Colo. wine and spirits industry: poised for greatness? |

Colo. wine and spirits industry: poised for greatness?

Janice Kurbjun
Summit Daily News

In its early stages, wine and spirits in Colorado could take the path of microbrews – if guided appropriately.

Furthering Colorado-based wine and liquor products was the subject of a recent gathering at PBS chef Christy Rost’s Swan’s Nest home north of Breckenridge. And though both beverage types are only beginning to take off, those attending the inaugural all-afternoon food, drink and discussion event believe there’s hope they can take hold in their respective industries.

It’s events like the Rost gathering and the upcoming Still on the Hill craft spirits festival in Breckenridge that help the industry, Breckenridge Distillery master distiller Jordan Via said.

“We wanted to bring together Colorado wine makers and spirits makers and have a dialogue, show off what they’re making, so we can help tell the story … and grow the story… so people in other locations will know about Colorado wines and spirits,” Rost said. “We’ll hopefully turn this into something that will grow.”

“Colorado has received strong accolades from food and wine writers over the past few years,” said Rost’s co-host Ellen Marchman-Larkey. “Christy and I felt there is a bridge to gap between industry and consumer and couldn’t think of a better place to start than with the wine and spirit makers themselves.”

Amidst tasting various wines from Colorado-based wineries and sipping samples of stills from Boulder Distillery and Clear Spirits Co. (makers of 303 Vodka), Peach Street in Palisade and Breckenridge Distillery from Summit County, the group concluded that they’d need to work together to champion Colorado beverage products. In particular, they need to promote that most of the product is sourced within the state.

The wine industry has a leg up in the market, though. Doug Caskey from the Colorado Wine Development Board holds a position that’s still funded by the Colorado Department of Agriculture. The spirits industry isn’t so lucky, but they do have well-known names. Via said he’d heard of Peach Street before he moved from making wine in Napa Valley to distilling in Colorado.

“We can make anything here. We do everything well, in small pockets,” Via said, referring to Colorado’s diverse microclimates that spurred the microbrewery movement roughly two decades ago and has been the basis of the up-and-coming wine industry and the foundation for the 20-some licensed distilleries in the state.

Beyond quality, the Colorado entities often have rich stories of how they came to be – and often, those stories are fresh enough to be impactful to customers.

Like Steve and Terri Viezbicke, who found the recipe for their potato vodka, written in Polish, tucked inside a trunk passed down through the family. Steve originally thought it was potato soup or mashed potatoes. Instead, it was a recipe on which he’d base his livelihood. Other stories, unique in themselves, were similarly moving – and marketable.

“In many ways, it’s always (about) the stories,” Rost said.

The challenge, though, is volume. And often, breaking into an already-saturated market.

Caskey said winemakers worldwide eye Colorado as a place to sell their wines, given its large global tourism base. So small vineyards may encounter the stigma of being small-scale and lower quality – even if it’s not true.

According to Caskey, “We may never be Washington, Oregon or California. There’s not enough land and not enough water to produce the volume to create that kind of impact.”

There are some ways to counteract some of these challenges, the group decided, like promoting the products cohesively, like in the Colorado Wine Trails brochure – and complementing tourist visits with “great food,” Viezbicke said.

She also recommended holding free tastings to encourage restaurants to buy the local product – and encouraging restaurateurs to price the product not just to sell but to make their business viable. The group even brainstormed what might happen if they connected with the Colorado film industry and beyond to place product in movies and working with the government to provide incentives for filming in Colorado’s wine country.

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