Thursday, July 7, 2011

5 ways to improve Colorado wine

On Sunday, Jon Bonné suggested five ways to improve California wine in the San Francisco Chronicle. While most American wineries not in California try to emulate their Golden State counterparts, all wine regions could use suggestions for improvement. A few weeks ago, I made a similar list directed at Colorado's wine consumers. While I make no assumptions that I have the same credibility as Bonné, I would like to replicate his recommendations to wineries with a Centennial State twist. Here are five ways that Colorado's vintners can carve a better path to the future.

1. Become students of the wine world. I was surprised during a conversation with a winemaker who produces tempranillo that he was unaware of the specific wine regions in Spain that grow the grape. Other winemakers only drink what they make and nothing else. However, to make the best wine possible, winemakers need to taste as much wine as possible from around the world. Everyone associated with Colorado wine needs to learn as much about wine as they can. I don't mean that everyone should strive to be Masters of Wine or Helen Turley-esque winemakers, but understanding the history and geography of the wine world will give credibility to the Colorado wine industry. That is why I do not limit myself to only Colorado wines. There is a whole world of wine out there that shouldn't be ignored.

2. Make fewer wines. I've had this discussion with more than a few winemakers; Colorado wineries make too many wines. Almost every winery produces a cabernet sauvignon, cabernet franc, merlot, syrah, chardonnay, sauvignon blanc, riesling, a sweet rosé and a dessert/fortified wine. Most wineries in France and the boutique California wineries produce just a handful of wines if not only one or two. While I do believe that Colorado wineries can produce all of those wines well, one winery cannot. Wineries should specialize and go for depth instead of breadth. Certain wineries should focus on making Bordeaux-style wines whereas others should concentrate on Rhône varieties. While they may not be able to please every group of tourists that want to try a cabernet, a sweet rosé and a chardonnay, wineries should be producing better overall quality wines.

3. Embrace Hybrids and non-traditional grape cultivars. I know that I just suggested making fewer wines, but Colorado wineries need to consider using hybrids and other non-traditional grapes. If wineries are afraid of consumers not accepting oddly named grapes, then they need to be more creative! Using fanciful names for wines instead of varietally labeled wines could prove a boon to get new wine drinkers drinking Colorado wine. In fact, one of the most popular Colorado wines, Tyranosaurus Red, is made from the uncommon Lemberger. Also, using these types of grapes could greatly increase the productive vineyard acreage allowing even more wine to be made.

4. Get on more restaurant lists. To date, only one winery has been successful with this arduous endeavor. Sure, some restaurants have a token Colorado wine on their list, but The Infinite Monkey Theorem is on more wine lists than any other winery. Wine drinkers often find new wines on restaurant wine lists and go to retailers to purchase these wines. Wineries don't necessarily make money from restaurants, and in fact most have to lower their wholesale cost to get onto restaurant lists. Wineries need to consider restaurant wine lists as marketing expenses rather than revenue generating opportunities. When consumers see that restaurant sommeliers accept local vino, they may be more apt to as well.

5. Apply for more AVAs. Other states ahead of Colorado in the production and quality curve are also ahead of us in the AVA curve. McElmo Canyon in the Four Corners region, Redlands Mesa and Orchard City west of the West Elks AVA and the vineyards along the Arkansas River near Cañon City all would make ideal candidates for federal designation as viticultural areas. Avid wine drinkers tend to give more respect to wines from specific AVAs rather than broad state designations. Most oenophiles would pick an Oakville cabernet sauvignon over a generic California cabernet or a Dundee Hills pinot noir over a simple Oregon pinot. It is unlikely that most consumers even know about the two AVAs we have, but when a state has more than a handful of designated viticultural areas you know that there is a strong quality wine industry (or savvy politicians if you're from Italy).

If even a few wineries heed these suggestions, I believe that the Colorado wine industry will be well on its way to winning the hearts and minds of Colorado residents and competing with the bigger and more famous wine regions.


  1. Great ideas. A note on the wine lists: Colterris has been as successful as IMT in the restaurant list realm. More than 80 restaurants/wine shops in just eight months. This is such an important branding point, too. People listen to chefs/somms about local wines.

  2. Colterris has been *almost* as successful. And yes, restaurant lists are an important branding issue. While wineries may not fully understand this yet, restaurants that claim to source local products but don't have a CO bottle on their list don't get it either...

  3. As another way to reach a larger audience, I would suggest entering Wine Spectator's video contest. For the past two years, Paso Robles wineries have taken the top prize, but a number of other wine regions have also been strong contenders in the popular vote. If you click on my name, you'll get the contest info. Cheers!

  4. Gloria, that is a very good suggestion! You might just se an entry or two from CO! Thanks for reading and commenting.