Colorado winemakers rejoice after a great growing season

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The previous two years of wine production in Colorado were poor. There was some doubt many of the vineyards and farms in Colorado’s high country, along the Colorado River, would recover this year. However, this year brought optimal growing weather for nearly all of the state’s producers, and Boulder County wineries are excited about the rebound.

“Finally a good one. We have a lot more fruit,” Bookcliff Vineyards Owner John Garlich says of the season, which he thinks brought in about 30 percent more fruit in the region overall and 15 percent more grapes in the vineyards.

“The winery will have more grapes so this year we’ll have a lot of malbec, which is something that’s always a great wine but sometimes it suffers in the winter. So up until this summer we had really limited supplies, and now we can pull out the stops.”

Garlich says the season was particularly suited to malbec and to most red varietals. It was a much longer growing season, he says, that started much earlier than usual with a rainy and cool season in Palisade, where Garlich owns a farm and vineyard.

“It started early but didn’t get really cranked up because of the cooler weather, and so that slowed it down a little, because you don’t want things to ripen in August … which is too warm,” Garlich says.

The season in the growing region saw a mild July, where typical temperatures can soar over 100 degrees and linger there. August is typically cool and rainy, much like a monsoon season, Garlich says, and that cools everything down. This year, though, it remained warm and sunny through August into September.

That warmth, without overbearing heat, will serve the wines well, Garlich says, but it’s too early to say.

“I think this long growing season and kind of warm and not hot weather will be good, and the proof will be in the wine itself,” he says.

Blake Eliasson, owner of Settembre Cellars, also experienced abundance from his producers.

“There was fruit this year, so that was a really good thing,” Eliasson says. “There were lots of [growers] saying, ‘It’s coming in heavy, do you want more fruit?’ so it’s certainly a good vintage in that regard.”

Eliasson says the grape he’s most excited for is chardonnay, which hasn’t panned out in the last two years. Like others in the region and in the Colorado wine industry, this was an important recovery year for Settembre and its growers. 

“This year we’re pretty much back on track to what we usually do,” Eliasson says.

Garlich says he’s just happy to see fruit coming back on the vines this year, but he was able to cultivate a second-year grape in souzão, a Portuguese varietal that’s typically used in port wine. Garlich turned that grape into dry red wine and currently has a previous vintage of it in a high-end blend.

There are rumors that this winter is supposed to be bad, but Garlich is taking a wait-and-see approach.

“I’m optimistic, otherwise I wouldn’t be in the business,” he says. “Last time, 1987 or 1989, I remember one being a big El Nino year, it didn’t get that cold. Weather is fickle, but I’m hoping it’s not that cold.”