Winiarski: Colorado’s wines ‘show a completeness’

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Warren Winiarski holds a bottle of the 1968 Ivancie Cellars Cabernet Sauvignon, a wine he created for Gerald Ivancie and Colorado’s first post-Prohibition commercial winery. Winiarski, founder of Stag’s Leap Cellars, is renowned as the winner of the 1976 Judgment of Paris.


DENVER — A curious thing happened last week during the Colorado Governor’s Wine Competition: The judges argued amongst themselves.

What makes this remarkable is that, first, this was a regional wine judging, which generally aren’t known to spur intense comments among judges. And, second, among those people stating their cases was renowned Napa winemaker Warren Winiarski.

It was Winiarski’s Napa Valley Stag’s Leap Cellars 1973 Cabernet Sauvignon that bested the best French wines at the 1976 Judgment of Paris and turned the world’s attention to California, and by extension American, wines.

What Winiarski asserted last week was not whether the Colorado wines were any good — that fact already having been established in earlier rounds — but whether two unoaked Chardonnays each deserved Double Gold medals.

“I think the wines shows great balance and wonderful winemaking skills,” Winiarski said, turning in his seat to face the 14 other judges perched around the sensory lab at Metropolitan State University of Denver’s Hospitality Learning Center. “These are the best I’ve tasted and this is the kind of winemaking we should be encouraging in Colorado.”

Winiarski won that particular battle and several others during the judging of 190 Colorado wines (a separate judging was held for meads, ciders and fruit wines).

The judging was to pick the best of Colorado wines and among those standouts a final 12 wines for the Governor’s Case, a collection used for marketing purposes.

A complete list of the medal winners will appear here when it’s released by the Colorado Wine Industry Development Board.

Winiarski was impressed enough by the wines during the recent tasting to push for several Double-Gold wines and a fat handful of gold medals to other wines.

“The Colorado wine industry continues to grow and improve and I’m quite pleased with what I’ve seen and tasted this year,” he said during a break in the judging. “The wines have come a long way, even since last year, and I think show a completeness that comes when the winemakers are figuring it out.”

Winiarski, 84, is best known in Colorado for being the winemaker behind the Ivancie Cellars label, which nearly 50 years ago became the first post-Prohibition commercial winery in Colorado.

Winiarski was working for Robert Mondavi in Napa when he was approached by Ivancie in his quest to bring wine to middle America.

Winiarski turned out several vintages of Ivancie Cellars wine but returned to California in 1970 when he realized the demand for Colorado wine was not as strong as Ivancie’s desire to make it.

The wines were good, he said, but “the idea just never caught fire.

“We underestimated how difficult making wine in Colorado was going to be,” a sentiment echoed even today by every Colorado winemaker.

One of the weekend’s highlights came the second night when three of Ivancie’s children — Molly, Tom and Steve — made an unexpected appearance (Gerald Ivancie lives in Denver but wasn’t able to attend).

Winiarski clearly was delighted to see the threesome and they shared many poignant memories about those early days of Colorado winemaking.

At one point, the three Ivancies presented Winiarski with a precious bottle of the 1968 Ivancie Cellars Cabernet Sauvignon, and he cuddled the still-dark wine like a newborn baby.

“This is wonderful,” he said. “Gerald (Ivancie) had such a great love of wine and I think he would be pleased to see where his dream has gone.”

Email Dave Buchanan at dave.buchanan1948@gmail.com.