Colorado wine industry ripens
SUMMIT COUNTY – Most archeologists agree, Neolithic people produced the first “bottle” of wine in the ancient Near East. Since then, many humans have preferred wine over water.Colorado is no different. In fact, in the last 30 years, the Colorado wine industry has ripened and still enjoys steady growth.”Last year 10 new wineries and wine-tasting rooms opened in the state,” said Jim Disset, public relations director for the Colorado Wine Industry Development Board. “That’s the largest growth we’ve seen in the state.”Right now about one in every 100 bottles of wine sold in the state is a Colorado wine, Disset said, but with this spurt of recent openings he hopes this percentage increases. Colorado vineyards?When you think of vineyards, usually you think of the temperate climates of California or regions in France – not the cold of Colorado. But Colorado’s high elevation can create superb conditions, Disset said.”With the hot days and cool nights, it’s really an ideal position. If you look at some of the best wine-producing regions, the conditions are the same.”
Cultivation of wine grapes in Colorado began in the late 1800s and lasted until Prohibition. It wasn’t until 1968 that the Colorado wine industry began to re-establish itself.Most wineries grow their grapes in the Grand Valley and the Western Slope, though about a dozen wineries are located between Estes Park and Denver. In all, vineyards cover about 650 acres in the state, with overall production varying from season to season. Delivering wine to the drinkerThe industry stumbles over marketing a little bit, which is why the Wine Development Board began in 1977. “Most winery owners grow grapes because they love making wine,” Disset said. “They aren’t as concerned with marketing and don’t have the time. Our job is to market and promote Colorado wines.”One of the best ways to promote any wine is to have restaurants include it on their lists. “We know from experience from other states like Washington and Oregon that the local wines were really embraced when more restaurants included the wines on their wine list,” Disset said. “People who live in and visit Colorado want that Colorado experience. They’re proud of where they are. Including local wines just gives them more of the experience.”
Do restaurants embraceColorado wine?More than 200 restaurants in the state currently carry local wines, and several are in Summit County. Keystone Ranch, a Wine Spectator DiRoNa winner, currently offers two Colorado wines, a cabernet sauvignon and a viogner from the Grand River winery, out of its 400.This is a small percentage but still a compliment considering the standards general manager Ron Wolfe uses for including wines on his list.”I don’t put any wine on the list that I have not tasted personally, and I do a lot of research,” Wolfe said.Wolfe had wanted to represent Colorado wines but said he didn’t come across any that caught his attention until these two. “The viogner is one of the best wines I’ve tasted of that variety,” Wolfe said. Wolfe said the Colorado brands sell “OK,” and often customers will ask specifically about the local wines.
The South Ridge Seafood Grill in Breckenridge has only one local wine on its list but is not adverse to including others.”We’d like to have more,” said general manager Paul Brenholt. “But we really don’t have the time to actively seek out the wines. We’re kind of waiting to see what comes our way.”The Horseshoe II in Breckenridge stopped offering local wines because they weren’t selling, but management said the restaurant might include them again if demand increases. An industry set to growIn order to introduce more Colorado wines to restaurant managers and owners, Disset hopes wineries will become more business savvy and actively visit restaurants. To help the marketing process, the development board is sponsoring the first Colorado Wine Restaurant Recognition program. The program runs from May 17 through Sept. 30 and offers cash prizes and free publicity for restaurants including local wines on their lists. While the industry may have to wait a bit before it can claim a 100-year-old vintage, it looks to have some staying power. Austin Diaz can be reached by e-mail at email@example.com.
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