Tuesday, January 22, 2013

VinCO comes into its own in 2013

Last week in Grand Junction, CO the Colorado wine industry gathered for the third annual VinCO conference. The Colorado Association for Viticulture and Enology (CAVE) hosts the three-day event in concurrently with the Western Colorado Horticultural Society’s Annual Convention. VinCO brings together wine producers, winemakers, winery suppliers, industry leaders and expert speakers for a dynamic three-day wine industry forum that offers information, tools and networking opportunities vital to the success of the Colorado wine industry. In just three short years the conference has shown just much the industry has improved.

During the previous two conferences, the insularity of the Colorado wine industry was apparent. However, this year saw seminars on exporting, media relations and even a panel with members from Colorado’s esteemed craft brew and spirits industries. All too often, Colorado’s wine industry is the forgotten stepchild to its beer and liquor siblings. Having Steve Kurowski of the Colorado Brewers Guild and Karen Hoskin of Montanya Rum share their insights into how they’ve had the success the wine industry seeks was hopefully eye-opening to the winery representatives in attendance. The bottom line is that hard work, hustle and developing social networks have helped make our local brewers and distillers well-known within the state and across the country. I think that panel went a long way to show the wineries that the brewers and distillers want to reach out to the vintners and work together to build a strong Colorado brand.

VinCO also offered seminars focused on viticulture and enology practices specific to Colorado’s wine growers. Dr. Horst Caspari, Colorado State University’s viticulturist, led two talks on alternative vine training and pruning methods that may help with Colorado’s all-too-frequent winter kill (and well-timed considering the temperatures during the conference reach fatal temperatures near -10 F last week). Gordon Burns and Dr. Rich DeScenzo, both of ETS Laboratories in St. Helena, CA, discussed juice chemistry and microbiology – crucial topics that may unfortunately be forgotten by some of Colorado’s wineries. Seminars or workshops such as these that assist wineries in improving the quality of their product are important to the overall development of the industry as a whole. Inviting ETS to the conference is a step in the right direction.

Marketing is another topic often overlooked by many of the local wineries, but has become an important aspect of VinCO. Many in the industry have rejected my, and others’, suggestions that too many Colorado wine labels lack the visual appeal consumers and members of the trade are looking for. Thankfully, Michael Wangbickler of Balzac Communications spoke to a standing-room-only audience about the importance of label design. Wangbickler provided a good introduction to issues that wineries should consider when it comes to labels. He even highlighted Canyon Wind Cellars’ 47-Ten new label as a winning design. Linda Murphy, co-author of the forthcoming American Wine, provided wineries with an inside look into the judging process at wine competitions and what to expect when hosting members of the media. At least one winery, Settembre Cellars, was listening because when I privately tasted through their lineup of wines, Tracy Eliasson, owner of Settembre, followed almost all of Murphy’s suggestions (more on Settembre’s wines in a few days). Murphy left Colorado impressed and even hinted that American Wine was due for a second edition with more Colorado coverage because of her visit!

Perhaps most the most important parts of the conference were the networking opportunities. To branch out from the wine world a bit, CAVE hosted a beer tasting at Rockslide Brewery where guest were led a through a variety of beer styles by brewer Zorba Proteau. CAVE also hosted a gourmet chip and wine pairing event. Local restaurants served different flavors of potato, beet and crêpe chips alongside wines from seven Colorado wineries. Guests were encouraged to try as many different combinations as they could and then vote on their favorite. The winning combination was the truffle chips from 626 on Rood and Boulder Creek Winery’s 2009 Reserve Claret.

The following day, Doug Caskey of the Colorado Wine Industry Development Board led a comparative tasting of tempranillos from Spain, Oregon and Colorado. Putting Colorado wine into a global context is an important step in becoming a world-class wine region. The tasting went a long way to show guests the different styles of tempranillo wines and that the lone Colorado tempranillo (Bookcliff Vineyards’) perhaps wasn’t yet up to the standards set by Bodegas Beronia and Abacela. Nevertheless, I still think that tempranillo has a future in Colorado.

VinCO ended with CAVE honoring four members of its community as official Friends of Colorado Wine. Debbie Kovalik (Grand Junction Visitor and Convention Bureau), Barb Bowman (Grand Junction Visitor and Convention Bureau), Sylvia Sharpe (CAVE staff supporter and volunteer) and Dave Tewksbury (Tewksbury and Co.) were singled out at the closing banquet for their unique contributions to the Colorado wine industry over the years.

Overall, the conference was full of information and socializing. Each year the event has improved and this year was no exception. The Colorado wine industry is quickly getting noticed by people and companies outside of the state and I foresee the conference growing into more of a regional convention than just for Colorado vintners. I am looking forward to what next year's conference brings and am impressed that VinCO really came into its own in 2013.

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