbon.

“Something happened. This wine turned out so smooth and deep and the tannins just weren’t there like the other wine,” Vogel said. “Maybe keeping it in the barrel for an extra six months made the difference, or maybe it was the different vineyard, I don’t know.”

Vogel said demand for the wine has increased so much he raised the price to $28 and it’s still “going out the door.”

The wine is available only at his winery and at Il Bistro Italiano, 400 Main St.


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