Winery tour offers interesting to the not-so

I spent May 16 and 17 chugging around the valley for the second weekend of the annual “Barrel Into Spring” tasting sponsored by the Grand Valley Winery Association.

The eight member wineries set aside two weekends every spring (the first one this year was in April) to open their wineries and offer a variety of barrel and bottle samples.

This year’s samples ranged from the interesting and tasty to the less-than-interesting and downright boring, which isn’t a put-down but merely emphasizes the fact the Grand Valley is a microcosm of the wine-making world.

And like the rest of the world, this tiny corner has room aplenty for talented winemakers as well as those winemakers still learning their craft.

I didn’t get around to all eight wineries, partly because even two days is barely enough time to talk trade with all the talented winemakers in the area, which is one of the chief benefits of the format.

Officially limited to 375 people, weather affected attendance for the first event in April and only 300 participants showed up. So the association decided to add a few more guests to the second, according to Bob Witham, owner of Two Rivers Winery.

“We picked up another 25 in the second (tasting) to make up for the shortfall,” Witham said.

The two early-season barrel tastings are popular events and while there is some talk about bumping participant numbers up a bit to keep up with demand, there’s also the desire to retain the up-close-and-personal feeling that event still has.

“We don’t want to grow too much,” Witham said with his voice of experience. “If it becomes too big, it could become too much like (Colorado Mountain) Winefest, when you’re too busy pouring wine to talk to customers.”

The larger crowds are OK at the bigger facilities (such as Plum Creek Winery and the plush environs of Two Rivers Winery) but painful at smaller wineries such as Carlson Vineyards, which relies as much on its delicious wines as it does on its friendly and informal atmosphere.

Am I jaded because I live here and consider “laid back” as much a verb as an adjective?

Among my impressions are the promising early efforts of Two Rivers’ latest winemaker Tyrel Lawson, a Fruita Monument High School grad who initially aimed for medical school but now finds himself mixing blends for Bob and Billie Witham.

Lawson learned his skills at the hands of Two Rivers’ former winemaker Rob Hammelman, who left in June of 2008.

Lawson said he’s still a semester short on his biochemistry degree, as the workload at the winery and the workload at school combine for more than 24 hours in a day.

Witham also mentioned wine sales were up 30 percent this year over last but only 17 percent better than two years ago, when the economy was strong.

“I can’t figure that one out,” he said. “But I’m happy people still are drinking wine.”

My companion and I also enjoyed Carlson’s T-Red, a medium-bodied red wine made from 100-percent Lemberger. Also known as Blaufränkisch in Austria and Franconia in Friuli, Lemberger is a late-ripening grape that makes a fruity, deep-colored wine that paired perfectly with the grilled lamb being prepared by Ron Hall of Il Bistro Italiano.

Lemberger remains a tough sale, particularly because it sounds so much like
Limburger, the aromatic cheese.

As Parker Carlson has noted many times, the wine is a victim of poor marketing, not a shortage of quality.

Wine classes tonight

Mike Chariton of Planet Wines (420 Main St.) continues his schedule of entertaining and educational wine classes with tonight’s examination of California wines.

Chariton shares the teaching with Tynan Szvetecz, an executive wine sommelier and senior wine instructor with the International Wine Guild and author of the wine-oriente site

Tonight’s class costs $50 per person and along with discussion and samples of selected California wines, Chariton and Szvetecz will look at California’s climate, some of its more-famous winemaking regions and its best-known grape varietals.
Information: 424-5432.


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