Boulder County farmer grows wine grapes on the Front Range - Colorado Wine

Local, local wine available to Stonebridge CSA members

By Cindy Sutter
John Martin breaks a cane checking for spring growth on his cold weather grape vines on Stonebridge Farm, which he owns with his wife, Kayann Short. The

John Martin breaks a cane checking for spring growth on his cold weather grape vines on Stonebridge Farm, which he owns with his wife, Kayann Short. The farm, which was the first Community Supported Agriculture farm in Boulder County, will sell its wine to CSA members. (David R. Jennings / Staff Photographer)
Stonebridge Farm’s red and white wines.

Stonebridge Farm’s red and white wines. (David R. Jennings / Staff Photographer)

If you go

What: Introduction to Front Range Viticulture

When: 2-5 p.m. Saturday

What: Grapevine pruning

When: 2-5 p.m. April 23

Where: Stonebridge Farm, 5169 Ute Hwy., Longmont

Cost: $50

More info:

To register:

Ever had a reverie in which you had your own winery? Or just made wine for your family from your own grapes?

Sadly, the cold vagaries of the Front Range climate would seem to necessitate a move to the West Coast or at least the Western Slope for that dream to become anything more than an idle one.

But maybe not.

John Martin and Kayann Short, who own Stonebridge Farm near Lyons, have been experimenting with growing wine grapes since 2002. Currently, the farm has 150 vines under cultivation. But these aren’t your European grandpapa’s vines, nor even the grapes grown in California or Oregon by his progeny. They are vines with names like Frontenac, Oberlin Noir, Leon Millot and St. Croix, which are a cross between the vinifera grapes typically used by winemakers and wild grapes that are more hardy.

Martin became interested in growing wine grapes after his brother-in-law went to Italy to retrace his father’s path as a member of the Italian resistance during World War II. At every farm, he was offered a glass of wine made from the farm’s own grapes. The idea of having a house wine so intensely focused on one little plot of land appealed to Martin.

As a farmer — Stonebridge, which is marking its 25th year this season, was the first Community Agriculture Supported farm in Boulder County — Martin knew how to observe and encourage plants to grow. But he also possessed another quality required of farmers and winemakers: patience. That’s added to a deep, cultivation-loving nerdiness that drove him to immerse himself in research on vines that might survive the extreme cold and temperature swings that define Front Range farming. He came upon research by one Elmer Swensen of Wisconsin, who began crossing wild grapes with European types in the 1940s, eventually working at the University of Minnesota.

In 2002, Martin planted 48 vines, six of eight different types.

“Half died in the drought,” he says.

He worked with varieties that proved they could survive and planted more to reach his current total of 150, with each vine potentially yielding about a gallon or five bottles of wine. They drank their first wine in 2010 and in 2014 began the paperwork to become a microwinery. They have no plans for a tasting room, but hope to sell the wine, which is grown using organic methods and no sulfites, at about $20 a bottle to CSA members.

Martin also teaches classes — two this month — on viticulture and pruning, an element considered crucial to success, as well as offering consultations.

Making your own wines is not just for those who have acreage, he points out. Thus the classes.

Clark Fishback has 15 vines at his home in Old Town Longmont. He and his wife bought the property next door to use as a rental and expanded their vegetable garden and grapevines into the adjoining backyard.

They are in their third year as grape growers.

“Part of what we wanted to accomplish was growing grapes and making some wine and putting together a space that’s really attractive,” he says.

The couple has 15 vines, laid out in 30-feet rows, 5 feet apart, with lavender planted between each vine.

Thus far, they’ve had about 1 ½ liters of their Old Town wine, but some wine is still being racked, and the yield has increased as the vines mature.

Fishback says that, as with other gardening endeavors, keeping birds and raccoons away from the prize is part of the job.

Still, they’ve made a pleasant spot that will accommodate 15 or so people next to the vines.

Perhaps not like owning a vineyard terraced on ancient hills, but a nice place to a drink a glass of your own house wine with friends on a summer evening nonetheless.

Cindy Sutter: 303-473-1335, or

Colorado Wine Industry Development Board
305 Interlocken Pkwy, Broomfield, CO 80021
P: 303.869.9177 or 303.896.9178
F: 303.466.8515