The best of Colorado wines

Wikimedia Commons/Don Graham
As the Colorado wine industry grows, so do vineyards around Palisade, Colorado.

Colorado may be known around the country, maybe even the world, for both its macro and micro brewing industry. But let’s not forget, the Centennial State is also home to a budding wine industry that produces wine comparable to other famous grape-growing regions.

That is according to the 16 judges of the recent Colorado Wine Governor’s Cup Competition. During a blind taste test, the panel of sommeliers, winemakers and experts ranked the Colorado wines among those of respected winemakers in both California and France.

“The judges mentioned that they couldn’t tell which ones were the Colorado wines and which ones were the French and the California wines. … They said all the wines were very polished,” says Ulla Merz, co-owner of Bookcliff Vineyards based in Boulder.

X559 TemplateCourtesy of Bookcliff Vineyards

The winery won Best in Show for its 2013 Ensemble, a Bordeaux blend of Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon and Malbec produced from grapes grown on their estate in Grand Valley. Its 2013 Cabernet Franc Reserve and 2014 Reserve are also a part of the 2016 Governor’s Cup Case.

“Twice before we were in the running for it and finally we received the cup,” Merz says. “We were stunned, surprised and very humbled. It’s very nice after all these years to receive the top award.”

This year’s Colorado Wine Governor’s Cup Competition compared more than 250 entries from 33 local wineries. The judges then awarded 12 wines and six ciders, meads and fruit wines to include in the 2016 Governor’s Cup Case. All wines were produced primarily with grapes grown in Colorado.

Western pioneers first noticed wild grapes growing on the hillsides of the St. Vrain Valley in the 19th Century, and by 1899 the U.S. Department of Agriculture reported Colorado vintners had produced close to 1,800 gallons of wine. A decade later 1,034 Colorado farms produce wine grapes. But then federal prohibition turned many of the early vineyards into orchards and it took the state’s wine industry almost 40 years to recover.

Merz and her husband John Garlich reformatted an old peach orchard in Palisade to open Bookcliff in 2008. Since then they have won numerous gold medals and best in shows at competitions around the country. But winning the Governor’s Cup is especially rewarding, as it puts not only Bookcliff but all of Colorado’s wines on the map.

“Within each wine region, it’s good to have a competition just for wines in that wine region,” Merz says. “It marks Colorado as a wine region, and it is something consumers can be proud of —to have wine produced in their state.”

2016 Governor’s Cup

Wine Competition Winners
Grape wines:

Bookcliff Vineyards (Boulder) — 2013 Ensemble, Colorado BEST IN SHOW
Bookcliff Vineyards (Boulder) — 2013 Cabernet Franc Reserve, Grand Valley AVA
Bookcliff Vineyards (Boulder) — 2014 Syrah, Colorado
Colorado Cellars (Palisade) — 1991 Cabernet Sauvignon, Grand Valley
Fox Fire Farms (Ignacio) — 2015 Traminette, Colorado
Kingman Estates Winery (Denver) — 2013 Cabernet Sauvignon, Colorado
Plum Creek Winery (Palisade) — 2015 Dry Riesling, Grand Valley AVA
Red Fox Cellars (Palisade) — 2015 Tempranillo Rosé, Grand Valley AVA
Snow Peaks Winery (Estes Park) — 2013 Petit Verdot, Grand Valley AVA
Whitewater Hill Vineyards (Grand Junction) — 2014 Cabernet Sauvignon, Grand Valley AVA
Whitewater Hill Vineyards (Grand Junction) — 2014 Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve, Grand Valley AVA
Whitewater Hill Vineyards (Grand Junction) — 2014 Shiraz, Grand Valley AVA

Cider, meads and fruit wines:

Colorado Cider Company (Denver) — Radl’ah (cider with lemongrass and lemon balm)
Redstone Meadery (Boulder) — Passion Fruit Nectar Mead
Meadery of the Rockies (Palisade) — Strawberry Honey Wine BEST IN SHOW
Meadery of the Rockies (Palisade) — Chocolate Cherry Honey
Colorado Cellars (Rocky Mountain Vineyards): Elderberry Wine
Colorado Cellars (Rocky Mountain Vineyards): Spiced Nektar Mead

On the bill:  Governor’s Cup Tasting. 7:30 p.m. Thursday, Aug. 4, History Colorado Center, 1200 Broadway St., Denver, 303-447-8679. Tickets $45.