Wine barrel-tasting event draws newcomers in state, but only a few

Lance Lewis, left, with Canyon Wind Cellars, 3907 North River Road, in Palisade pulls a taste of Malbec for Khristine VanHorn on Sunday afternoon in the wine cellar during the statewide “A Taste of Spring” barrel-tasting event. Thirty wineries participated, said Cassidee Shull, executive director of the Colorado Association for Viticulture and Enology. A second spring tasting is scheduled May 7 and 8.

About 100 people around the state took part in the first “A Taste of Spring” barrel-tasting event sponsored by a trade association for Colorado winemakers, less than half the number hoped for, organizers said Sunday.

The Colorado Association for Viticulture and Enology expected to sell about 250 tickets for the event, said Cassidee Shull, CAVE executive director, but demand was less than anticipated.

CAVE’s promotion budget was limited. Announcements posted at the Colorado Mountain Winefest website were the extent of the association’s marketing effort, Shull said.

“We were kind of leaning on the wineries who are participating to do their own promotion on social media or by word of mouth,” she said.

Shull stressed the first-time event may have had lower-than-expected attendance, but anecdotal reports from winemakers around the state were that many newcomers to wine-tasting took part.

Psycho weather that brought intermittent sunshine and rainfall alternating every hour or so probably also discouraged turnout, said Brian Stevens, chief operating officer and winemaker at Talon Wineries, 785 Elberta Ave., in Palisade. Talon Winery is affiliated with Meadery of the Rockies and St. Kathryn Cellars.

Stevens broke out a barrel of a rich and delicious merlot he called “rough” to share with his Taste of Spring visitors.

“The consensus from the people we’ve seen is that attendance has been pretty spotty. Attendance at the wineries varied wildly,” Stevens said. “The people that we saw weren’t our typical clientele — it was new business for us and that was good. We have a chance with an event like this to build new advocacy.”

Meanwhile, the family-operated Red Fox Cellars also saw fewer Taste of Spring patrons than expected, but the exposure through local broadcast television and other media coverage helped get the small winery’s name out,  said Sherry Hamilton, co-owner.

“It’s been a huge mixed bag, both wonderful and challenging,” Hamilton said. “It wasn’t busy this time, but I think it’s going to develop.”

Red Fox rolled out its cabarnet Franc aged in a rye whiskey barrel for Taste of Spring visitors.

“It’s almost finished. We age it anywhere from six months to two years. The oak and the rye give it a lot of interesting character.”

Shull said CAVE will survey the 30 participating wineries about their experience and will forge ways to improve.

The second statewide Taste of Spring weekend is set for May 7 and 8. CAVE is working to get all 140 of Colorado’s wineries involved.

“Improving things for our members is what we’re all about. I think we’re going to sell out for May,” she said.

Meanwhile, the Barrel into Spring Wine Tasting event, annually sponsored by Grand Valley Winery Association and scheduled for April 23-24 and May 14-15, is already sold out, Shull said. At $70 a ticket, the more elaborate event includes food and other amenities.

CAVE’s Taste of Spring was planned in conjunction with the Grand Valley Winery Association and is not intended to compete with that event, she said. Instead, it is a more affordable option that gives wider access to people unfamiliar with Colorado wines.


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