By Dave Buchanan

Late arrivals to this year’s Festival in the Park, the signature event for the annual Colorado Mountain Winefest, were greeted by a sign near the front gate announcing, “Event sold out.” What? Sold out?

How could that be?

For the first time in the event’s 24-year history, ticket sales this year were capped. While 6,000 tickets (plus the 350 VIP tent admissions) into tree-shaded Riverbend Park might not seem like much of a cap, you couldn’t get one if you were one of those waiting until Saturday morning.

“We sold out late (Friday),” said Cassidee Shull, executive director for the Colorado Association for Viticulture & Enology, during a brief interlude Saturday. “We sold out of everything — the dinners, the wine bus, the VIP tent.”

The eye-catching red-and-canary yellow sign revealed how much this event, again this year sponsored by Alpine Bank, has grown in its twoplus decades. It also affirmed that attending Winefest no longer should be taken for granted.

“We really want people to pre-plan their Winefest,” said Shull, reflecting oft-heard comments about potential overcrowding. “If we can get them in the habit of buying their tickets ahead of time, it will keep this a fun experience for everyone.”

GRAPE HARVEST IS ON THE WAY

As anyone with a backyard garden can attest, that cool, wet May left most of western Colorado about a week to 10 days behind when it comes to harvesting fruit and vegetables.

The same is true for grape growers, many of whom said during Winefest that the wet spring following a mild winter was very good for the crop, which appears to be one of the best in recent years.

“We’re a little behind but all of the fruit looks great,” said John Behr of Whitewater Hill Winery on 32 Road. “It’s really nice to be able to drive down the rows and see bunches of grapes.

“I could get spoiled.”

Deep winter freezes and late spring frosts since 2011 have sliced into the area’s grape crop and reduced what’s available for bottling.

For many winemakers, particularly those who use 100-percent Colorado-grown grapes, it means casting an anxious eye at their dwindling wine supply.

“I’m down to eight wines and I usually make 17,” said Nancy Janes, Behr’s partner and the winemaker for Whitewater Hill. “So I’m really glad this year came along.”

Janes and a few other growers already have picked some early ripening white-wine varietals with most grapes nearing their peak after another week or so of late-summer sun and cool nights, key elements in developing the desired balance between sugars and acidity.

John Garlich of Book Cliff Winery said his grapes in the Vinelands area south of Palisade should be ready sometime this week while John Barbier at Maison La Belle Vie Winery in Palisade said he’s eager to take full advantage of a big harvest.

“My reds are getting a bit short so this year will be very good for us,” he said. “I want to stay 100-percent Colorado and refuse to buy (out-ofstate) fruit, so I can use a good year.

“I think this year I will make some extra cases of wine because I know I can store them and they only will get better with time.”

Naomi Smith of Grande River Winery said she was anticipating a busy harvest and that Grande River winemaker Rainer Thoma was ready for “things to pop.”

“I think everything is going to ripen all at once, just like the cherries and peaches did,” Smith said. “I think this is going to be a good year for us and other growers.”