By Elizabeth L. Woessner
Boulder County Farmers Markets
How it all began: Twenty-one years ago, John Garlich and Ulla Merz went in search of a vineyard to fulfill their dream of owning and operating a winery. Their search took them to Colorado’s majestic Western Slope, now famous for its juicy, succulent peaches, but once home to a thriving wine industry. The area was actually once known as “Vineland” because its warm days, cool nights and low humidity create the perfect conditions for growing wine grapes. But the advent of America’s tragic Prohibition period meant the destruction of the original vineyards and the planting of fruit orchards. In 1996, John and Ulla found an old 10-acre peach orchard nestled under the famed Book Cliff escarpment and began the process of converting it to vineyards. For the next three years, they collaborated with and learned from their neighboring peach growers as they planted and pruned their new vineyards. In 1999 they opened the doors to the winery, which was, in fact, the basement of their home, and with the help of friends began bottling, corking and hand-labeling their first vintage. They say it takes a village, and for John and Ulla their dreams became a reality with a lot of hard work and the help of their community, neighbors and friends.
A year in the life: Farm manager Omar Delgado Mondragón and his team take a much-needed respite from the vineyards in December and January and return to Palisades in February to tend to pre-pruning the canopy, much of which is done by hand. Colorado winters can be hard on vines, so by April as the buds break, they need to be dissected to determine the viability of the crop, and vines that did not survive need to be replaced. Based on varietal and location, the labor-intensive pruning schedule is determined.
By May things are really growing and the team is in constant motion, training the vines, watering, mowing and controlling weeds to create a balanced environment. Flowering begins in June, and because wine grapes are self-pollinating the fruit berries quickly appear. As the vines continue to grow, the team stays busy controlling growth, thinning the grapes and the shoots to maintain the concentration of juice. By August, the grapes begin to change color and the vines are covered in bird netting to protect them until harvest, which begins in September. Different varietals ripen at different times, so the harvest is staggered through the third week in October. Grapes are trucked to the winery in North Boulder where they are hand-sorted, crushed and de-stemmed before fermentation begins.
At that point, John uses his magic and a great deal of experience to create his award-winning wines. John and Ulla currently grow over 14 varietals on 37 acres using no pesticides or herbicides and a local compost for fertilizer. For John, the varietals that work best for their unique “terroir” are malbec and cabernet franc for reds and viognier for white. “Wine is made in the vineyards and owning the vineyard and controlling the process from how you raise the grapes and manage the vineyard impacts the final product completely,” says Ulla.
Bookcliff’s Boulder community: The community collaboration that is so critical to the creation of Bookcliff wines extends to North Boulder, where it continues with the help of local chefs, chocolatiers, cheesemakers and artists. Ulla works closely with local artists to create unique wine labels for limited edition releases. She also partners with Concertos in Chocolate for wine and chocolate flights, and with Haystack Mountain Goat Dairy for wine and cheese classes.
In keeping with the European tradition of eating and drinking locally, John and Ulla work closely with local chefs for an annual Wine and Food series that includes a five-course, wine-paired, sit-down dinner inside the barrel room of the winery. This year’s chefs include Erik Skokan of Black Cat Farm Bistro, Kelly Whitaker of Basta, Bradford Heap of Wild Standard/Salt Bistro, and Matt Collier of Seeds Library Café.
“Many local restaurants feature Bookcliff as their house wine. We appreciate their support and learn from their feedback,” says Ulla “It is this community of local collaboration that makes it all so special.” For more information on this unique series and other events, visit their website, bookcliffvineyards.com/events.