Thursday, January 12, 2012

Colorado winemakers can learn something from ... Iowa!?!?!

One of the challenges that Colorado grape growers and vintners face is the limited number of acres that can grow the traditional Vitis vinifera wine grapes. For the most part, this acreage is limited to the Grand Valley area. Sure, the West Elks AVA grows vinifera, but the crop is not reliable nor is the vineyard area vast. There is some potential with land in the Four Corners area, but again, a few hundred acres is not going to do anything to meet demand when consumers finally realize that Colorado can produce excellent wines. The odd vinifera vineyards in the Front Range are nothing more than anomalies. There might be a few small pockets of hidden terroir that could grow off the beaten path vinifera, but let's not hold our breath for this development.

If Colorado is to really grow its wine industry, winemakers and growers really need to look to non-traditional regions. They need to look to ... Iowa! Now, don't get me wrong, I think that Colorado's wine industry is light years ahead of Iowa's and will always remain so. However, Iowa doesn't have the good fortune to be able to produce the traditional grape varieties that American wine consumers have come to know, love and expect. As I wrote about this summer, I made a few winery stops on our drive to and from Wisconsin. In Iowa, we stopped at Breezy Hills Vineyards and sampled a few of their wines. They produce only locally grown cool-climate grapes and proudly proclaim that you won't find any vinifera in their area. Now, there is a reason why hybrids aren't well know; they tend to produce inferior wines when compared to the traditional grapes. And while that statement is generally true, it does not mean that hybrids cannot occasionally produce outstanding wines. We tasted through about ten different wines before we got a quick tour of the winemaking facilities (would put some CO wineries to shame, btw). There were a few that were decent, but only two were worth spending some cash on. We lugged one bottle of vignoles and one bottle of frontenac rosé back to Colorado along with a few bottles from Wisconsin and Nebraska.

Over the past few months, we've opened each of the Iowan wines and shared them with friends. After drinking both of these bottles, all I can say is that Colorado better start growing these grapes and making wine this good. I still think that Vitis vinifera offer the greatest ability to produce premium, world-class wines, but if Colorado wants to start competing with the rest of the world on a volume basis, hybrids are the only answer. And if we grow the right hybrids, they can be made into some kick ass wine. I'm pretty sure that Breezy Hills Vineyards does not ship to Colorado, but if you are able to get your hands on their wines, do yourself a favor and jump on the chance. I actually called my parents as they drove out to Colorado for the holidays and asked them to stop and get a few more bottles for me, but alas they had already driven past Minden, IA. I know I'll eventually drive by again and you can be assured I will definitely stock up.

Breezy Hills Vineyards, Vignoles

This wine has no vintage date because it was labeled with an "American" appellation, but don't confuse this with plonk. Sadly, the United States federal government bans vintages from appearing on the label of wines with only a country appellation of origin, but this practice might come to an end soon. I poured this wine blind to a group of winemakers and industry professionals. When I asked them to guess what it was answers ranged from German auslese to New Zealand riesling and even New York vidal. Everyone was quite surprised to see the label proclaim, Iowa! This is definitely a sweet dessert wine with a golden yellow color. Flowers and pineapple dominate the explosive nose. Tropical fruits, citrus, and mineral flavors will have you thinking it is perhaps a riesling or vidal blanc from more prestigious region than Iowa! While there were some nice stone fruit and mineral flavors, the pineapple flavor is most recognizable. The sweetness and acidity were nicely balanced, though the sugar is quite noticeable and it could have been a touch drier for my taste. You're not going to confuse this with Château d'Yquem, but this is a fun, sweet wine that will impress even the most discerning of palates. 12% abv Purchased $12. Very Good

Breezy Hills Vineyards, Frontenac Rosé

I opened this bottle with a group of friends that I am working with to start a small urban vineyard in Arvada, CO. As I said above, Vitis vinifera won't grow well along the Front Range, so we are planning on planting a handful of hybrids and frontenac (along with vignoles) are going to be a major component of the vineyard (we're starting small with only a few rows). Since hybrids are hard to come by in retail stores, I wanted to provide an example of what this grapes can do. Just as with the vignoles, this wine impressed. The color is a beautiful, brilliant pink and it smells awesome. Both the nose and the palate is chock-full with cherry blossoms and cranberries. This rosé is almost bone dry, but the amazing fruit forwardness can fool you into thinking there is more residual sugar. I would take this rosé over a white zinfandel or white merlot any day of the week. In fact, this was perhaps one of the best rosés I've ever had. It is perfect for a summer day outside or a winter evening by the fire. If you served this blind to even the most hard core of wine traditionalists, I think that you might get a smile from them and then a dropping jaw after they read the label.12% abv Purchased $12. Very Good

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