Wine Ink: The Buckels of Crested Butte
November 28, 2018
In wine, family is important.
Say the phrase "a wine family" and you may mean someone like the Antinoris of Italy, who have been making wine since the 1300s. Or maybe the Mondavis of Napa or the pioneering Catenas of Argentina come to mind.
Chances are the Buckels of Crested Butte don't register. Yet. But as a wine family, they may well one day be a name to know in Colorado wine. Now, to be sure, winemaker Joe Buckel, his wife Shamai and their kids Kayla and Cy (and let's not leave out Rico the dog) are at the nascent stage of building a wine legacy. But as the quality of Colorado wines continues to improve and more vines are planted, Buckel Family Wine will be a brand to look for.
I have tasted wines made by Joe Buckel over the years from Sutcliffe Vineyards, the eponymous Southwestern Colorado project headed by McElmo Canyon pioneer John Sutcliffe. Buckel was the winemaker for many of the wines that I consider to be among the state's most impressive Bordeaux blends.
On a recent fall afternoon I had the pleasure to gather with the entire Buckel brood at Aspen's Meat & Cheese restaurant to taste through the young releases of the Buckel Family wines. These included a chardonnay, the only Colorado grown pinot noir I have ever tasted, a red blend deemed "The Flyer" and a surprising cinsault. The wines showed a deft and experienced hand, working with fruit from the Palisade and McElmo Canyon regions that offered both structure and finesse. They also feature a collection of fun and interesting labels inspired by the art of the brother and sister act of Kayla and Cy.
"Colorado wines are ever evolving," Joe said when I asked how he saw the current state of the state's wines. "And in five to 10 years it could be a great thing. It sure provides a wonderful lifestyle for making wines. It just takes some patience and an open mind."
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Joe was a hard-hitting second baseman for the Indiana Hoosiers, who studied chemistry in college. After a spell in Crested Butte, where he met his wife Shamai (in a ski shop of course), he headed to California and applied his chemistry skills to educational stints at Flowers and BR Cohn wineries, both Sonoma institutions. The wine bug bit hard and when an opportunity came to work with Sutcliffe he jumped at the chance to come back to Colorado.
After a decade Joe became enamored with the idea of producing wines from other varietals and creating his own label. "John (Sutcliffe) was kind enough to let me make some wines in his facility and that was the start," he said. Now the family is back in Crested Butte and working on the construction of a new winery and tasting room that would be a first in a ski community.
The grapes are sourced from around the western slope. "I get the pinot noir from just two and a half rows of grapes that are tucked between vines and fruit trees at Black Bear Orchards," he says, referring to Brian and Rebekah Cox's paradise of peaches in Palisade, Colorado. The pinot noir I tasted was bright and fresh in the glass and could easily be confused with any number of cool climate California wines. "People have this misconception that you need fog and rain and drizzle to grow pinot noir, " he says of the famously finicky grape. "But at Flowers, even though we were on the Sonoma coast, the pinot vines were above the fog line and got plenty of heat. Just like Palisade."
The Buckels only make 120 cases of the pinot noir (total Buckel Family Wine production for the 2017 vintage is around 1200 cases), which is endearingly monikered "You Are Beautiful Pinot Noir." "We were riding on a chair lift at Crested Butte and there was a sticker on the pole that said 'You Are Beautiful,'" Shamai recalled. "It made me happy and so Joe used it to name the wine."
Another bottle I liked was the cinsault, a Rhone grape that also has a touch of mouvedre in the blend. "It is a great though not widely known grape," Joe said of the lighter style, unfiltered wine made from the prodigious cinsualt grapes. "It is low in tannins and goes really well with lots of different foods. Even fish."
Yes, the Buckel family is young, but the passion and professionalism and flavor shown in these wines portends that they will be a winemaking family to pay grow with.
Kelly J. Hayes lives in the soon-to-be-designated appellation of Old Snowmass. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.