Colorado winemakers celebrate the fall harvest with festivals and dinners | VailDaily.com

Colorado winemakers celebrate the fall harvest with festivals and dinners

Christina Holbrook
Special to the Daily

The fall harvest is showtime for Colorado's winemakers, that critical period they've been working toward all year long. Tight bunches of green berries have matured into lush clusters of fruit — greenish-yellow for white wine grapes and red, purple or black for red varietals. Crops have been thinned to promote greater growth; to protect the ripening fruit from bugs and birds, vineyards have been netted. Growers will head into the vineyards daily now, testing grapes and anticipating that moment when acidity, sugar levels, tannins and flavor compounds all come into perfect balance.

When the time is right — August, September and even into October — the grapes are harvested. It's a season of hard work and a time of celebration.

Participating in harvest festivities is a time-honored way to embrace the changing of the seasons. Summer is coming to an end, but we can all share in nature's abundance as we welcome cooler weather and spectacular fall foliage — all the more enjoyable with a glass or two of Colorado wine.

COLORADO MOUNTAIN WINEFEST

Palisade, Colorado; Sept. 15-18

Colorado's premier wine-tasting event is a four-day celebration in the Grand Valley. The Festival in the Park, on Saturday, Sept. 17, is the not-to-be-missed bash, where your $50 cover charge pays for unlimited wine tastings of selections from more than 50 wineries and a day filled with music, food, seminars and more. Tickets must be purchased in advance and can be obtained through the WineFest website, http://www.coloradowine experience.com/colorado-wine-festivals.

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Cassidee Shull, executive director of WineFest, recommended several other activities for visitors. Wine, Dine and Paint with poster artist Sandy King, on Thursday, Sept. 15, is shaping up to be a crowd pleaser, and Shull is looking forward to the VIP Colorado Wine Tasting reception on Friday, Sept. 16, to be held on the roof of the newly remodeled Avalon Theater. At the end of the weekend, if you decide to chuck your old life and become a winemaker, you can sign up for An Introduction to Grape Growing course on Sunday, Sept. 18, led by Horst Caspari, Ph.D., professor of viticulture at Colorado State University.

"I love seeing all the hard work we've put in for a whole year coming together with this event," Shull said. "We'll be welcoming people from all over the world — last year we had people from 39 different states and five different countries."

Many local wineries will be hosting their own dinners and events. Standouts include Red Fox Food Truck Friday, Two Rivers Winemaker Dinner and Bookcliff's five-course Feast in the Vineyards.

For information on WineFest, transportation, lodging options and more, visit http://www.coloradowine experience.com/colorado-wine-festivals.

ON THE FRONT RANGE

Balistreri Vineyards; Oct. 2

For the past 13 years, one of Colorado's top fall harvest dinners has been offered in downtown Denver by Balistreri Vineyards. The expansive urban winery includes a stylish, modern restaurant and tasting bar and gorgeous outdoor gardens. The winery is run by several generations of Balistreri family members, who make a point of encouraging guests to feel right at home.

Sunday, Oct. 2, from noon until 5 p.m., Balistreri will host its annual Harvest Party.

"It's a fun, traditional party," said owner Julie Balistreri of the event that typically draws more than 1,000 people. "It's something we do every year to release our new wines. We get lots of folks, even from out of state, and at 2 p.m., there's a children's grape stomping — that's where we make our 'Little Feet Merlot.'"

A ticket price of $70 per person includes tastings of 20 different wines and a true harvest feast.

"The main feature is the pig roast," Balistreri said, listing off the choices. "But there are lots of other options. There will be vegetarian tables, antipasti tables with artisan cheeses and salami, lots of pasta, local peaches, a pumpkin bisque served in a couple of huge pumpkins and much more."

Visit http://www.balistrerivineyards.com/harvest-party for more information.

ALSO IN DENVER

Kingman Estates; September and October

Kingman Estates is a smaller boutique winery, with events only open to members. However, owner Doug Kingman welcomes interested newcomers to volunteer for the winery's September wine crush. You'll get a free bottle of wine, gourmet snacks, a chance to meet friends — and maybe even a job.

"Every year, some of our volunteers discover they like wine making so much that they end up working for me," Kingman said.

Call 720-560-7270 for crush dates, or visit http://www.kingmanwine.com for more information.

OTHER FAVORITE FALL WINE EVENTS

West Elks/Hotchkiss & Paonia; September

Every other Tuesday during September, LeRoux Creek Inn & Vineyard hosts a Paella Dinner, prepared by owner and winemaker Yvon Gros. The dinner is $19.95 with wines offered by the glass, including LeRoux Creek's refreshing rose.

Visit http://www.lerouxcreekvineyards.com/from-the-kitchen-paella to learn more.

Four Corners/McElmo Canyon, Cortez, Sept. 12

The small rural airport in Cortez sees its share of excitement, as private planes arrive with guests for the annual Harvest Dinner at Sutcliffe Vineyards.

"People come from everywhere for the dinner, the airport is busy with people from England, with European visitors," said Lulu Hunt, who helps organize the evening that showcases Sutcliffe wines and features products from the farm. Tickets at $140 per person and are going fast for the Sept. 12 feast. Visit http://www.sutcliffewines.com/press-events for more information.

Pikes Peak/Canon City, Sept. 23-25

Wine lovers will mingle with local artisans, foodies and musicians at this weekend long Harvest Festival. To kick off the festivities, the Winery at Holy Cross Abbey will be pairing its award-winning wines with an eight-course menu on Friday, Sept. 23, at Royal Gorge Bridge and Park. Tickets are $100 per person. Please visit http://www.abbeywinery.com/harvest-fest to learn more.

Local OPTIONS

The first annual Breckenridge Wine Classic will be held Sept. 15-18 in and around downtown Breckenridge. Taking advantage of the season, the event will combine outdoor activities, tours through the Arts District, and a chance to sample some great food and wine. Though the festival does not cover Colorado wines, it does include other beverages, such as craft beers and spirits. For more information and tickets to the various events, go to breckenridgewineclassic.com. Tickets are $125 per person for the Wine on the Mountain Grand Tasting.