Tuesday, October 12, 2010

The uniqueness of local wines

A great tasting local product. A small carbon footprint. Supporting a local business and investing in the local economy. These are all good enough reasons by themselves to become a locapour (drinkers of local and regional wines). However, local wines all too often get stuck with a stigma being of poor quality, too expensive or not being salient in the wine world. While quality is an issue with local wines, established wine regions are not immune. I've had plenty of terrible wines from California and France. However, all too often wines produced in the better known regions lack personality. Another great reason to drink local wine, which is often overlooked by wine consumers and media, is the unique characteristics that make local wines pertinent in this global industry. Sure, most European wine regions have distinct attributes that make them special but they've had hundreds, if not thousands, of years to tease out their identities.

While the wine industry in the U.S. did not begin in California, it is certainly centered there now. Most of the Californian wine regions are located in "perfect" viticultural conditions. Undoubtedly, they have distinctive soils, topography and climatic conditions but very few regions provide the unique or extreme conditions that would make them thought-provoking. Across the globe, these types of places give a breath of life to intriguing wines. Sweden offers the most northerly vineyards. Australia has vineyards planted on some of the world's oldest soils. Chile and other wine regions have vines growing on their own roots because of the lack of the devastating louse, Phylloxera (Viteus vitifoliae).

Domestically, grapevines are grown in all 50 states and while some are more interesting than others, each region has a story to tell. Having an established, yet small, wine industry with approximately 100 wineries, Colorado is home to the highest vineyards in North America. In fact, the vineyards of Colorado are second in elevation globally only to a select few locations in South America. The world's highest commercial vineyards are at an extreme 10,206 ft in the Salta region in northern Argentina. Colorado's West Elks AVA extends upwards to about 7,000 ft. In comparison, Europe's highest vineyards are at 4,300 ft in northern Italy. Most of the vineyards in Argentina's famed Mendoza wine region are planted at around 3,000 ft. 2,000 ft is considered high elevation in much of the rest of the wine world!

The West Elks AVA is located in western Colorado along the North Fork of the Gunnison River around the towns of Hotchkiss and Paonia and was approved as an AVA by the Federal government in 2001. The area encompasses approximately 75 square miles of land ranging in elevation from 5,300 ft to just under 7,000 ft. The elevations of the surrounding mesas and mountains help protect the vineyards from severe storms that often injure or destroy grapes. This cool-climate growing region is starting to become known for Alsatian and Burgundian grape varieties. The farm-fresh food, the nearby Black Canyon of Gunnison National Park and the extreme elevation make this local wine region a must visit on wine tourists' lists. At the very least, seek out one of the many great-tasting wines from Colorado and the West Elks AVA to experience a story that can be told nowhere else in the United States!

2004 Chardonnay, Terror Creek Winery, West Elks AVA, Colorado

This aged Chardonnay is not your typical Chardonnay. Unoaked and produced in what the winery calls an Alsatian style. If I had to compare it to any other Chardonnay region Chablis would be the closest in style. Don't get me wrong, this is a uniquely Colorado Chardonnay and is no Chablis. Grown above 6,400 ft on Garvin Mesa in the West Elks AVA, this pale yellow wine smells like applesauce! Hints of green apple and cinnamon (and perhaps a dash of nutmeg) meld perfectly together to be reminiscent of making applesauce with my grandmother when I was a child. The acidity is still fresh in the mouth but much of the fruit has disappeared and left the wine a bit flat. I still tasted apples and spices at the beginning but they quickly washed away to leave the taste of a slightly bitter, yet crisp, cantaloupe (like the flesh nearest the rind) on my tongue. This bottle seems to be fading a bit, so good thing the 2005 vintage is the current release. 13.5% abv Purchased $14. Average/Good (tasted 10/14/10)


  1. This is a big challenge for local wine manufacturers. If they want to retain the support of their local customers, they should make wines with new and different taste.

  2. Uniqueness helps, but the most important thing is quality. If the wines are of a high quality, then consumers will eventually buy them. Local wine producers need supporters to help inform consumers of these alternatives to traditional regions. Thanks for you comment!