Wine-making club in Wolcott |

Wine-making club in Wolcott

HL Wine 01 TS 09-27-08

WOLCOTT, Colorado ” Standing ankle deep in a vat of grapes outside the 4 Eagle Ranch in Wolcott, two local women stomped the fruit with their bare feet.

The faster they squished, the more juice squirted out of a hole in the bottom of the tub.

And the closer they came to winning a grape stomping competition that was part of the harvest festivities at the ranch this past weekend.

Each fall, members of an amateur wine-making club gather at 4 Eagle to indulge in what the group’s founder calls “the newest gourmet hobby.”

“Most people don’t know how the wine is made from beginning to end and how it gets into the bottle, and they’re actually able to get hands-on experience in doing that,” said Patrick Chirichillo, owner of the Churchill Wine Cellars at the 4 Eagle Ranch.

Wine making has been part of Chirichillo’s life since he was a little boy. He learned the craft from his Italian grandfather in New York.

“We all had to help him make his wines in September back in New York,” Chirichillo said. “So I’m sort of keeping the tradition rollin’ along.”

That tradition has attracted 125 club members from Colorado and as far away as Missouri.

“It’s just a really good time,” said Edwards resident Stephanie Pierce, 33. “You’re with some of your good friends out at the 4 Eagle Ranch, looking at the views. It’s innocent fun.”

The annual grape harvest sparks a flurry of activity at the Churchill Wine Cellars. Chirichillo said he received more than 11 tons of grapes from California last week.

Barbera, malbec, shiraz, tempranillo “14 different types of grapes arrived at the ranch in a refrigerated truck.

Transforming those grapes into wine is a process winemakers simply can’t rush.

“To me, it’s about quality of life, really, and about slowing down,” winemaker Willem Johnson said. “I think we move too fast in our day and age. We have one chance to do this a year, so you have to do it one step at a time and enjoy it.”

Club members met up this past weekend to crush the grapes. They poured crates of the fruit into a machine that punctures the skin and removes the stems. This weekend, the club members will return to the ranch to press the grapes and pour the juice into barrels. That juice will continue to ferment in the cellar until the wine is ready for bottling in the spring.

“It’s such a hands-on experience. That’s what I like the most,” McCoy resident Scott Pillion said. “You are what you make.”

Most club members buy at least half a barrel of their homemade wine, which works out to 144 bottles.

“It’s the best present for weddings,” said Pillion, who designs “Billionaire Ranch” labels for his bottles.

Along with drinking their wines, club members enter them in contests. The Churchill Wine Cellars picked up six awards at an amateur winemakers competition in Grand Junction last month. A 2006 Tempranillo was among just three of the 95 entries that won a gold medal.

Those awards are a validation of what club members say they already know: That their wines taste good.

“You feel connected to it,” West Vail resident Mercedes Dauphinais said. “It has a great story.”

Presently the club operates out of a 1,250-square-foot cellar on the 4 Eagle Ranch but that could change.

Chirichillo hopes to break ground this coming spring on a winery and resort off Highway 131, just north of the Wolcott Yacht Club.

With a 14,000-square-foot cellar and tasting room, the facility would have ample room for the club, but Chirichillo is looking into whether the licensing laws allow private clubs to make wine at commercial facilities.

If the club can make the new winery its headquarters, Chirichillo envisions membership spiking to 200 or 300 people. He hopes to maintain the club’s friendly, intimate atmosphere by keeping more staff on hand to teach the wine-making process.

“I think it will stay a private club if we go into the new location,” Chirichillo said. “It just could have more people doing the same thing we’re doing: Following the tradition of making wine.”

High Life Writer Sarah Mausolf can be reached at 970-748-2938 or

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