Weekend tasting festive at Paonia cellars

Christmas 2018 began Dec. 1.

At least it did for several hundred or so wine and Christmas carol enthusiasts who for two days joyfully rubbed elbows in the cavernish setting of Alfred Eames Cellars at Puesta del Sol Vineyards near Paonia.

The weekend Barrel Tasting,  Dec. 1–2, is an annual production highlighted with live music, including standing-room-only performances by the Madrigal Singers, and delightful four-days-in-the-making appetizers by Pam Petersen. It has become the official start to the holiday season for many fans of Alfred Eames wines.

The weekend also is a rare open house at a winery that otherwise can be seen by appointment only (you can sample Alfred Eames wines at Delicious Orchards, just south of Paonia on Colorado Highway 133).

The main reason the winery isn’t open every day is, “it’s just me and Dad,” said Devon Petersen, the second-generation winemaker whose energy and intellect have had a profound impact on the place.

His parents, Eames and Pam Petersen, planted the Puesta del Sol vineyard in 1995 and in 1998, three years before the West Elks American Viticultural Area formed, Alfred Eames Cellars issued its first commercial vintage.

I mention this because, while Eames has voiced no plans to retire anytime soon, Devon represents a changing of the guard, something that doesn’t go unnoticed in a wine industry that despite its relative youth is facing the effects of age — not aging wine but aging winemakers.

As the state’s wine industry has aged so have the winemakers, and each year you see more new faces.

Most of Colorado’s modern-era wineries were founded by people who already had built careers in other fields and, beguiled by the intrigue, decided to try winemaking as the realization of a dream.

Most of those winemakers, for a variety of reasons, don’t have a second generation to whom they can hand the keys to the cellar. Which is why seeing Devon, 34, assume the lead might be the best Christmas gift Eames could imagine.

Don’t get this wrong. There are many well-established winemakers with plenty of years ahead.

Julie Balistreri of Balistreri Vineyards (herself a third-generation winemaker), Ben Parsons of The Infinite Monkey Theorem and Michele Cleveland of Creekside Cellars immediately come to mind as youngish winemakers (more so when they began winemaking) who have earned their chops and are among the state’s best.

After discovering that winemaking isn’t romantic but sometimes dull, repetitive and damned hard work, you wonder why anyone gets into the business.

On one end you have to deal with the whims of consumers, many of whom are spoiled by what they read in glossy magazines.

Then there’s Mother Nature, who keeps you awake at night trying to foresee what curve ball she might throw next.

I’m fortunate to have met people in about every aspect of the wine business, and you soon learn there are the ho-hum and then there are those blessed with a passion about wine and the ability to share that passion with others.

Some of these acquaintances turned into friends whose advice and counsel I’ve taken (in every sense of the word) when in search of an answer or maybe just a good quote.

I thought about that on Dec. 2 while talking with Devon during a short break in the barrel-tasting festivities.

I don’t remember when I first met Devon, but it was several years before he decided to follow his father (whom I’ve known for several decades) into the winemaking business.

In the past five years or so, however, Devon has gradually assumed more and more of the day-to-day responsibilities at the winery.

Like his father, Devon has become a wellspring of knowledge about the travails and joys of winemaking, and like many of my contacts, shared information I keep close until we both can agree about its dissemination.

Devon, and to a lesser degree his sister, Lais, who has a life outside the winery, continue to build the Alfred Eames legacy in concert with other traditions being forged in Colorado wineries.

The one concern they all have in common is: What does the American wine palate want?

Which, now that I’m running out of room, brings us to this week’s topic of holiday wine selections.

No, not mine, since I’m not sure that what I’m drinking this holiday season should have much bearing on what is in your glass.

Instead, it’s that your holiday wine shouldn’t be a mind-breaker because no matter what you bring to the dinner/party, everyone will be happy.

However, if you’re bringing the wine as a gift, I will offer a wee bit of advice. OK, two wee bits of advice.

One, there is no point in giving wine to someone if you don’t first consider their likes and dislikes, which means that a thoughtful dry Riesling may go unopened and unappreciated by a fan of sweet red wines.

Two, Christmas isn’t the time to spring something exotic on a novice wine drinker.

Although you may be familiar with Palomino, Sciacarello and Oeillade noire, save those wines for the moment when you and the recipient can enjoy the experience.