Sun Biz: Wine Prospective February 22, 2009

Balance of quality, quantity in ’08 grapes pleases vintners

Parker Carlson in his wine tasting room at Carlson Vinyards

Grand Valley winemakers find themselves in the enviable position of testing the proposition
that you can never have too much of a good thing.

The 2008 grape harvest was unmatched in quantity and quality, vintners said.

All too often, a heavy crop of grapes can mean their quality is lacking. Conversely, a high-quality crop simply doesn’t go far enough because there are too few grapes.

“We’re actually really pleased,” said Bret Neal, owner and winemaker for Ptarmigan Vineyards, 221 31 3/10 Road. “It could potentially be a vintage year, 2008.”

Grapes fended off a double detriment of a cold spring and late frost to produce a full crop ready for the press.

Even if it’s only February, an experienced winemaker can detect the potential of a crop, and this one is no different, Neal said.

“You can start telling early on the quality of a vintage,” he said. “The character is already there in the wine, its intensity. We’re seeing really nice balance on everything.”

Parker Carlson at Carlson Vineyards in Palisade sensed a solid crop was on its way, and he bought an extra 2,000-gallon tank.

“And I still had to turn grapes away,” he said. “It’s one of those good problems to have.”

After 2007, which was “pretty miserable,” 2008 might have been expected to stand out only because of the difference from the previous year, Carlson said.

The quality of this year’s wine is clearly better than mere contrast with a poor year, he said.
2008 “is good to very good,” Carlson said. “Usually when you get this much volume, it’s diluted a bit. Typically, great wines come from years when you don’t have a lot of grapes.”

Some of the increased size of the crop can be attributed to increases in planted acreage, but growers also coaxed more out of the grapes last year, said Horst Caspari, the state viticulturist.

Yields tended to run about three tons of grapes an acre, significantly more than that two-ton yield of 2007, Caspari said.

White wines, such as riesling and gewurztraminer, tend to thrive in relative cool, and that was just the kind of year that the vineyards saw in 2008, Caspari said.

Neal’s investment in a new wine press couldn’t have come at a better time.

With his old press, he could squeeze about 150 gallons of grape juice per ton. His new one will pressure out 180 gallons of juice per ton of grapes, or about the equivalent of 800 bottles.

In one sense, Carlson said, the banner year of 2008 could be tied to the previous year’s disappointment.

“When you have a light crop, it takes a lot of stress off the vines,” Carlson said.

The following year, if conditions are right, the plants are more ready to bear a heavier crop, and that seems to be what happened in 2008, Neal said.

Best of all, “There was no overcrop scenario,” he said. ”There’s a real nice balance.”

That’s good news on the other end of the valley, at Two Rivers Winery on the Redlands.

Two Rivers garnered three gold medals at the World Wine Championships for its 2007 offerings, and the 2008 crop looks to be high quality as well, said Trisha Hunt, marketing coordinator.

The sudden cold snap of last fall forced Two Rivers to pull things together quickly, but the grapes were high quality, Hunt said.

“We’ve set a high standard,” she said. “We have to keep them coming.”

With a good vintage and plenty of it, Carlson said he expected he won’t run out of his top sellers early in the year, as has been all too frequently the case.

“It’ll be nice to have cash flow all year round,” he said.


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