On a Saturday afternoon in November, the familiar wintery wind is whipping through town blowing horizontal snow in my face as I make my way across the parking lot of the shopping center. With a sigh, I tilt my head into the gust, knowing this is only the beginning of wind season, if there technically is one in our blustery little town.
As I approach my truck, I look up during a lull to see the warm glow of an “Open” sign in a window and figure I could find some solace from the harshness of the day. As I enter, I see a line of barrels along one wall, some European style tables in the front along the window, and a very small bar toward the rear. I allow the instrumental holiday music to slowly seep into my thawing ears, and I smell spices; kind, warm spices that draw me to the back bar and Gussie Walter, owner/proprietor and longtime vintner here on the Front Range.
Upon my request, she pours me a cup of a delicious smelling concoction that is known as mulled wine and is a winter holiday tradition. As the warm liquid warms my belly, the tantalizing flavors and fragrances emanating from my mug beg further inquiry. I discover that Gussie has been making wine in Colorado for 21 years, and originally received her training in New Mexico.
A 36-year resident of Colorado, she has come to a point of familiarity with the wine industry and trade through years of dealing with the same vineyards in places like Cortez, Hotchkiss, Clifton and Burlington. She was the first winery to set up in Boulder County back in 1997, and eventually the zoning laws in Boulder made it impossible for a small manufacturing business to find reasonable sized space to operate. In 2015, Gussie made the move up the mountain and closer to home by setting up in the more inviting environment that is Nederland and the Caribou Shopping Center.
Called Augustina’s Winery, Gussie features mostly dry red wines as well as a variety of white wines and a Rose’. The red I sample is called Boulder Backpacking Wine, a 2017 vintage that is a Colorado grown Cabernet Franc that took at least a year to barrel age and was what Gussie was in the process of bottling when I arrived. With dark berry flavors and a smoky-earthy taste, this wine goes down smooth and leaves a delightful finish in my mouth.
August is the time of year most grapes have matured enough to consider harvesting for wine, with the owners of the vineyards running numbers for PH, sugar content and organic acid content. They send this data to vintners like Gussie and based on the style of wine she wants to make, she will decide when to pick which type of grape. Since she has dealt with the same vineyards for over twenty years, she has her macro bins already on location for them to be filled to order and usually gets a half to one ton lots, which she transports herself with her pickup.
Once Gussie gets her grapes home, she puts them through the first step of the wine making process called de-stemming or crushing. Not to be confused with the pressing process, this simply breaks open the berries and removes them from the stalks or stems, releasing the juice and making them easier to press later. For white wine, the grapes go straight to press to remove the stems and skins immediately with the juice going straight to the primary fermentation process for 6-12 months. For red wine, the crushed berries ferment and macerate with the skins, seeds and stems, called “must,” for color saturation and appropriate tannin levels, with Rose’ enduring the same process for a much shorter length of time.
Once this process is complete, the grape must is then allowed to drain of its free-run wine before pressing. The pressed wine usually has a very high tannin and color pigment content and is therefore added to the free-run wine at specific percentages, as it is thought to add character and longevity to the wine. At this point, a second fermentation process can be implemented to add complexity and soften acidity. Called malolactic fermentation, the process turns malic acid into lactic acid and carbon dioxide.
Depending on the type of wine, the product is then either put through a stabilization process before barreling or being stored in a thickly insulated stainless steel vat for maturation. Many vintners prefer to store in oak barrels for maturation due to the contribution of vanilla and woody tannin flavors left behind once bottled.
The length of a maturation process is a delicate decision based on regular tasting of the wine to ensure optimal flavor. Some wines then endure a filtration process or “fining” which involves adding bentonite clay or egg whites to the top of the body of wine and allowing it to sink to the bottom gathering any remaining solids; Gussie’s wine is 100 percent vegan with no animal products used, ever. Others are additionally filtered to guarantee stability and “brightness,” a point of contention among some vintners.
Gussie bottles her finished product in the back room of her establishment using a pressurized system that operates pneumatically. The bottles are first sanitized and allowed to dry in a bottle rack resembling a tree or bush. She says she is able to get a pretty good rhythm going when she is in afterhours and uses a manually operated cork machine. The corked bottles sit for 48 hours to stabilize the pressure in the bottle that comes with corking, after which she caps and labels them and they are ready for sale.
Gussie offers her wine at $4 a glass, a price that is unheard of in other establishments serving wine. She says it’s because she wants to offer wine in a more inviting and relaxed atmosphere rather than the sometimes-intimidating environment that comes with some wine drinking reputations. Gussie makes her wine with the intention of having something to refresh and revive herself and her friends after adventures such as 8-day backcountry ski trips from Edwards to Aspen, or long-distance bike trips across France. It is with this intention that she invites all others to participate and taste the adventures of life in every bottle.
When you stop by, you’ll also have the option to taste 5 different wines for $3 and purchase a logo glass for an additional $3. All bottles are offered at under $20. With prices this reasonable, it is easy to see that Gussie is dedicated to sharing her love for this most ancient of elixirs. As I wrap up my time visiting and stumble toward the door, (just kidding, Gussie has a 3 glass limit in house and does not allow over pouring), I am thankful to have taken refuge in Augustina’s Winery and look forward to spending many more afternoons pausing to take refreshment in between life’s adventures.
(Originally published in the November 29, 2018, print edition of The Mountain-Ear.)