A retired Colorado Correctional Industries boss has turned his retirement hobby into a growing winery at Pop’s Vineyard in Penrose.
Steve Smith, who retired in 2014 as statewide director of the Colorado Department of Corrections industry program, set the wheels in motion for the vineyard two decades ago, although he didn’t realize it at the time. His wine-making hobby would turn out to be something he and his son, Paul, could do together.
“We started making wine in the kitchen and we were working with the Carochis in Florence,” Paul Smith said. “In 2006, we planted the vineyard.”
Steve Smith, who had learned a thing or two about growing grapes overseeing the correctional industries’ vineyard at the East Canon Prison Complex, started with 1,500 vines. That turned out to be too much with Penrose’s unpredictable water supply.
“We just about lost all of them due to the difficulty we have with getting a consistent supply of water,” Steve Smith said. “Now, I just plant 50 at a time and I’m trying to see what works best for Penrose.”
As the Smith’s progressed, tasting the fruit of their labor turned out to be a way to get family and friends together to celebrate.
“We just had a ball making the wine and enjoying it with family and friends. A lot of people told us they never tasted such good wine and started asking us to make more for them,” Paul Smith explained.
And as luck would have it, Steve Smith decided he would like to try making wine on a bit big bigger scale when he retired.
“I needed a nice retirement job for me. I don’t feel good if I’m not busy,” he said.
Gradually, the operation got bigger and bigger. When Steve Smith built his house in 2010 it was constructed with the winery in mind. The entire basement of the home is dedicated to the grape-crushing and wine-making operation.
It features large shiny tanks for fermenting the wine instead of the big clumsy carboy bottles the Smiths used at the start.
“It is a much easier operation with the tanks. We don’t have to ask eight friends to help us anymore,” Steve Smith joked.
By 2016, Steve Smith retired for good after a two-year stint working for the Federal Bureau of Prisons. With a state liquor license in hand, he came up with the idea for a special niche market.
“We started selling our wine with custom labels. They are great for realtors to thank clients or for weddings with a picture of the newlyweds; it was kind of a no brainer,” Paul Smith said.
Paul Smith’s wife, Natalie, helps design the labels.
“Then we moved into liquor stores. Today we have seven varieties and make close to 200 cases now,” Paul Smith said.
“We want to get up to 400 to 600 cases,” Steve Smith said. “We made a promise to each other – as long as it is still fun we will keep doing it.”
With their own Riesling, Chardonnay and Marquette grapes, as well as locally grown Canon City grapes, the Smiths supplement their fruit supply with Western Slope and Lodi, California, grapes.
They continue to create their original wine which has a 70% Cabernet and 30% Merlot blend. That original wine is bottled with a special label in memory of Otis Gillespie, who as one of Penrose’s original apple growers and was “always there to advise us and was like a father and grandfather to us,” Steve Smith said.
Other varieties include a Colorado Riesling, “Just Sweet Enough” which is a Cabernet and Riesling blend; the Old World Blend of Barbera, Zinfindel, Malbec and Sangioviese grapes; a dry Cabernet; a dry Chardonnay; and the “Pink Columbine Rose” which is “much like a white Merlot that is still sweet but has some tannins” like a red wine, Paul Smith said.
In the summer, the Smiths are busy traveling to local festivals. This time of year the father-son duo is busy making custom labels for the holidays, many of which feature customers’ family photos.
Pop’s Vineyard wines can be found in Penrose at Apple Valley Liquor and Kat’s Liquor; in Florence at Paradise Liquor and Liquor Locker Liquor; and at all of Canon City’s liquor shops. In Pueblo West, the wines are available at Big Bear, Cheers and Eagle liquor stores.
Pueblo’s Big Bear Liquor, Village Liquor, Loco Liquor, Barrel Brothers Liquor and Hercules Liquor also carry the wines.