December 05, 2011
[caption id="attachment_1137" align="aligncenter" width="550" caption="Crushing it at our Denver winery on 46th and Pecos."][/caption]
Crush is one of the busiest times of the winemaking calendar, starting with the early ripening grapes of September and lasting, at times, until November. While the harvest is usually synonymous with the actual vineyards, we get just as busy in downtown Denver. Here’s how it all shakes out.
Step 1: The Order
Perhaps the trickiest part of operating an urban winery in Denver is finding grapes. If you’ve been to the winery, it’s obvious the fruit doesn’t come from around the corner, rather from more than 200 miles away in either the Grand Valley or Paonia in most cases. The trick is tracking down the key grapes of Bonacquisti (Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Riesling and Pinot Grigio) from the local purveyors, which is a process that starts in spring as winemaker and owner Paul Bonacquisti begins negotiating with the growers. Then it is a simple game of wait and see. As in wait for the grapes to ripen and see if there’s some fluke weather storm or act of nature that hurts the crop. See, the urban winery gets his or her share cut long before the winery that owns the vineyard. There’s of course a backup plan: Lodi or some other high end West Coast AVA. Paul sources certain grapes from there every year that don’t grow in Colorado, such as Zinfandel, and has a few phone numbers on speed dial if there’s trouble with the local grapes if there’s an early frost or a mishap with bird netting.
Step 2: The Harvest
While Paul never has to pick the grapes himself, he is an important part of the actual harvest process. Once grapes are secured, he is in constant communication with the grower as harvest nears, learning of the ripening process on a near daily basis. Depending on the wine style, there will be a certain target brix reading (a measure of the grape’s sugar) that will signal him to tell the grower to pick!
Step 3: The Delivery
Once the call to pick is given, it sets in motion a process that doesn’t end until a truck has arrived filled with grapes to 46th and Pecos. As delicately as possible, harvested grapes are placed in bins and packed into a refrigerated truck, which leaves once it’s loaded and heads straight for the Front Range. Paul has a few day’s heads up to when the grapes will arrive and is hopefully able to spread out delivery of the harvest of over the course of a few weeks. That’s not always the case; in 2008, he received a record 11 tons from various growers in one day. Luckily there was plenty of wine to consume once the stress of the day was behind.
Step 4: The Crush!
With bins full of white and red grapes, it’s time to start making wine. The crush part of the process varies by grape style. In the case of whites, the juice is pressed and the skins, seeds and stems are removed shortly after to leave a clean, crisp must to ferment in stainess steel. In the case of red wine grapes, Paul presses the juice out but leaves the pieces in the wine after the crush. This allows the color, tannins and body to extract from the skins, seeds and stems. During this process, the byprodcuts are mashed down every few hours to integrate the additives into the wine as much as possible.
Step 5: The Fermentation and Storage
Once the labor intensive part of crush is over, the waiting beings. Paul triggers the fermentation process, which turns sugar into alcohol. He can control when to stop this, meaning he dictates the final alcohol and sugar levels. Once the desired balance is reached (for most of his wines, Paul ferments until all the sugar is gone leaving wines dry), it’s time for storage and aging. Depending on the wine, this can mean time in stainless steel or oak or both, and the time that it sits there varies from a few months for some to a year or more in oak for others. This step includes, of course, lots of tank and barrel sampling, and when Paul determines the wine is ready, it's off to bottling. Then it's not too much longer before you can enjoy it.
Learn more about the winery:
September 15, 2011
Forty-sixth and Pecos. Cherry Creek North, it is not. Traffic is heavy with Interstate 70 just a few hundred feet away. There’s a gas station, a few fields and a national chain of a sandwich shop anchoring an industrial complex. That’s about it.
[caption id="attachment_419" align="alignright" width="300" caption="It just takes a little outdoor music to get this Urban Winery rocking."][/caption]
Napa, it is not, either.
Yet it is home to Denver’s first urban winery, Bonacquisti Wine Co., some 300 miles from the vineyards it orders its grapes from. The location always begs a simple question: Why a winery, right here?
“Take a sigh of relief we don’t grow grapes at I-70 and Pecos,” winemaker Paul Bonacquisti is fond of saying.
It’s simple reason. Urban wineries such as this are strategic — and convenient. Since winemaker Paul Bonacquisti couldn’t convince his wife, Judi, to uproot the family from their quaint, historic Sunnyside neighborhood home, Paul had to open a winery in the city.
Five years ago, it was the first urban winery in Colorado, located just a heartbeat away from the skyline of downtown Denver. He can walk to work in 10 minutes or get his scooter there in one.
But the convenience is more than about how easy it is to get out the door and to the “office” in a few minutes. Making wine where the people are is sound business.
Before That Stupid Law
Pre Prohibition, urban wineries in the United States were commonplace. Juice was made in warehouses in New York, San Fran and Los Angeles. It was simple and effective to get the job done in population centers. Napa and it’s Disney Land-like castles changed the mindset during the American wine revival of the 1960s and 1970s, however, as we fell in love with the romanticism of vineyards.
But the economy — both the stock market and of scale kinds — have ushered in a resurgence of these city-based wineries across the country. Warehouse properties are cheaper to buy or lease and keep up than a vineyard site. There are now more than 200, a number growing every vintage.
“Perhaps it's going a little bit too far to call cities like New York, San Francisco, and Portland America's newest winemaking regions, but there is new ground being broken and potential cultural payoff in the country's remodel of the urban winery trend,” wrote Talia Baiocchi on eater.com.
Other than a small group of traditionalists, few will argue that the quality suffers from being so far off-site. The fact of the matter is many wineries in actual growing regions — Palisade and Paonia included — still rely on grapes to be trucked in from another vineyard down the road or in the next county.
So it wasn't that big of a hurdle for Paul to open Denver's first urban winery. When he left his career in radio to start his winery project, he researched to several examples in the Northwest that proved there was both a market for urban wineries and percent for their success.
“I looked to Seattle and Portland as part of my research,” Paul says. “It’s such a growing trend in the U.S.”
How It’s Done
In many cases, it’s actually easier to make wine in the city. Winemakers such as Paul need not worry about tending to vines on a daily basis. A hailstorm simple means its time to move the car in the garage, and does not equal an excuse to perform a weird anti-weather dance to save the grape clusters.
Come harvest time, it’s simply a matter of finding the best grapes available from Palisade and area growers, giving directions in terms of when to pick the grapes and time a delivery. If one grower falls short, another one down the road might have a surplus.
Grapes can be picked in the morning in Palisade and delivered, via refrigerated truck, to Denver by nighttime.
Then, it’s business as usual. The crushing and winemaking process stays exactly the same from that point on. Just sans the messy part of vineyard upkeep.
The Bonacquisti Wine Co. facility makes an average of 2,000 cases of wine a year, on site. Wines are aged in oak and stainless steel just like a traditional winery located on an idyllic vineyard property. The only drawback being there’s no room to dig below the facility, so the sweet European-style cellar had to be sacrificed in this winery for an air-conditioned storage room.
It’s Always Happy Hour in Denver
There’s another key advantage to making and selling wine in the city: style. In Palisade, vintners often have to offer sweetened versions of their wines to placate the palates of tourists, a segment of wine drinkers that generally has trouble sipping on structured, classic and food-friendly wines.
In Denver, the wine consumers are extremely savvy, having learned from the hordes of wine experts that dot wine shops and restaurants throughout the city. These drinkers want wines sans sugar. These drinkers want wines with age-able tannins and acids. These wine drinkers are often more concerned with a food pairing wine than a porch pounder.
And being able to drink a wine and tour the winery down the street makes for an even better experience.
“More and more people are drinking wine and being exposed to it, so it’s only natural they want to be exposed to the winemaking process — without driving hours or flying out of state,” Paul says.
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