Thriving on the vine: Colorado wine industry upbeat after couple of tough years

In Colorado wine country, it’s “crush” season and vineyards and wineries across the state are looking forward to a more bountiful year after enduring back-to-back crops marred by bad weather.

Marcel and Julie Flukiger, who own Aspen Peak Cellars, a winery and bistro in Bailey, were getting ready for their first delivery of grapes earlier this week.

“We’re excited to get crushing,” Julie said.

Crushing, or breaking the grapes, is the first step in the process. Like most wine makers today, they use machines, not the traditional practice of stomping barefoot through the grapes.

The Flukigers are happy to have grapes on the way. Sudden cold snaps near the end of the harvests in 2019 and 2020 heavily damaged the Colorado crops. The vines were recovering in 2021, and this year the production is rebounding, Marcel said.

“We were not able to get any (Colorado) grapes last year at all. That was tough,” Julie said.

The Flukigers were still able to use grapes from California and Washington state.

“What we’ve seen in the vineyards looks really nice and what we’ve heard from other winemakers is that the grapes are of good quality and look really nice,” Marcel said.

Looking up

The abundance and quality of this season’s crop is a big improvement over the past couple of years, said Doug Caskey, executive director of the Colorado Wine Industry Development Board.

“I don’t think it’s going to be a record-setting year,” Caskey said. “But given some of the damage that we’ve seen the last few years, it’s a relief that the vines are coming back from a difficult period.”

About 80% Colorado wine grapes are grown on the Western Slope. Caskey said most of the grapes come from The Grand Valley, stretching from Palisade to Grand Junction along the Colorado River.

Colorado has about 170 wineries and 200 grape growers, many of whom also have wineries. The wine board said the industry’s total annual impact on the state’s economy is roughly $300 million, which includes tourism generated by wineries.

Toward the end of harvests in October 2019 and 2020, many of the grapes in western Colorado were devastated when temperatures plunged by 70 to 80 degrees over a 24-to-48-hour period. The biggest blow was to the vitis vinifera varieties, the common wine grape that’s native to Europe.

“We essentially lost between 70% and 100% of vitis vinifera vines,” Caskey.

Although the vines might not be permanently damaged, Caskey said it can take up to two years to recover from that kind of weather. As a result, the 2021 harvest was lean.

“There appears to be a much higher crop this year compared to last year, especially for the European wine grape or common grape that were hit the previous couple of years,” Horst Caspari, Colorado State University professor and state viticulturist, said in a statement.

An annual report by Caspari for the state wine industry said the buds of the “cold-hardy” varieties suffered minor or no damage from the extreme weather.

Colorado tough

The grapes hit the hardest by the abrupt …read more

Source:: The Denver Post – Business


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