By Mark Condon | Delta County Independent
The West Elks AVA wine road trip is beginning to gain momentum. As I pack up my wine and say goodbye to Steve and Jayme of The Storm Cellar in Hotchkiss, I set my navigation to Garvin Mesa and Stone Cottage Cellars in Paonia. As my Ford downshifts, and motors up Garvin Mesa, the landscape and views become increasingly spectacular. The magic of this bird’s eye view of the valley captures the fullness and expanse of the landscape and stimulates the imagination. Each winery on our road trip creates a unique entrance, and Stone Cottage Cellars is no exception. The stone buildings in the distance draw me in as I approach the winery.
The owners of the Stone Cottage Cellars, Karen and Brent Helleckson, welcome my guests and me to their tasting room which feels more like we are being welcomed into their living room. The couple purchased the property in 1994 and opened it in 1997. Even though they both held professional positions in Boulder at the time — Brent an engineer and Karen a marketing director — they felt life had more in store for them. Ironically, they did not see their professions as either stable or sustainable. They grew up in Midwest agricultural communities and wanted their children to have a similar experience. In many ways, the vineyard purchase was a return to their “roots.”
As Brent poured their Gewurztraminer, he said this was the first wine they produced in the mid-’90s. Many Colorado wine country historians believe this is the specific wine that has inspired a generation of West Slope wine makers. This wine carries the clean, fresh taste that is the signature of the West Elks AVA. It has crisp acidity and intense flavor. These grapes are estate grown and the result is a wonderfully refreshing white wine. The notes on this “Gewurz” are tropical fruit and floral with just a hint of sweetness. How about food with this wine? It pairs well with Asian and Thai, and with the standard fare of Octoberfest and Thanksgiving.
Many of the wines of the West Elks AVA exceed the quality expectations of our visitors. Stone Cottage’s Merlot is a classic example. This Alpine Merlot is a delightful surprise. It is not your Napa Valley’s Merlot! Instead, it is the highest grown Merlot in the Northern Hemisphere and it features characteristics that are closer to a fine Italian Sangiovese. It lands on my palate with rich black cherry and cassis. The texture and smoothness of this wine is extraordinary. This Merlot pairs well with, you guessed it, the bold flavors of Italian dishes.
My hosts asked if I would like to try the Syrah. I have heard many of our area’s wine enthusiasts declare that this wine may be one of the West Elks best red wines. I found this Syrah to be full bodied with a distinct black fruit flavor yet with a soft mouthfeel. This is a great cocktail and sipping wine, or pair it with cured meats and cheese. All the Stone Cottage wines, as varietals, are on point. That is, they taste as they should, but with the distinct Colorado freshness.
Brent and Karen will continue to produce the wines Stone Cottage is known for; however, we should keep an eye out for their new Vintner’s Adventure offerings. They will set foot on new terrain producing Petit Verdot and Petit Syrah. After 27 years of wine making, they deserve to mix it up a little.
One of my goals in writing this West Slope wine and food column was to educate readers on the treasures we possess in our Delta County wineries. Only about one third of Stone Cottage visitors come from the local community. I would encourage more of you to visit these wineries in your own backyard. You will not be disappointed. When you visit a Delta County winery, it is not just about the wine. Stone Cottage is producing and packaging more than wine. The sensational setting and the experience will leave you with much more than when you arrived. Your time at Stone Cottage will transport you to another place for a short time. You will go out with your life enriched and ready to share your experience with family and friends.
Stone Cottage is producing a number of exciting events. How often can you taste wine directly from the barrel? At Stone Cottage, this activity becomes a reality at their gourmet, food and wine pairing evenings. The winemakers will walk you through both white and red wine pairings with delectable small plates. If you have a bigger appetite, please investigate their wine maker dinners. The ultimate wine and food experience is the upcoming Wine and Dine Escape hosted at The Lodge at Needle Rock, owned by Sam and Kerstin Kimbriel. This superlative sojourn includes a cellar tour, barrel tastings, a wine sensory seminar, a tour of the West Elks AVA, and culminates with a four course winemaker’s dinner at the Lodge at Needle Rock. So fire up your roadster and head out to West Slope wine country to experience a bit of life uncorked