Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Meet the Winemaker: Keith and Diana Read (Cottonwood Cellars and The Olathe Winery)

Cottonwood Cellars is located on California Mesa. It just happens that California Mesa is located in sweet corn country near the town of Olathe, CO and not in its namesake state. However, the proprietors have a California connection. Diana Read is the face of Cottonwood Cellars and her husband Keith is the winemaker. They produce old-world style wines and are one of two local producers, that I know of, making Lemberger. Despite not displaying the bold fruit flavors of other Colorado wineries, Cottonwood Cellars took home the top award for the red wine at the state winemaking competition in 2011 (this will be renamed the Governor's Cup this year!).

Cottonwood Cellars is also taking full advantage of a Colorado statute that allows local wineries to operate five off-site tasting rooms. You can taste and buy the wine at the winery, of course, but also at Colorado Winery Row and at Coffee at the Point in Denver and at Cowbells in Woodland Park. Very few other wineries take advantage of this law and Cottonwood will soon fill its allotment this year with plans for two new tasting rooms. Wherever you are in the state, I'm sure you'll be able to find a bottle of Cottonwood Cellars that you can sip on while read our interview with Diana Read.

Monday, February 27, 2012

Ben's Bubbly: Chateau Vincent Brut

We officially have a toddler. Ben is now walking more than he crawls and he even stands up on his own without pulling himself up on something. He has also taken up the sport of hockey! He got two hockey sticks from his grandparents for Christmas and he really is quite adept at using them to play with a tennis ball (or any other toy within reach). I need to get him kicking a soccer ball before he decides that hockey is the sport for him. In addition to the new mobility independence, Ben is feeding himself for most of his meals. We usually give him bite-sized pieces of his food, which he scoops up with his fingers and places in his mouth. We have to pace ourselves or else he'll fill up his entire mouth like a hamster. Even when we try to use a spoon, Ben usually wants to grab the spoon and do it himself. This has led to rather messy meal times and multiple clothing changes throughout the day. Good thing he has more clothes than we know what to do with!

Chateau Vincent, Brut, Hungary

I've had this wine a few years ago and thought it would be an interesting addition to the is little experiment. Plus, it is not too often that one finds 10-yr old Hungarian sparkling wine sitting on a retailers shelf, though surprisingly this isn't the first Hungarian bubbly we've had this past year. This wine is showing its maturity with its dark golden color. The nose is relatively muted, but there was a pleasant toastiness followed by a background of citrus and apple. The flavors mirrored the aromas by showing orange and yeast. Overall, I don't have much else to say about this wine. It was not unpleasant, but nothing exciting or worth revisiting one more time in the future. 12% abv Purchased $12. Average/Good

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Meet the Winemaker: Parker Carlson (Carlson Vineyards)

Parker Carlson
Parker Carlson is an icon of the Colorado wine industry. Carlson Vineyards is one of the oldest continuously operating winery in the state. Started in 1988, Carlson Vineyards is known for its locally themed wine names. As the proprietors are "cat people," they offer a three lines of wines with the monikers Fat Cat, Laughing Cat and Cougar Run. Parker also has fun (he has quite a sense of humor as you may gather from the interview...) with western Colorado's geologic history by branding his Lemberger, Tyranosaurus Red. Despite the negative associations with the unfortunately named Lemberger, T-Red is one of the more popular local wines in the state. But what Carlson Vineyards is best known for is its Riesling. In 2004, their 2003 Riesling was declared the World Riesling Champion at the International Eastern Wine Competition. If you like Austrian and German grape varieties (riesling, Gewürztraminer or Lemberger (Blaufränkisch)), Carlson Vineyards should be on your list of wines to buy!

Monday, February 20, 2012

Ben's Bubbly: Kirkland Champange

It is amazing how much can change in a week. Last week, Ben was beginning to take a few "independent" steps here and there. Now, the child is walking across the house. In fact, he is now walking as often as he crawls. If he can pull himself up on something, he will then use his feet to stumble like a drunk cowboy around the house. However, if he really wants to get somewhere fast he'll plop down and crawl with a vengeance. Despite having a low-grade fever, a leaky nose and a cough for the past few days, he is being a trooper during the day. The nights are a different story, unfortunately. One of these days, I am confident we will sleep through the night again.

Kirkland Signature Champagne, Brut

For those of you that don't know, Kirkland Signature is Costco's store brand. Now, of course Costco does not make Champagne, but has the wine privately labeled by an actual Champagne house; Janisson et Fils. With the current hype surrounding Grower Champagne, most consumers only know that the label codes RM and NM differentiate between Récoltant manipulant (farmer fizz) and Négociant manipulant (larger houses). Little do most Champagne consumers know that there are five other producer designations found on bottles. In the case of the Kirkland bubbly, it is designated as Marque auxiliaire (MA), which is a brand that is unrelated to the actual producer, such as Kirkland Signature. I doubt that you will see this designation much in the U.S., though you might find it more often if you were shopping at a supermarket in France.

It is darker than most other bubblies that we have poured over the past 46 weeks. It is a pretty amber color with medium-sized bubbles. The nose is a bit muted, but with a little citrus fruit. I was quite surprised that this wine showed so much tart grapefruit flavors along with a slight nuttiness. It was so tart that it wasn't all that pleasant on its own, but a bit of food made it a bit better. You can't beat this price for true Champagne, but unfortunately it doesn't come with the quality you would expect from Champagne. I you just can't stand non-Champagne bubbly, but can't stand the prices of good Champagne this might be a wine for you. 12% abv Purchased $20 Average/Good

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Meet the Winemaker: Jennifer Christianson (Anemoi Wines)

Jennifer Christianson
Only a few year's ago, Jennifer Christianson knew almost nothing about wine. Now, she is the leading force behind one of Colorado rising wine brands. Together with her husband, Jay, Jennifer is helping the Colorado wine industry become more attractive to consumers. There are more than a handful wineries in the state producing excellent juice, but Anemoi Wines is the bold new kid on the block that everyone is going to want a date with soon. The Anemoi wines are big, oak and fruit driven blends with sexy packaging. Unfortunately, the Anemoi wines (only the Boreas has been released) will only be available at the winery and at select restaurants. So, with that, here's the woman behind the brand, Jennifer Christianson.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Ben's Bubbly: Valentine's Day edition

This sweet child of mine is growing up so fast. Just a few months ago he was completely dependent on us for everything. Now, he actually is mobile and can communicate. And when I say mobile, I mean that he finally has started walking. He's still mostly crawling, but he now can walk about 10 feet across the floor before he either reaches a piece of furniture or decides to sit. While this is exciting (and at the same time terrifying) the cooler thing is that he is also starting to use sign language to communicate. We've been trying to teach him (and ourselves) sign language. We haven't used a whole lot of signs, but just this week he has signed "more" and "all done," in addition to "milk" (which has been doing for a few weeks, though he prefers the dive and grab approach for that one...). We are so excited that he is now able to express his own feelings to us (and the cats). He has been waving hello and goodbye for a few weeks now and he especially likes to greet the cats whenever they enter a room with a quick wave, but they usually decide to vanish when they realize they've been made!

This week for the bubbly we didn't just have a bottle after Ben went to bed as we usually do. We invited a group of friends over for a Valentine's Day party, sans babies. We asked each couple to bring a bottle of bubbly to share. All told, we had six bottles of sparkling wine and a sparkling wine-based punch that also included rum and pomegranate. The punch was a hit and we only opened three of the bottles. It was a fun way to celebrate the holiday and try a few different bubblies in one sitting. I was more concerned with cooking (though I still managed to over-grill the oysters) and didn't take notes on the wines, but I'll at least give my general impressions.

Friday, February 10, 2012

Five more people you should be listening to...

Last week I wrote about five social media personalities to whom Colorado wine peeps should be listening. The list includes five pretty kick-ass guys, but no women! This grave error didn't occur to me until after I hit the publish button. I still think those five guys are some of the most important people wine industry members in Colorado should start following, but I'd now like to invite everyone to get to know these five ladies.

1. Kendra Anderson, Westword's Swirlgirl. Kendra has a bit of work to do to make Colorado's winemakers believe that she truly is a supporter of the local industry after this article appeared in Westword this past summer. I know that she is, but that headline really ruffled some feathers. And the thing is, the article was rather positive despite the sensational title. Kendra is a true supporter of the local producers and has written many more positive stories than negative. She is turning into one of Colorado wine's biggest advocates. She truly wants Colorado wines to be found on every restaurant wine list in Denver, but she is not afraid to offer constructive criticism to the local winemakers and that is important. Make sure you are reading what Kendra has to say. You can follow her on Twitter at @SwirlGirlDenver.

2. Michelle Cleveland, Creekside Cellars. Michelle is the winemaker at Evergreen's aptly named Creekside Cellars. She is quickly becoming one of Colorado's most prolific social media gurus. She's on Facebook and she's on Twitter. Just last night, she tore up #winechat about #VAwine. If you're not hip to that last sentence, you need to get in touch with Michelle. Oh, and apparently she makes her own label, Nippersink Creek (which I still need to try). Follow Michelle on Twitter at @MCWineMaker.

3. Brooke Webb, Mesa Park Vineyards. Brooke is fairly new to the wine industry. That hasn't stopped her from making a big impact! Brooke and her family took over the reigns at Mesa Park Vineyards and have quickly turned it into one of the hottest wineries in the state. They are on the wine list at Frank Bonanno's Mizuna and quickly expanding to Denver's other big-name eateries. On top of raising the profile of her winery, Brooke was also just elected as the President of the Colorado Association for Viticulture and Enology (C.A.V.E.), the state's wine industry trade organization. Fresh into her new duties, Brooke is working hard to improve the newly renamed Colorado Urban Winefest in downtown Denver. You can follow Brooke on Twitter at @MesaParkWines.

4. Jennifer Broome, Fox 31 News and Swept Away with Jennifer Broome. You're probably asking yourself why I put the meteorologist for Good Day Colorado on this list. Well, Jennifer also does the occasional travel bit on the show and publishes her own travel blog. As such, see has been visiting a variety of Colorado's wineries and vineyards and has become bit of an advocate for the local wine industry. She is also going to appear on the consumer perception panel at the Drink Local Wine conference on April 28. Make sure you get to know Jennifer before attending DLW and get some good weather advice along the way. You can follow Jennifer on Twitter at @JenniferBroome.

5. Jancis Robinson, Master of Wine. Ok, so you've probably figured out that not all five of these lovely ladies will not be at the 2012 Drink Local Wine conference, but it would be really cool if Jancis attended (please, Jancis....). For those of you who do not know her, she is sort of akin to the female and British version of Robert Parker, Jr. (in as much as she is probably one of the most influential members of the wine industry in the world). She was the first non-wine trade member (she's a writer) to rise to the ranks of Master of Wine. She writes for a number of print publications, including Financial Times and The World of Fine Wine, and has taken the lead in online publication with her eponymous website, www.JancisRobinson.com. Every time she writes or talks about wine, you should be listening. Follow her on Twitter at @JancisRobinson.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Meet the Winemaker: Erik Mohr (Snowy Peaks Winery)

Erik and Candice Mohr
I've only had a Snowy Peaks wine a few times, but each time I was impressed. Their Rhône-style reds and whites are some of the best of their kind in the state. One other they do well is not making a wine for every customer. Instead, they promote their Colorado wine colleagues and sell a selection of wines from other Colorado wineries. I think that this is something other wineries might want to consider. This way, a winery can focus on the wines and styles they are best at producing and support their neighbors by selling theirs wines made from different varieties or in different styles. Be sure to check out Snowy Peaks Winery the next time you find yourself in beautiful Estes Park.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

The death of the 100-pt rating system

Robert Parker's ratings are perhaps the single most important influence on the wine industry, ever. The main reason for this is his prescient utilization of the 100-pt wine rating system as shorthand for wine quality. The 100-pt wine rating system is well entrenched as the main way critics describe a wine's characteristics. Most Americans equate the scores to the equivalent letter grades we all received in school. How many students care how the final grade was calculated? Very few consumers care how a wine gets its 92 points. They equate high scores with delicious wine. What many consumers don't understand is that the scores they see lining the shelves at their local wine shop are a subjective assessment by one individual. The retailer usually just picks the highest score from the major critics (or not so major) and publications regardless of the varying range of scores.

Fortunately, this system is about at the end of its run. However, it is not dying for the reasons you may think. While its opponents eagerly wait for its dominance to fade, its proponents are actually the ones slowly strangling it. Most of these wine pundits are reviewing the same wines and are competing for consumer attention. This, amongst other reasons, has led to score inflation over the past few years. As the system has slowly been reduced from a 50-pt scale to a 10-pt scale, it is quickly on its way to a binary system. When it first was used, you would not be hard pressed to find scores in the low 80s (at the time a reasonably positive score), but now many pundits will not publish scores for wines that rate below 90 points.

These days, 94 points is run of the mill. If you subscribe to any of the flash sale sites (i.e., Wines Til Sold Out, Invino, etc.) you will notice wines scoring in the mid 90s being deeply discounted. If the wine is that good, why are wineries having to discount those wines? As critics who use this system keep inflating scores to remain salient, they are ruining the system. Now, a wine has to receive a score of at least 96 or higher for it to be a guaranteed sell out for the winery. This means that we are almost to the point of a binary system. The genius of the 100-pt system is its ability to sell wine and sell it well. A binary system does not differentiate the good wine from the great wine from the truly extraordinary wine.

So how do wineries sell wine if critical success is becoming harder and harder to achieve and even a score of over 90 is not a guarantee of sales? The answer is relationships. Wineries need to build relationships with the people that buy their wine and the people that they want to buy their wine. It used to be that the score was the beginning of that relationship. Not so any more. Social media is the beginning of that relationship now. I would attempt to describe this new era, but Alder Yarrow at his blog, Vinography, did so much more eloquently than I ever could, so please, I urge you to read his post from last week here.

Monday, February 6, 2012

Ben's Bubbly: Mamamango

Ben is turning into such a little person. Well, he's always been a little person, but now he is turning into a bigger person that actually expresses emotions. He gets frustrated, he gets impatient, and he also gets affectionate. That last one is our favorite. When we least expectt it, he'll give us the cutest little hug. He doesn't actually put his arms around us, but he does rest his head on whatever part he can reach and shows his affection that way. I'm really diggin' this cuddly interactive little boy!

Another funny thing that he is starting to do is taking food out of his mouth. We like to let him feed himself as much as he can. We give him Cheerios, cut up fruit and chunks of pasta on his highchair tray and he puts them into his mouth on his own. Just recently, he has also started taking the bites back out his mouth. He usually does this a few times before the item either goes down the hatch or on the floor. It really is a special meal when he generously offers one of his partially chewed foods to us to try.

Mamamango, Moscato + Mango

A post last week by W. Blake Gray, and the resulting comments, that discussed the possibility of ingredient listings on wine labels if the TTB was eliminated and control over alcohol regulation were split between the FDA and the IRS made me decide to buy this bottle. Now, on the surface I would support ingredient listings, but there would have to be exceptions to such rules that did not make this extra work for wineries any more onerous than necessary.

Anywho, when I saw this bottle of wine on the shelf at Costco, I had to give it a try. And while it is not a true indication of ingredient labeling on wine (this just listed: quality aromatic sweet sparkling Moscato wine, natural pulp of mango and natural aromas), you might start seeing something like this in the future on all wine bottles. I just won't be buying any more bottles that list those ingredients. This wine looks like orange juice, smells like mango concentrate and tastes like a cheap mango mimosa made with Squirt Soda instead of wine. I would only recommend giving this a try if you are too lazy to open two containers to make your Sunday brunch mimosa. 6.5% abv Purchased $9. Average

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Five social media personalities to whom Colorado wineries should be listening

A few weeks ago, I spoke about social media at VinCO 2012 in Grand Junction, CO. I was supposed to provide a broad introduction into social media tools that wineries can use. My talk consisted of a summary of Facebook, Twitter, Foursquare, Yelp, CellarTracker and WineBerserkers.com, but due to so many questions I was only able to get through the Facebook part and a rushed 2-minute primer on Twitter. My goal next year for the conference is to have a full day of social media workshops where each session is dedicated to only one platform, but that is a topic for another day.

Social media isn't just about how wineries can get their brand in front of consumers' eyes, it is about building relationships. One of the best ways that wineries can build relationships is by listening. Listening is important to find out what consumers want to hear, what critics are saying and simply gaining a broader knowledge of the industry as a whole. Most of the winery owners in Colorado do not have an extensive wine background. None are as knowledgeable about wine as they could be (some may think so, but are not...). The biggest reason I dove head first into the social media realm of the industry is to learn things from those that know more than I. Wineries should do the same. So, today I am offering a list of the five most important social media personalities (other than myself, of course) to whom Colorado wineries should be listening. They all share a commonality, too. See if you can guess what it is.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

A Call to Winemakers (Email me...)

You may (or may not) have noticed that last week's posts did not include a Meet the Winemaker interview. Neither will this week's. For this, I apologize. I should be more active in seeking winemakers' participation. But, I also have to ask winemakers to respond to my emails (hint hint). I have sent at least a dozen emails to winemakers, but have yet to hear back from them. Well, I have heard back from a few, but only to tell me that they would respond soon. I'm still waiting... I get the feeling that more than a few Colorado winemakers would benefit from reading 1WineDude's post on engaging the people who actually drink their wine.

Sure, there are still plenty of winemakers that I haven't contacted, and if you are reading this please don't feel like I don't want to hear from you; I probably just don't have your email. It is okay for winemakers to be proactive and contact me. In fact, I urge you to do so. (If I don't have your email, your website is probably not a great place to get information...)

If you are winemaker that has already participated or if you are just a fan of the site and enjoy reading this series as much as I enjoy writing it, please urge any other Colorado winemakers that you know to contact me. My email is quite simple: coloradowinepress@gmail.com. Part of the reason I decided to start this interview series was to get people in the industry to get to know each other. I have been quite surprised to find out how little Colorado's winemakers interact with each other. I'd like to think that winemakers might like to get to know their colleagues (and competition). But, hey, I've been wrong before (as my wife will eagerly tell you...).

That is all for today...