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Winemakers galore at this year’s Taste of Vail

Wren WertinVail CO, Colorado
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Lance Hanson is a dangerous host. Congenial, excitable, hospitable hes single handedly waging a war against empty cups everywhere. He chased a wild hare eight years ago, and the crazy farmer-winemaker-distiller produces what might very well be the best wine in Colorado, and certainly the best gin and vodka. Hes pouring his quaffs at Taste of Vail, where hell be in very good company.We encourage people to drink early and often, he said in February.Really, it would be rude not to take his advice. Lance and his wife, Anna, have gone about growing grapes and creating wines in their own way. Had they listened to what people were saying, they would have learned what they were doing was impossible. Grow pinot noir in Colorado? Dont waste your time. Sell wines at farmers markets? Heavens, that diminishes the brand. But its working. The estate winery is beyond organic; its biodynamic. And instead of relying strictly on grape harvests, the Hansons created Peak Spirits to diversify. They make brandies, grappa, vodka and gin with a bevy of fruit options. Apples, pears, cherries and peaches, in addition to the mighty grape, are grown within a 15-mile radius of the vineyard. What happens in the distillery is a marvel. Dont think gin made of apples sounds right? It only takes one sip to be converted. The Cap Rock gin (named for the water source) tastes of roses and juniper. It fills up the mouth with a sexy swagger. It could charm the snootiest maitre d, or the toughest street baller. Its a gin to be reckoned with.The wines are adventurous blends, drawing from the pinot noir, pinot meunier, chardonnay, riesling, foch, vignoles and cabernet franc grapes the Hansons grow. Look especially for the M&N pinot noir/pinot meunier blend.Luckily for Taste of Vail imbibers, Lance Hanson is one of many winemakers who will be pouring their own creations for the crowd. Flummoxed over the embarrassment of riches? Local vino purveyors weighed in with some tasting advice:

Sean Capiaux is a really good guy, said Avon Liquors Kevin Lawrence. He balances traditional elegant Burgundy with modern styling. Pollyanna Forster of Eat! Drink! also loves Capiauxs wines. In my mind hes one of the top five pinot producers in the U.S., she said. Theyre elegant, layered and interesting. Hes really an energetic part of the winemaking scene.

Grgich Hills is celebrating their 50th anniversary, and theres something to be said for that, said Mickey Werner, owner of Alpine Wine and Spirits. Miljenko Grgich is hands down the dean emeritus of Napa winemaking. Hes really known for his whites. Hes a master blender and takes what the grapes give him. Hes recently passed the torch to his daughter, Violet.

Nicholas Feuillatte is one of the best values for true French Champagne, Lawrence said. It captures what a Champagne should be, but has modernity, too. Theres power without weight.

I love Doug Margerum, Werner said. Hes a wreck on tour. Hes got the smallest bonded winery in the U.S. and specializes in Rhone varieties from some of the best vineyards in California. Plus, hes a character and a half.

Ernst Loosen is one of the most prolific winemakers in all of Germany, Forster said. He made Riesling accessible. And hes brought to the U.S. a nice bone-dry style thats aromatic. Loosen is teaching a Riesling seminar on Saturday.

Napa Wine Company makes great organic wines, and theyre readily available, Lawrence said.

Vince Tofanelli calls himself a third generation Napkin a Napa farmer, said Clay Williams of Alpine Wine and Spirits. First and foremost hes a farmer. Hes one of the few farmers to grow and bottle charbono, a thick-skinned Piedmont grape.

Williams Selyem distributes 90 percent of its wines on a mailing list, Werner said. The rest goes to restaurants. Its started with a small cult following … The winemaker Bob Cabral hes … odd? And amazing. He was just named artisan winemaker of the year in Wine and Spirits Magazine, and one of the top pinot producers in Wine Spectator. His wines are really special.

If I cant drink French Champagne, then its Schramsberg, Lawrence said. The brut ros ah, the stuff is so good.

Fred Schweiger bought the property in the 70s, and decided to build a winery during the last major recession to keep his employees on staff, Werner said. He makes an amazing cabernet-lovers merlot. That lower peak of Spring Mountain sees lots of warm, sunny days.

The owners are really special people, said Chris Irving of Eat! Drink! They own a home in Vail, and are here a lot. The Willamette Valley wines are crisp and clean.

Its hard to get a winery on the other side of the equator because the crush is going on over there, Werner said. Aurum Wines is located in New Zealand, so its great that theyre coming. Theyve got really good pinot noir and pinot gris.

The Foley claret is my personal favorite of the elite California wines, Lawrence said. He captures the spirit of California with the elegance of Bordeaux.

Two ski bums from Park City went to Hollywood, made some money, returned to Park City and started making wines, Werner said. They only make cabs. Isnt it nice that ski bums are doing well?As Werner is quick to point out, every single winery is a feather in the collective Taste of Vail hat. A much sought-after event for the wineries, theyre all A-listers. Taste away. Special Sections Editor Wren Wertin can be reached at wren@vaildaily.com.


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