Riesling rhapsody

By Kimberly Dean
THE COLORADO STATESMAN

“Whitewater Hill Riesling, Grand Valley 2008, produced and bottled by Whitewater Hill Vineyards, Grand Junction, Colorado.” The label says it is handgrown, handpicked, and handcrafted 100 percent Colorado grown. The tasting notes say it has a “delicate aroma of apricots and jasmine. Fruits of citrus, peach, and nectarine with a hint of lime that lingers on your tongue.”

Mitch Garrett serves up wine at the Castle Rock Wine Fest.
Photo by Kimberly Dean/The Colorado Statesman
A rainbow appears over Whitewater Hill vineyard.
Award­-winning Whitewater Hill wines
Photo by Kimberly Dean/The Colorado Statesman

I wonder if I should have read that before tasting the wine. One can never be sure if, by the power of suggestion, you taste what they say you ought to. None of us: Jody, Sara, nor myself, could taste any of these things in particular that Wednesday afternoon, but then none of us are professional wine tasters.

However, Sara did say that of the wines we have tasted in the office so far, this was by far her favorite. Said Jody, “It’s very sweet, don’t you think?” I had to agree. We wondered about the possibility of whether your taste is affected by knowing what each wine is meant to taste like. We concurred that it was indeed possible.

On that note, one of our truly political writers, Ernest Luning walked in and asked, “Did you guys turn on Oprah or something?” Not exactly, but that’s what we must’ve sounded like to the male ear from the next room. Both senses of hearing and taste were delightfully on the blink that day.

Before our impromptu tasting I spoke with Nancy Janes, winemaker at Whitewater Hill. (Her husband, John Behrs, is the grower.) I asked Janes about the meaning behind the different fruit flavors in wine and what that means. She said, “The wines tend to be reminiscent of other types of fruit.”

In other words, the general descriptions of wine may involve fruit flavors other than grapes in order to better describe the wine, especially when it is not available for tasting yourself before you buy it. Everyone has a different palette, and this helps people understand what the wine is like. It doesn’t mean that the wine is infused with any other fruit. If it is actually infused with anything, it must say that on the bottle.

Nancy Janes is the former president of the Colorado Association for Viticulture and Enology (CAVES), where she served for about four years prior to 2005, and was vice president for two years before that. Fourteen years ago, she and her husband became members of CAVES to learn about growing grapes in Colorado. Currently Janes serves on an informal legislative review committee and tracks activities related to disaster relief as well as possible national changes that may allow the sale of wine between states. She is also on an informal wine education committee.

This wine is 100 percent Riesling, fermented in the semi-sweet style with 3 percent residual sugar. Janes stressed that all their wines are made from Grand Valley grown grapes. Janes and Behrs are primarily grape growers. They have been growing grapes since 1998, and opened the winery in 2004.

They sell 70-80 percent of their grape production to wineries in Denver such as Balistreri, Spero, Boulder Creek, Infinite Monkey Theorum, Bonaquisti, and The Abby in Cañon City. Janes says, “Our wines can stand up to any wines in the world.” Whitewater makes about 2,000 cases of wine a year, and there are only eight cases of this particular wine left, so you better hurry if it sounds like something you might like! “If you’re looking for a local product, this is as local as it gets,” said Janes.

The second Riesling we tried was the Garrett Estate Cellars 2008 Riesling, which was my favorite so far. I thought I would ask the ladies what sort of food they would serve with this wine, as well as what they tasted in the wine. Sara said it was soft and peachy, and might serve it with chicken. I said it would go well with a nice shrimp scampi dish. Jody said it was smooth, and “neutral in terms of sweetness.” She might serve it with chicken or pork.

It was at this tasting when Jody dubbed our little office tasting group SWISH (Statesman Wine Sampling Hour). And as SWISH it will be known from now on.

This wine had just the right amount of sweetness and crispness you would expect to find in a Riesling. There is green apple and pear upfront, and as it comes closer to room temperature, you should taste peach on the finish. “The peach comes out more and more,” according to Mitch Garrett, winemaker. So if you’re a Riesling lover, you will not be disappointed.

Garrett Estate Cellars takes a lot of pride in the wine they make. They make ‘estate’ wines, which means that all the grapes used came from the same vineyard. “All grapes came off our property,” said Garrett.

As a family business, a lot of love goes into each and every bottle they make, and their wines have won many awards. In 2003, Mitch’s parents started planting grapes, and their vineyard has now grown to 35 acres with room to expand. By the end of this year, Garrett Estates will have 4 white wines: an ‘09 Riesling, an ‘09 Chardonnay, an ’09 Pinto Gris, and an ’09 Gewurztraminer. They will also have an ’08 Cabernet Franc and an ’08 Red Blend with 33 percent of each grape; cabernet, syrah and merlot.

The Garretts have a consultant who helps them with the winemaking process, as he says they still have a lot to learn. “We want to make wines that are good,” said Garrett. Well of course they do. They also want people to drink their wines, which is why they price their ’09 whites at $15 or less, which is apparently within the current average price range for most people.

We briefly spoke about possible future changes to the wine and liquor laws in Colorado. Garrett said, “We have a great little thing going on here. We’d hate to see the little stores go down. Colorado is one of the few states that allow small wineries to self-distribute.” Though he has nine employees, he says they all have other jobs, and he is the one person there full-time, wearing many hats from accounting to distributing. Garrett said he calls his representatives to let them know what he’d like to see happen. Well, as Jack Rabbit Hill has proven, democracy works, so you may as well be heard!

I actually met Mitch Garrett at the Castle Rock Wine Fest on July 24 at his booth there. He was very hospitable and poured me an entire glass of wine once I was done tasting everyone else’s. While sipping, a box of three bottles of Garrett Estate Cellars appeared magically in front of me to take home and taste; a Pinot Gris, a Rose’, and a Chardonnay.

As of this writing, I have tasted the Chardonnay and the Pinot Gris. The Pinot Gris was lovely. Very light, crisp and clean. It wasn’t fruity, or oaky or even dry. Since I have never had Pinot Gris before, it was a bit difficult to place taste-wise, but it will go high on my list of drinkable wines. My aunt and uncle were in town and we drank the bottle over a period of three days. It just seemed to get better as time went on, as does this job… The Chardonnay was also very good, and very much to my liking, not oaky at all. Just a nice, drinkable white wine that would go with almost anything.