Colorado wineries get big boost from award

Christmas came early to John Garlich and Ulla Merz of BookCliff Vineyards in Boulder and to the entire Colorado wine industry.

Garlich and Merz last month won their third Jefferson Cup award, the top prize in the annual Jefferson Cup Invitational Wine Competition.

That makes three wins (2010, 2012, 2013) in five years for BookCliff and five years straight for a Colorado wine, with other Colorado wineries winning in 2009 (Boulder Creek) and 2011 (Canyon Wind Cellars).

This year’s winning wine was the BookCliff 2011 Reserve Cabernet Franc, and we’d like to think the win demonstrates at least a couple of promising developments about the Colorado wine industry.

One, that Colorado wine can hold its own against any wines produced in the United States, and two, that Garlich and Merz (and assistant winemaker Justin Jannusch) have learned how to make the best of what might someday be Colorado’s signature red grape.

The state industry as a whole enjoys a bit of a boost from the award, for it helps the fortunes of every Colorado winemaker each time a Centennial State winery grabs a bit more notice.

Other Colorado wineries also winning awards at the 2013 Jefferson Cup included Anemoi, Canyon Wind Cellars, Grande River Vineyard, and Winery at Holy Cross Abbey.

The Jefferson Cup was devised by the renowned wine writer Doug Frost (who also graciously wrote the forward to my latest book, “Drink It In: Wine Guide to Western Colorado”) and has become one of the more-prestigious wine competitions in the United States today.

The Jefferson Cup is the only wine competition that recognizes top wines from all of America’s wine regions. In all, 25 Jefferson Cups were awarded.

And this is a real cup, not a round doubloon hanging from a colored ribbon, but something Ulla compared to a football trophy, easily big enough to drink your wine from.

What’s also important is cabernet franc might be cold-hardy enough to become Colorado’s trademark red grape.

That’s a whole other topic, one for next year’s column, but after the double-whammy cold snaps of winter and spring 2013, which decimated the wine grape crop in most of western Colorado, cabernet franc was the only red grape this summer to have substantial survival (Riesling was the best-surviving white grape).

BookCliff was a pioneer in making a cab Franc varietal bottling and, as Ulla said during a phone call late last week, they soon discovered Cabernet Franc was a fit with BookCliff’s winemaking style.

“Our first (cab franc vintage) was 2002,” she said. “I think we were one of the first wineries to make 100 percent cabernet franc.”

Traditionally used in the Loire Valley and as a blending wine to add finesse and pepper, violets and a bit of tobacco hints to heavier Bordeaux-style wines, today many wineries in Colorado are making a cab franc varietal bottling.

“Cabernet franc has worked well for us, and it’s been our premier wine for 10 years now,” said Ulla, noting that their 2010 Reserve Cabernet Franc won a gold medal and was named the Best Cab Franc under $30 at the Los Angeles International Wine Competition, and received a double gold in the 2013 Colorado Governor’s Cup wine competition.

BookCliff uses only French oak in making Cabernet Franc, the barrels made by a specific barrel-maker familiar with the winery, Ulla said.

BookCliff also had its 2012 Colorado Petit Verdot receive a 2013 Jefferson Cup nominee (just under the Cup winners), plus its Ensemble 2011 Red Blend and the 2012 Colorado Malbec won Medals of Merit.

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