Tasting Colorado’s new growth industry
When many people hear the word “wine,” they think Napa. When they think deep powder snow it’s often Colorado on their minds. But, for a string of Saturdays this summer, some minds may shift. Not only does Colorado offer the best in snow, it seems the state’s wines are improving in quality and recognition as well.The assumptions that Colorado is just too cold to grow good wine grapes and that the area can’t produce world-class wines are being challenged. Vail locals and visitors alike are invited to make up their own minds about some of Colorado’s top-selling wines Saturdays, starting at 10:30 p.m., from July 3 to Aug. 14, in the heart of Vail Village at the first ever Vail Arts & Wine Faire.Art from local galleries, jewelry from area shops and fine food from across the state will all be available, but it’s the Colorado-only wine offerings that many people are most excited about.Colorado wineries are multiplying and the state is producing more wine and has been increasing net sales exponentially through the past few years. But sheer quantity isn’t the entire story. Not only is Colorado making more wine, the state’s wines are winning awards that local vintners once only dreamed about. A Colorado Riesling was recently named “world champion” at the International Eastern Wine Competition, while a prestigious London-based wine competition recently awarded a medal to Colorado’s Canyon Wind Winery.The Vail Arts & Wine Faire will feature more than a dozen Colorado wine makers throughout the festival. Each Saturday afternoon four vintners will offer wines to taste by the glass and for sale by the bottle. Three of the state’s best-known wine makers, Grand River, Canyon Wind and Plum Creek are gearing up for the festival, along with rising-star wines from Snowmass Creek Mountain, Spirit Winery and Bookcliff.”People’s first reaction is surprise and shock when it comes to the quality of Colorado wines,” admits Doug Caskey, executive director of the Colorado Wine Industry Development Board. “Many people think we can only grow American Indian varietals or other lesser grapes, when we are actually growing top quality Cabernet and Chardonnay.””People have this image of Colorado as being harsh, cold and nasty all the time,” he notes. A writer from the venerable Wine Spectator Magazine even told Caskey he thought the soil is frozen 12 months a year in Colorado. Misconceptions like these have left Colorado winemakers fighting to earn respect in the national market.Caskey’s job is to push Colorado wines, but the numbers and facts seem to line up — the state is beginning to produce wines worthy of shelf space next to the European and California big boys. “This festival has great timing,” Caskey says. “Vail and most resorts have been a hard market to crack. We don’t have the prestige and big names, so hotels and liquor stores are a little more hesitant to carry Colorado wines.”That is all changing, according to Caskey, who says Colorado wines are poised to go big. “This is Sonoma County many years ago,” he says. “Our reputation is just starting to catch on — this is a great time to get into these wines on the ground floor.”A number of factors have contributed to the growing success of Colorado wines. A coalition of wine makers brought in a consultant from California, who has helped them polish their wine-making skills and practices. Many of the grape vines here in Colorado are nearing 30 years old and are producing great fruit. Meanwhile, the wine makers themselves have had a couple of decades to test different varietals and growing techniques and have had a chance to perfect their wines.Besides weighing in on the essence of Colorado wines, visitors to the Vail Arts & Wine Faire can check out demonstrations by local artists and jewelers, all while listening to the sounds of Vail Jazz Festival performers like Tony Gulizzia and Chuck Lamb.The Golden Bear will present three craftsmen making wearable art, while also raffling off, over the course of the event, a Baby Pave Bear, valued at $1,100. The Squash Blossom and Masters Gallery are also in on the action with their artists out showing their artistic talents through the day. Local legend Helmet Fricker, will also be on site — not playing music as he usually does but demonstrating traditional book binding, a lost art in most of the world.The intriguing East Meadow Drive Art Walk also leaves from the Arts & Wine Faire each Saturday, while the market wraps up by 3:30 p.m., leaving market-goers plenty of time to catch the Bravo! Classical Music Showcase or an International Dance Festival performance in the evening hours.The Vail Arts & Wine Faire, offers wine, music, food, art and fun every Saturday, July 3 – Aug. 14, 10:30 a.m. – 3:30 p.m. on Vail Village’s Willow Bridge Road (between Checkpoint Charlie and Crossroads). Call 479-1711 or visit http://www.vailsmainstreet.com for info. VTIn 2003, statewide production of Colorado wines increased to 506,214 liters, the most ever recorded. This translates into 56,246 cases of wine, or an estimated $6.75 million of retail sales. Overall, consumption of Colorado wines in the state has increased by 551 percent over the last 11 years.