Back in April, I was invited to Colorado to familiarize myself with some of the players in the Colorado wine industry. After our group arrived in Denver, we boarded the governor’s King Air Turbo and were flown to Cortez, Colorado.
At first I felt pretty special until I was made aware mid-air the plane also serves as a prisoner transfer vehicle. When we arrived at the airport in Cortez, Colorado, I wasn’t sure what to expect. Was this trip just a guise to lure me to Colorado for some forgotten indiscretion in my past? Maybe my paranoia was ignited when we started our approach for landing, and I noticed six military helicopters on the flight line.
When I spotted our hosts from the Colorado Wine Board waiting to take us to our scheduled winery visit my fears dissipated quickly, but this isn’t about me, it’s about all the fine folks in Colorado who against all odds are making some pretty good wines.
I knew before my arrival that wine grapes are grown in many Colorado locations, but not in large in quantities. I also surmised that the location alone would by-in-large dictate the quality of the fruit. From vintage to vintage due to weather conditions the quality of fruit could vary tremendously.
At first glance, the terrain in Cortez looks more like the set of a cowboy movie than that of a vineyard setting. For thousands of years, the McElmo Creek has cut through the Mc Elmo Canyon carving out small plateaus of very fertile land that range between one to five acres. This location is also where the Southern Ute Nation made their pueblo homes in the caverns above the banks of the creek.
John Sutcliffe (owner) and Joe Buckel (winemaker) at Sutcliffe Vineyards in Cortez Colorado might be the two most talented guys in the Colorado wine industry. John Sutcliffe’s hospitality industry experience has afforded him one of the most insightful restaurant backgrounds of anyone anywhere in the industry; honing his skills at Maxwell’s Plum and Tavern on the Green in New York.
Joe Buckel perfected his fermentation skills while working for Flowers on the Sonoma Coast and with Rutz Cellars working with Dutton Ranch fruit from the Russian River two of the most competitive wine regions in the country. Winemaker Joe Buckel decides to pick their grapes on acid levels in conjunction with brix to guarantee wines of balance and food- friendliness. He ferments each lot with a gentle hand coaxing the characteristics of each vineyard into the wine.
The unique backgrounds of these two gentlemen place them at the top of the list for Colorado wineries who can compete with California, Washington, and Oregon wineries. Joe Buckel produces classically made wines from fruit grown in what most would not consider pristine conditions. John Sutcliffe possesses the unique ability walk into any restaurant look at your menu and assesses your wine program at a glance. John will also sell you Sutcliffe wines your guests will enjoy at prices that make it a win-win for everyone, not to mention the loyalty garnered from serving locally made wines.
Whether its regulars or visiting guests everyone likes to try the wines made locally, and Sutcliffe wines are good enough that locals will order them regularly, and guests will seek them out for future consumption after trying them just once.
This upcoming week, I will spotlight a number of Colorado wines from Sutcliffe Vineyards. Look for the reviews in the upcoming days.
Photo credit: http://ronandcynthia.blogspot.com/