Cold snap leaves slim pickings for Colorado winemakers
The repeated freezes hitting the Grand Valley’s grape crop not only will affect local wineries, but also many winemakers around the state looking for Grand Valley grapes.
“We harvested 476 tons of grapes last year, and this year if I get 200 tons, I’ll be really pleased,” said fruit grower Bruce Talbott, whose operation on East Orchard Mesa is the state’s largest for growing wine grapes.
He will have fewer grapes to sell to wineries that each year look to him for their grapes, “so everyone up the food chain is out of luck,” he said.
Nancy Janes at Whitewater Hill Winery on Orchard Mesa faces similar challenges.
She began in the wine business as a grape grower and in most years continues to supply her own and other wineries with grapes. But this year will be different.
“It’s going to be pretty slim for us this year,” said Janes, who had an entire, 14-acre vineyard killed in last December’s freeze. “I planned in December when I realized this happened, and anything I had long, like extra gewurtztraminer, I just bottled all of it.
“But the big thing is what’s going to happen to the folks who buy my grapes. They are going to be hurt.”
Smaller winemakers, including Parker Carlson of Carlson Vineyards and Bob Witham of Two Rivers Winery and Chateau, depend on buying some of their grapes from other growers.
“They’ll have to make a decision,” Talbott said. “Some will pull in their horns and work with the inventory they have. For others, there is the ability to go outside the state for grapes, to California and Washington.”
The impact won’t be seen for several years, because most wineries already have wines for this year in the tank or bottle.
But many Colorado wineries pride themselves on making and selling wines labeled “Colorado,” something they can’t do using a high percentage of imported grapes.
Carlson, whose website proudly proclaims, “Always 100 percent Colorado grown,” said putting out a non-Colorado wine isn’t preferred but isn’t a killer, either.
“I don’t think it will hurt us that much,” he said. “People know we strive every year to make Colorado wines, and they also know there was some bad weather. We’ll explain to them what happened, but if people like what you make, they’ll come back.
“I’m not overly concerned, but I’d rather not do it.”
Witham said he gets 18 to 20 percent of his grapes from Talbott but expects to find the grapes he’ll need from other growers. He also might buy bulk wine from other winemakers, he said.
“We have a couple of options, but first we have to see what Bruce has and where we are in the pecking order,” Witham said. “And we have had some success around the valley finding other wineries with excess wine.”
Witham said his latest inventory reports indicate he will need only 60 percent of what he anticipated.
“One reason is the economy, and the other is we’re not going to expand into Texas on the scale I originally considered,” Witham said. “So, overall, Two Rivers is going to be on pretty solid ground.”
Witham also said his vineyards in Palisade fared better, and he expects to get good crops from them.
“And other growers fared a lot better than Bruce did. He’s just one of our sources,” Witham said of Talbott.
Neil Guard of Avant Vines on East Orchard Mesa said some of the wineries he supplies, including Balistreri Wines in Denver, were calling him repeatedly during the cold spell, worried about their grape supply.
“I think Julie (Balistreri) called me hourly to see how the cabernet franc was,” he said with a laugh. “So far, I think it’s survived the best.”
State enologist Horst Caspari said most growers and winemakers learn to accept the unpredictable ways of Mother Nature.
“They will have to look for alternatives” to Grand Valley grapes, he said. “Not having Colorado fruit doesn’t mean you can’t have wine. For one year, they’ll have to bring in grapes from another area.”
That option, however, isn’t one some local wineries will accept.
Jenne Baldwin-Eaton of Plum Creek Cellars said there’s no question about making only Colorado-grown wines.
“Our philosophy is 100 percent Colorado, so we’ll just produce that wine,” she said. “We’ve stuck with that philosophy for 26 years, and we’ll continue to stick with it. We won’t go out of state.”