Throwback Thursday:  Colorado Mountain Vineyards

The Seewalds - Jim, son Doug and wife Ann - believe their winemaking venture will be a success...they moved their operation from Golden to Grand Junction to be closer to the grapes

This article originally appeared in the December 2, 1981 edition of The Daily Sentinel

Jim and Ann Seewald make wine as a hobby. In their house they produce what they say are some acceptable dessert and sparkling wines. It’s an avocation they picked up several years ago when they lived in Denver.

The Seewalds also make wine for a living. In their winery they make a full range of still table wines, from a delicate Chenin Blanc to a powerful Cabernet Sauvignon and a sweet Zinfandel. It’s a vocation that grew out of their interest in home winemaking.

They own and operate Colorado Mountain Vineyards, the only winery in Colorado and the newest commercial venture on East Orchard Mesa.

“We had a friend who made wine,” Ann recalled one snowy day last weekend, while sipping a glass of Sauvignon Blanc (her favorite) in the recently completed tasting room of Colorado Mountain Vineyards. “We thought that looked like fun.”

They’ve been having fun at making wine ever since. Their hobby turned into a retail business selling wine-making supplies, and eventually into their own winery, which opened in Golden in 1978. But in August they moved it to East Orchard Mesa, mainly to be closer to the grapes.

“We love wine and we love winemaking,” says Ann.

Not only do they love wine and love to make wine, they love to talk about wine. And there are few things they enjoy more than showing people around their new winery, a 2,400 square-foot stucco structure built into the side of a hill.

It’s a building filled with 1,000-gallon-plus fermentation tanks, small oak barrels in which to age red wine, grapes crushers and filters, corking machines - and often several members of the Seewald family.

Colorado Mountain Vineyards is truly a family operation. In addition to Ann and Jim (they say they are “51-ish” but won’t be much more specific), son Doug, 25, and daughter-in-law Theresa, 22, are actively involved in the business.

The Seewalds moved to their new home and winery just in time for this year’s grape harvest - a harvest they think will produce some fine wines.

While they still must import most of their grapes from California - only about one-sixth of their 60-ton crush this year were Colorado-grown grapes - the Seewalds are confident that Western Colorado soil and climate can produce high-quality wine grapes. Within a few years they hope all of their grapes will be grown in Colorado.

Jim likens Western Colorado to the wine-growing regions of Washington state and the cooler regions of the Burgundy district in France. It is a short growing season with cool weather, conditions the Seewalds think should produce excellent white wines.

Colorado grapes have already begun to prove themselves, even if on a somewhat limited basis.

“We had an absolutely smashing Chardonnay,” says Ann.

But it was of limited quantity and not many people had a chance to drink it. While Colorado is producing more grapes than ever, there are only about 40 acres in the state planted to grapes. The Seewalds hope that changes, and think Colorado Mountain Vineyards might provide the impetus to do just that. They like to point out that one Grand Valley orchardist who already had a few acres of grapes decided to plant five acres in Riesling next year - mainly because of the arrival of Colorado Mountain Vineyards.

The Seewalds also make a good Pinot Noir Blanc entirely from Western Colorado grapes. Pinot Noir is the main grape of the Burgundy district in France, and produces some of the world’s biggest red wines.

But Jim thinks the Colorado growing season is too short to make red Pinot Noir.

“This is white wine country,” says Jim. That’s fortunate for the Seewalds. White wine is also what sells in the United States, and they know that Colorado is a virtual unknown in the California and French-dominated winemaking world, and Colorado Mountain Vineyards, which will produce about 4,000 cases of wine this year, is a tiny winery by anybody’s standards.

“We don’t have people knocking down the door,” says Jim. But they do see some bright spots for the future of winemaking in Colorado.

Jim is encouraged by statistics that show that during 1980, for the first time ever in the United States, there was Moore wine sold than hard liquor. And Colorado, he notes, ranks sixth in the nation in wine consumption.

That’s a trend that can be spotted often in restaurants and bars, says Ann. “Instead of ordering a martini or a bourbon, people order a glass of white wine,” she says.

The Seewalds would prefer that the glass of white wine come from a bottle produced by Colorado Mountain Vineyards.

They think their wines will hold their own against the best in California, although they have a character all their own. That character is the product of son Doug’s work with the growers (he is the winery’s viticulturist, and recently spent one growing season understudying the viticulturist at the Ste. Michelle winery in Washington), Ann’s work in the lab, and Jim’s efforts at making the wine.

It’s a process that virtually never stops. Asked what they do in their spare time, Ann replies: “As ridiculous as it may sound, we still make wine at home.”