RJ Sangosti, The Denver Post

President Barack Obama orders a beer with Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper at Wynkoop Brewery in downtown Denver after arriving in Colorado, July 08, 2014.

Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper has been closely aligned with thestate’s craft beer industry for decades — and for an excellent reason.

The brewpub Hickenlooper co-founded in 1998, Wynkoop Brewing Co., was not only the state’s first, it helped usher in Lower Downtown’s revitalization and sat on the leading edge of the national craft beer movement.

John Hickenlooper poses with some of the different brews from the Wynkoop Brewery in 1991.
John Hickenlooper poses with some of the different brews from the Wynkoop Brewery in 1991.

Colorado now ranks third in the nation for craft beer production, with 1,775,831 barrels per year, and counts 7.3 craft breweries for every 100,000 people aged 21-and-up — more than any other state except Vermont and Oregon, according to the Brewers Association.

So why is our beer-loving governor lending his name and reputation to the state’s wine industry?

Because he’s the governor, of course. Hickenlooper will appear at History Colorado on Aug. 4 to hand out awards for the seventh annual Governor’s Cup, a state-sponsored wine competition from the Colorado Wine Industry Development Board. The event will recognize 18 wines and include chef pairings with its wine tastings.

“The Colorado wine industry continues to grow and shine a light on our world-class wineries from all over the state,” Hickenlooper said in a news release. “As the industry expands, we look forward to sharing with our in-state and out-of-state visitors the beauty of Colorado wine.”

It makes sense that our entrepreneurial, pro-business governor would try to lift an underdog beverage industry. But is Hickenlooper secretly a wine lover?

Not exactly, according to Maximillian Potter, his former speechwriter and biographer who collaborated on Hick’s new book“The Opposite of Woe: My Life in Beer and Politics.” As it turns out, Potter — a former top editor at 5280 Magazine and an award-winning journalist who is now Editor at Large for Esquire Magazine — also wrote a New York Times-lauded wine book called “Shadows in the Vineyard.”

That raises the question: While writing the book, did Potter spill wine on Hick’s beer-loving brain?

“When I started writing ‘Shadows’ I didn’t know anything about wine,” Potter said. “But I learned a great deal. And John being John, he would go on about his favorite Bordeaux, which he would get by the case from Wines Off Wynkoop, that little shop in the alley behind the Tattered Cover in LoDo,” Potter said over the phone this week. “He didn’t know the difference between a magnum and jeroboam — like most ordinary human beings.” (Those are double- and quadruple-sized bottles, respectively.)

Fortunately, Hickenlooper was not the sole arbiter for this year’s list of winners. For 2016, a panel of knowledgeable Colorado judges made their selections based on a 10-point scale along with a consensus vote.

The Aug. 4 Governor’s Cup Tasting event at History Colorado is open to the public and will feature the top 18 wines along with small plate pairings of locally sourced ingredients created by Denver chefs Elise Wiggins (Cattivella) and Mark Reggiannini (Café Marmotte).

General admission tickets, available via nightout.com, cost $45 and include entry at 7:30 p.m. VIP Experience tickets are $90 and include early access at 6:30 p.m. to taste the previous year’s winners with paired menu samples, plus “an intimate food and wine pairing experience with seating in Café Rendezvous, featuring additional food prepared by Chef Samir Mohammad,” according to organizers.

While Colorado isn’t nationally renowned for its wines, Governor’s Cup organizers are hoping Hickenlooper’s support will bolster the growing industry, which has tripled since 2005.

Colorado’s wine crop now includes 143 wineries and 120-plus grape growers accounting for roughly 700 “producing acres” of grapes. More than 1,600 jobs, as well as wine tourism and sales, generated nearly $150 million in economic impact during the 2013 harvest year, according to a study by CSU’s Department of Agricultural and Resource Economics.

And who knows? Maybe Hickenlooper will learn a thing or two about wine in the process of touting it. (Note: The Denver Post reached out to Hickenlooper for this story but the Governor’s representatives politely declined, citing his schedule).

“I’ve bought him a couple good bottles over the years,” Potter said of the Hickenlooper. “And to celebrate my book (which takes place in the Burgundy region of France) he got me a 1970s-vintage jeroboam of Bordeaux. He was super stoked and excited and I was grateful, but when I first saw it I said, ‘Really, dude? A Bordeaux? Did you read the book?’ ”


Check out the full list of this year’s Governor’s Cup winners:

Top 12 scoring grape wines
Bookcliff Vineyards (Boulder) – 2013 Ensemble BEST IN SHOW
Bookcliff Vineyards(Boulder) – 2013 Cabernet Franc Reserve
Bookcliff Vineyards (Boulder) – 2014 Syrah
Colorado Cellars (Palisade) – 1991 Cabernet Sauvignon
Fox Fire Farms (Ignacio)—2015 Traminette
Kingman Estates Winery (Denver) – 2013 Cabernet Sauvignon
Plum Creek Winery (Palisade)—2015 Dry Riesling
Red Fox Cellars (Palisade)—2015 Tempranillo Rosé
Snow Peaks Winery (Estes Park) – 2013 Petit Verdot
Whitewater Hill Vineyards (Grand Junction) – 2014 Cabernet Sauvignon
Whitewater Hill Vineyards (Grand Junction) – 2014 Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve
Whitewater Hill Vineyards (Grand Junction) – 2014 Shiraz

Top ciders, meads and fruit wines
Colorado Cider Company (Denver)  – Radl’ah (cider with lemongrass)
Redstone Meadery (Boulder) – Passion Fruit Nectar
Meadery of the Rockies (Palisade) – Strawberry Honey Wine BEST IN SHOW
Meadery of the Rockies (Palisade) – Chocolate Cherry Satin
Colorado Cellars (Rocky Mountain Vineyards): Elderberry