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:
October 11, 2011
It all started so simply in 2006 when Paul Bonacquisti lost his job as a radio DJ due to his station flipping formats. The logical step, of course, was to open a winery smack dab in the middle of Denver in the Sunnyside neighborhood.
Well, it wasn’t that logical in most people’s minds. See, at the time, urban wineries weren’t trendy nor popular, and consumers still thought a trip to a picturesque vineyard was in order for the full wine-drinking experience.
If five years in business tells you anything, Bonacquisti Wine Co. has changed that perception and hordes of consumers from downtown to the far reaches of Colorado continue to find out that good local wine can be made right here in the city.
As it celebrates its fifth anniversary on Oct. 13, it’s time to take a look back at Denver’s Urban Winery throughout the years.
2006: Falling Right In
[caption id="attachment_916" align="alignleft" width="300" caption="Paul and Judi get ready to cut the ribbon to make it official!"][/caption]
The tasting room doors opened on Friday, Oct. 13, 2006. Yes, Friday the 13th. The public enjoyed six wines, most of which are still in the tasting lineup today — including Bella Risa white, Vinny No Neck red, Delagua Red (now [d] Red), Colorado Syrah and a Colorado Cabernet.
While the winery opened in the fall, Paul was busy throughout the summer preparing the wines, setting up the business, and seeking out label art in the most random of places, the Highlands Street Fair. Fans of local artist Daniel Luna for years, he and wife Judi found themselves right next to Luna's booth where he had a painting that featured, of course, wine grapes. Serendipitously the relationship was made and the label series was created.
The year also included several other highlights, not the least of which was winemaker Paul falling into a stainless steel fermentation tank. While mashing down the cap of grape skins into the rest of the juice from a plank, he lost his balance and was dunked to his waist. That wine, an old vine Zin, later won a gold medal at the 2007 Colorado Mountain WineFest, the winery’s first ever gold.
In its first year, Bonacquisti produced about 1,000 cases of wine. Paul also begin a relentless effort to work with community nonprofits — with educational causes front and center — by hosting the winery’s first event, a fundraiser for Edison Elementary in November.
2007: World Expansion
[caption id="attachment_912" align="alignright" width="300" caption="Paul getting to cleaning."][/caption]
Beyond coming home with a gold at the year’s annual WineFest for the Zin that Paul fell in, Denver’s wine brand was introduced to the world, literally. With inclusion on the wine list at Timberline Steaks & Grill in the Denver International Airport, thousands of passengers from all over the world were exposed to Bonacquisti while waiting for their next flight.
The year also saw the first bins of Colorado Cabernet Franc delivered; the winery won its first medal (a bronze for the 2005 Syrah) at the Finger Lakes International Wine Competition in the spring; and it grew exponentially, leading to the hiring of two staff members to help with everything from winemaking to garbage duties and working the tasting rooms. "We hired some warm bodies," Paul recalls fondly. Jokes aside, Alex Perry and Deanna Tillion were two sommeliers who did way more than ever asked to help usher the winery's growth.
Lest we forget, the relationship with Daniel Luna, the label artist, paid off with the Bonacquisti Wine Co. taking a silver medal for its label series at the Denver International Wine Competition.
2008: The Great Zin Splatter
[caption id="attachment_913" align="alignleft" width="145" caption="The gold medal 2008 Cabernet Franc in its infant stage."][/caption]
While the big news at the winery was the overall production level — it topped 2,000 cases for the first time — one particular moment stands out. In fact, its date is emblazoned on the wall behind the tasting bar. “Zinfandel 10-9-08” is marked high on the wall, noting the day the Zinfandel splattered. The wine was in a bladder as part of the pressing process and a mistake by the assistant winemaker Alex (he left a mesh screen out) turned into an epic explosion that sent wine all over the place. To compound matters, the annual Grape Jam anniversary party was just two days away.
“(Alex) was covered; he took it point blank,” Paul says. “There was so much on the counter and the floor; I didn’t think we were going to be able to clean in up in time.”
It was a hectic week all around, aided in large part by the single biggest day of grape deliveries in the winery’s history. Eleven tons of fruit from California came on Oct. 7 from several different growers (the winery augments its production with grapes from out of state when Colorado growers can’t meet demands).
[caption id="attachment_932" align="alignright" width="210" caption="Grape stomp at the 2009 Sunnyside Musicfest"][/caption]
2009: The Stomp That Wasn’t
When the annual Sunnyside Music Festival rolled into the neighborhood in September, Paul had the grand plan to hold a community grape stomp. The idea being the neighborhood could help with the winemaking process for a Sunnyside wine blend. Well, the weather didn’t cooperate, and buckets of rain washed out the attempt — after Paul had dragged everything to the park and set up. “It’s never been attempted again,” Paul says.
Bonacquisti also brought home another gold medal at Colorado Mountain WineFest, for its 2007 Cabernet Franc, the first release of that variatel.
2010: Drinking with Friends
[caption id="attachment_915" align="alignleft" width="240" caption="The Fridays Uncorked series kicked off."][/caption]
If there was ever a reason to raise a glass, it came when Judi was named to the Denver Business Journal’s 40 under 40 list of power players in the community. It was a nod to her career in education and community involvement. Half owner of the winery (“She’s the not-so-silent partner,” Paul says.), Judi has been an integral part in every success the winery has achieved over the years.
Plus, 2010 brought Paul some friends when he convinced three other Colorado wineries — Garfield Estates Vineyard, Verso Cellars and Cottonwood Cellars — to open up satellite tasting rooms, forming Colorado Winery Row, officially anointed in March. This meant tons of parties hosted by all four brands, and the kick-off to the Uncorked series (a party the third Friday of every month). Hosea Rosenburg, the Top Chef season 5 winner, even brought his food truck by.
2011: Off the Tap
[caption id="attachment_817" align="alignright" width="199" caption="d Red on tap!"][/caption]
With an effort to be more green, Paul had been researching keg systems throughout 2010, learning that restaurants setups used to pour fresh beer for decades also worked well for wine. Smaller, 11-liter tanks could keep 15 bottles of wine fresh for up to 60 days. So with tap in hand, Paul began selling his wine out of a keg in early 2011 at several leading Denver restaurants, including Linger and The Garlic Knot.
The winery also opened a satellite tasting room in the Highlands at, of all places, a restaurant. Spuntino, a hot Italian eatery at the corner of 32nd and Clay, uses a Bonacquisti tasting room permit to serve [d] Red, Bella Risa and several other wines alongside the tasty creations of chef Raul Salazar. Spuntino is also home to the monthly Colorado wine and food tasting club, Club Wino, co-founded by the Bonacquisti Wine Co. and Colorado Wino.
In terms of kudos, the accolades rolled in — two more golds at WineFest for the 2008 Cabernet Franc and 2010 Riesling, plus said Franc was named one of five wines to drink right now by the Denver Post.
2012 and Beyond
Bonacquisti plans to keep growing in the foodie haven of northwest Denver, making award-winning wines and keeping the Sunnyside neighborhood properly libated. He’s also trying to make jug wine cool again.
Celebrate 5 Years with Bonacquisti
Open House to celebrate five years in business, 1–5 p.m., Saturday, Oct. 15 at the winery, 4640 Pecos St., Denver. Live music, free snacks and tasting room specials.
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.
August 26, 2011
Some of us are the analytical type. We choose round numbers over vague references. In the world of wine, there’s room for romantic notions and hard scientific facts. If you prefer the latter, here’s how the Bonacquisti Wine Co. looks on paper.
2,000: Our average annual case production. Yellow Tail does more than 11 million. Are we even being enough to be small? Will take the artisan, hand-crafted moniker.
2,500: Total square feet of the winery, which means we can produce, at a maximum, one case of wine per square foot.
5: Years we’ve been rocking Sunnyside with our wines, and if you didn’t know, Sunnyside is the coolest neighborhood in Denver.
100,000: The total number of bottles we’ve filled with vino. How long would it take you to polish all that off?
1: Number of winery dogs. Call out to Koda when you come in.
35: Medal of all colors our wines have won at competitions around the country. Judges like our wine.
5: Number of those medals that have been shiny gold.
4,600: The gallon capacity of our stainless steel tanks. Winemaker Paul Bonacquisti has fallen in one.
50: The most oak barrels we’ve ever had on site. Aromas of vanilla, tobacco and toast anyone?
2: The number of major highways within a stone’s throw of the winery (I-70 and I-25). Location, location, location.
∞: Grey hairs that have filled in on winemaker Paul Bonacquisti's head since the winery opened. “There are people who stand at the counter and the go, ‘that's you? Really?’” Bonacquisti says, noting the newspaper feature and photo about the winery opening in 2006. “Now I look like a grandfather.”
3: Number of wineries attracted by Bonacquisti to 46th and Pecos to form Colorado Winery Row. It’s the most complete Colorado wine tasting experience along the Front Range.
108: Tasting glasses broken by Paul or visitors over the years.
200: Estimated number of events at the winery. When are you bringing your 150-person event by?
8: Current number of wines available at the tasting counter (August 2011).
1: Pounds of cheeses consumed each week in the tasting room. We get our delicious cheeses and meats from Carbone’s, a Sunnyside staple for decades.
600: Truffles consumed during the annual Wine and Choclate Weekend each Valentine’s Day.
12: Fudge, in pounds, enjoyed during that same romantic event. (We get the good stuff from Roberta’s, with jalepeño infused in it.
36: Number of bottles Paul opens each month for personal use. They come from his cellar and represent wine regions all over the world, and yes, he has a lot of friends. "I got to open more. Some of this has got to go," he says. Want a new friend?
August 23, 2011
With the explosion of top nosh in LoHi and the Highlands, Sunnyside often gets lost in the foodie conversation. Perhaps for good reason (at least until recently).
[caption id="attachment_665" align="alignright" width="233" caption="The new skillets at Hash in Denver bring a bonafide breakfast option to the Sunnyside food scene."][/caption]
For too long the neighborhood food scene was just a handful of cheap ethnic joints along 38th Avenue. With the recent openings of several new restaurants, Sunnyside can now lay claim to some great (and diverse) food options.
Here’s a where you need to eat in Sunnyside.
Buchi Café Cubano
2651 W. 38th Ave., 303-458-1328
It’s hard to get a good cubano north of Miami, especially in a city like Denver that has never had a strong Cuban heritage. Well, Buchi has changed that with its classic take on the sandwich piled with ham, roasted pork, swiss, pickles and mustard. There’s a whole lot more, too: The café con leches are stellar, the empanadas are crisp and flavorful, and the weekend brunch will put just about anyone in a food coma. Plus, the patio out front is a perfect spot for fresh-made mojito on a warm summer afternoon.
Carbone’s Italian Sausage Market
1221 W. 38th Ave., 303-455-2893
One of the few leftovers from the old school Italian days of Sunnyside, Carbone’s is the best Italian deli in the city. Owners Rosa and Nick Lonardo have been running the shop for nearly four decades, serving imported meats and cheeses, handmade sausages and meatballs, and one of the most filling $6 sandwiches in the city.
The Original Chubby’s
1231 W. 38th Ave., 303-455-9311
It’s hard to beat Chubby’s for dirt cheap Mexican fare — from tacos and breakfast burritos smootherd in green chili to a Mexican hamburguesa — plus it’s open as late as 3 a.m. on the weekends.
Ernie’s Pizza Bar
2915 W. 44th Ave., 303-955-5580
Every neighborhood needs a good pizza spot, right? Well, Ernie’s filled that niche when it took over the spot that was formerly home (for decades) to Three Sons. This hopping pizza par serves quality pies in a fresh, young atmosphere complete with a pool table and skee ball. It also pulls double duty as the neighborhood’s sports bar with a dozen of TVs line across the bar and throughout the dining room.
2339 W. 44th Ave., 303-477-5406
The ever-rotating café/breakfast spot has finally settled on a concept that seems to be working. Hash is a simple breakfast joint that specializes in an array of hashes served in iron skillets. There are still plenty of carry overs from this location’s days as Café Café, with a full assortment of crepes and fresh coffee and tea. The sustainably minded restaurant also plans to harvest much of its produce from its own garden in the future. The coffee and teas are still just as good as ever, too.
Lou’s Food Bar
1851 W. 38th Ave., 303-458-0336
Frank Bonanno has expanded his food empire to the northside with the early 2011 opening of Lou’s, renovating the space of one of the most notorious bars in the area. It’s been a good changeover for foodies. This place has a killer wine program, and mixes the upscale French-inspired cooking techniques of Bonanno with a casual, neighborhood vibe that translates onto a menu that features a variety of options including housemade sausages, påtés, fried chicken, and lobster and shrimp sausage cassoulet.
4001 Tejon St., 720-583-6860
The folks who brought the delicious flavors of northern Mexico to northwest Denver with Los Carbincitos opened this upscale Mexican restaurant at 40th and Tejon in August. The recently renovated space has the most expansive patio in the neighborhood — perfect for the freshmade cocktails like the blackberry mojito. The cuisine is seafood (read, shrimp) heavy and is based on the flavors of the Yucatan Peninsula.
2911 W. 38th Ave., 303-955-0815
Certainly not a spot for true food lovers, Sting Ray Lounge is still a welcome spot in Sunnyside. It’s a bar first with live music often, with beer-soaking foods such as the gut-busting tator tot options (topped with bacon, cheese and several other options) and pizza to hold over anyone who’s been at the bar a few hours.
Bonacquisti Wine Co.
4640 Pecos St., Unit I, 303-477-WINE
Of course, the Sunnyside food scene is anchored by the Bonacquisti Wine Co. winery on 46th and Pecos. The tasting room is open Thursdays–Saturdays and by appointment. The winery is also a part of Colorado Winery Row, a collection of four Colorado wine tasting rooms.
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