WINE OPENERS: Loss for Plum Creek is gain for new college program

An unexpected loss for the Colorado wine industry turns out to be an equal win for the industry.

It all is part of a career move by Jenne Baldwin-Eaton, the talented and award-winning winemaker at Plum Creek Cellars in Palisade.

After 22 vintages at Plum Creek, Jenne is trading the day-to-day side of winemaking for the classroom. This fall, she becomes lead instructor for the new enology program at Western Colorado Community College. Which means that while we may not have Jenne’s wines to enjoy on a daily basis, future generations of winemakers will have access to her extensive winemaking experience and her knowledge of the state’s wine industry.

“When I first came to Plum Creek, (former winemaker) Erik Bruner really got me passionate about wine,” Jenne said during the recent Colorado Mountain Winefest. “After 22 years I want to do my part in pioneering this new aspect of the wine industry.

“I think I’ll be able to do that by teaching and getting people excited about wine in Colorado.”

Her excitement is shared by many who realize this program is key to developing future winemakers adept at working with Colorado’s challenging climate.

“I’m surprised that either Colorado Mesa University or WCCC didn’t develop this program earlier,” said Dan Kirby, program manager for the WCCC Culinary Arts program. “This is a great thing for the wine industry. Someday I’d like to see our students developing their own courses of study, combining the culinary arts and the new enology program.”

Kristine Murphy, director of instruction at WCCC, said a recent survey indicated more than 200 students expressing interest in the new program.

“It’s time” for an enology program,” she said. “With all the interest in the area around here, we think a program like this will really take off.”

Baldwin-Eaton started with Plum Creek in 1994 and became winemaker in 1998. Her award-winning wines include a gold medal from the 2016 Colorado Wine Governor’s Cup for her 2015 Dry Riesling.

DRY WHITE WINES GROW AT WINEFEST

There is an adage across the wine industry that says “people talk dry but drink sweet” when it comes to wine.

Sweet and semi-sweet white wines have long been the staple of the American wine industry (some of it is a cultural thing) but several winemakers at this year’s Winefest saw more customers seeking a dry white wine.

“We released a dry Sauvignon Blanc in mid-April and it sold out by mid-July,” said Jean Barbier, of Maison la Belle Vie Winery. “We will do double the number of cases this year. Less and less people are drinking sweet wine.”

Brent Helleckson of Stone Cottage Cellars in Paonia said it’s part of the maturing Colorado wine drinker.

“The industry has been here for 30 years and people (attending Winefest) have grown up with it,” said Helleckson, pouring a dry Gerwurztraminer and Pinot Gris. “They are moving up from sweet to dry.”

Nancy Janes at Whitewater Hill Winery said customers trying her dry Riesling get baffled by the fruit-rich nose.

“So much of what we taste is from our nose,” she said. “Your nose picks up the apricot and honey and jasmine and it gets confused. The wine smells like it ought to be sweet (it’s bone dry) and so your taste buds get confused.”

Baldwin-Eaton introduced a dry Riesling this year, saying she thought “the consumer is ready for it.”

“We have more consumers asking for dry whites but we still have people asking for sweet,” Baldwin-Eaton said. “I think the consumer is evolving but you’re also seeing more new wine drinkers and they are looking for the sweeter stuff.”

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