Colorado's Western Slope Wineries
In true pioneer spirit, Colorado's independent vineyards work together with growers to produce one-of-a-kind wines that could only come from the Western Slope
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Still, we waited for him to reach down the line of bottles for the two we’d come for, the bottles decorated with pictures of sweet peaches and cherries.
Parker was in no hurry, though, and we tasted the Tyrannosaurus Red, the label featuring a T. Rex holding a wine glass, a testament to the wealth of dinosaur fossils found near Palisade.
As the blue Frankish grapes washed over our senses, we asked Parker if the wine business was as easy as he made it seem – starting small, growing consistently, grapes ripening in the Colorado sunshine, making quality wine, watching people drink it and smile.
He laughed and started telling about the time an air vent got plugged on a 500-gallon batch of plum wine.
“The wine tank fermented during the night, the gas expanding the tank until it was a huge, tight sphere, a wine bomb ready to explode,” he said, with a laugh. When they pulled the plug, the tank erupted with a giant plum wine shower covering the entire facility.
Then there was the time a volunteer pulled a 2-inch hose off a tank and splashed down everyone in a wine bath. And the time he tried to grow the winery too fast and literally had to bet the farm on sales that might not have come through. But the real stress, Parker said, is the weather, which is beyond their control.
In the 2009-10 seasons, unusually low temperatures froze the fruit of the Western Slope, with some growers losing 75 percent of their crop.
“It was the first time since we opened that we had to buy grapes from out of state,” laments Parker. “The growers that didn’t have insurance were really hurting.”
For the Colorado wineries who strive to make wine completely from Colorado grapes, it was a challenge, both financially and philosophically.
Parker then reached for the cherry wine and said that he gets half his cherries from Palisade and half from Hotchkiss, in part to ensure against devastation from a freeze.
He dipped the rim of the glass into melted chocolate then poured in a generous portion of cherry wine. With the smell of chocolate in the air, the taste of the wine came on slowly and tartly over the chocolate.
Carlson’s cherry wine has developed devoted followers around Colorado, mesmerized by a taste drawn from Montmorency pie cherries. It’s been called “cherry pie in a glass” by some, but Parker simply calls it the fastest dessert in the world.
Next, Parker poured a peach wine, with a light color like it had been squeezed from juicy, ripe peaches by fingertip. With such a ripe elixir poured from the bottle, one expects sweetness through and through, but this wine’s sweetness was understated, smooth.
While sipping, a picture came to mind – sitting under a leafy trellis on a hot day, the Colorado River flowing below towering red rocks, a bottle of peach wine shoved down into a bucket of ice, the cold wine beading water on the glass, a good book at hand; then reaching over and tipping a sip of cold peach wine onto my tongue and savoring the fruit, the water, the heat and the exotic nature of wine on Colorado’s Western Slope.
Colorado wine is extremely exotic – the vagaries of altitude, latitude, sun, cold and wind come together here in just the right combination to grow sweet fruit on a tiny sliver of Earth. Rare, in that just the right visionary people came upon that fruit and decided to dedicate their lives to teasing the tastes out of it.
Consider this when you stand on the red banks of the Colorado River, tip back your glass and let a smooth, cool sip of peach wine slide over your tongue. Tell me that peach wine isn’t liquid gold.