Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Meet the Winemaker: Jenne Baldwin-Eaton (Plum Creek Winery)

Jenne Baldwin-Eaton
The modern Colorado wine industry is still relatively young, especially when compared to the likes of California. Twenty years ago, only five wineries were licensed in Colorado, but they had the foresight to encourage the Colorado General Assembly to create the Colorado Wine Industry Development Board (full disclosure - I am employed part-time by the CWIDB). Founded by Doug and Sue Phillips (sadly, Doug is no longer with us), Plum Creek Winery, in Palisade, was one of these pioneering wineries and has a been a leader in the industry ever since. In fact, Sue currently is a board member on the CWIDB. While neither Doug or Sue were winemakers, they have been able to employ some very talented people to produce excellent wine. I enjoy Plum Creek's wines so much that I have put them in lineups containing more exalted wines to be tasted blind. The 'lowly' Colorado wine, of course, was preferred over the other wines in the tasting. I always find it amazing that regional wines are still under appreciated, especially when these results happen time after time. As regional wineries grow and are able to employ winemakers like Plum Creek's Jenne Baldwin-Eaton I predict they will garner more of the respect they deserve. With that, please enjoy our interview with Jenne.

CWP: How did you get into winemaking?

In college, I studied chemistry and exercise physiology. After graduation, I moved to Colorado and worked as a personal trainer in a local health club. I enjoyed the training aspect of my job, but really missed my chemistry studies. In college, we had always talked about using our chemistry background to land a job in the beer industry. Unfortunately in 1994, there were no breweries on the western slope, however, there were a handful of wineries. I figured that since beer and wine were both fermentation processes, that hopefully my chemistry skills would also be useful in the wine industry. I signed myself up for a seminar, sponsored by the Colorado Mountain Wine Festival, that had all nine winemakers from around the state speaking. I found the introduction to wine very interesting and asked the state enologist  if any of the wineries were large enough to hire a chemist. He had only one suggestion, to go speak with Erik Bruner at Plum Creek Winery. Erik hired me as a lab technician part time, I was twenty-four years old and excited to be a part of such a young growing  industry. Erik taught me everything he knew about wine making, and I continued my education through reading, conferences and taking classes at UC Davis. Erik’s approach to wine making was to always be looking for ways to improve quality both in the vineyard and in the winery. His mentoring and teachings had a large impact on the winemaker I am today.

CWP: If you weren’t in the wine business, where would you be working?

If I was not in the wine industry I think I would be in the culinary business. I would have definitely gone to culinary school and then spent some time working throughout Europe, before returning to Colorado to open a bakery/pastry shop.

CWP: What do you do when you’re not at the winery?

When I am not at the winery I am usually on some body of water, either rafting or sailing. My husband and I enjoy 28 day Grand Canyon river trips, exploring the remote rivers up in Idaho or joining friends on a sailboat down in the British Virgin Islands. On the weekends I do a lot of hiking, running and snow shoeing with my two Chesapeake Bay Retrievers and working in my garden.

CWP: What is a wine that you currently do not make that you want to make?

I have always appreciated and been fascinated with Champagne. I think the Chardonnay grapes grown in the West Elks AVA have the perfect composition needed to make a high quality sparkling wine and I hope to test this theory some day.

CWP: If you could make wine in any wine region in the world, other than Colorado, where would you be making wine and why?

I love living and being a part of Colorado’s wine industry so it would be really hard for me to leave, but if I was to work in any other wine region it would have to be New Zealand. I traveled throughout New Zealand in 1995, touring wineries and exploring the country. For me it was similar to Colorado’s rugged landscape, but you were also so close to the ocean. Bonus! The people are extremely friendly, and the whole culture in general is very active and into the outdoors. New Zealand is where I developed a love for crisp, fresh, fruity Sauvignon Blancs. I had never really tasted that style of Sauvignon Blanc before and was really intrigued by the combination of fruit and vegetative characteristics.

CWP: What is the best bottle of wine you’ve ever drunk?

I remember after working my first wine festival the owner of Plum Creek, Doug Phillips, opened a bottle of Champagne to celebrate the end of a long days work. I do not remember the name of this particular bottle 18 years later, however, I do remember exactly how the wine tasted. It was as if someone had captured the exact essence of a tree ripened peach. The champagne was amazing and it opened my mind to the possibilities of what wine had to offer. It was one of those aha moments for me.

CWP: To what style of music would you compare your wine lineup?

My wine, like a symphony, is a combination of many different components that come together in the right balance to enhance the overall experience.

CWP: What do you think consumers should think of when they think about Colorado Wine?

Always keep an open mind. Quality and wine styles vary dramatically no matter where in the world the wine was made. If you don’t like a certain bottle, try another one, don’t overgeneralize the entire industry on one bottle of wine.

CWP: Where do you see the Colorado wine industry in 10 years?

A marked improvement on quality and consistency statewide. Establishment of one or two grape varieties that really standout here in Colorado and put us on the map; similar to what Pinot Noir did for Oregon.

CWP: What question would you like to ask me and my readers?

When purchasing a bottle of Colorado wine from a retail store what weighs most heavily in your decision making? (Price point, label, varietal familiarity, name recognition, awards, etc...)

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