The grape harvest of 2015 reminds us there is nothing simple or sure when it comes to forecasting the future of an agricultural product.
Grape-growers in the Grand and North Fork valleys last winter held their breath, waiting for a deep freeze that never came (indeed, there were record warm temperatures in January), and then again in the spring, hoping the bud break would not come so early as to be hit by a late frost. Conditions held fast and beneficial, growers and winemakers laughed to see vines full of fruit, and when the harvest came, it came all at once.
Earlier this month, state viticulturist Horst Caspari reported, “We’re picking everything we can, as fast as we can.”
There is, in fact, such an ample supply of fruit that several winemakers are holding some grapes back, leaving them on the vines, risking marauding birds and raisiny shriveling, in an effort to produce a special late-harvest wine.
Not just late harvest wines, although those certainly are highly sought, but perhaps even an ice wine, one made from the juice of grapes allowed to freeze on the vine.
According to legend, ice wine (or eiswein) was discovered by a German winemaker, who, after inexplicably leaving his vineyard during harvest, returned to find all his grapes frozen.
But any harvest is better than none and our German winemaker picked, pressed and fermented as usual.
He had less juice but what he had was intense and super-sweet, a concentrated juice thanks to the freezing process that drives water out of the grape.
So when do you harvest an ice wine?
“Maybe the first week of December,” offered Nancy Janes of Whitewater Hill Vineyards. “It’s always a bit of a gamble but it’s well worth it.”
And Naomi Shepherd-Smith of Grande River Vineyards once told about wearing gloves to pick grapes at 10 degrees. Or was it 10 degrees below zero?
Either way, “it was miserable,” said Smith, who is able to laugh about it now.
“But you know, I’d love to do it again because our customers really loved that wine,” she said.
So if you happen to be driving through Palisade around early December and see a crew of pickers stalking the vineyards, remember: They’re not crazy, they’re winemakers.
Speaking of winemakers, crazy or otherwise, the fascinating Ben Parsons of the Infinite Monkey Theorem winery in Denver is staking claims in Texas.
According to his website, Parsons plans to open an urban winery in Austin, Texas, based on the successful model of his winery in Denver’s trship River North (RINO) District.
Since opening in 2008, the IMT winery has grown to around 15,000 cases per year and perhaps is best known for introducing canned wine.
Parsons, a Brit whose winemaking roots include stints at several western Colorado wineries, is keeping the Denver winery and hopes to tap a similar market in Austin.
The Austin winery occupies a 6,000-square-foot warehouse in an area where urban 30- and 40-year-olds reside in condos and lofts, very much like Denver’s RINO area.
Parsons also noted that Austin, known as a mecca for food and music lovers, “is the fastest-growing metro area in the U.S.”
Parson expects the winery to open late this month or in early November and will use Texas-grown grapes.
By Dave Buchanan, Grand Junction Daily Sentinel