Green wine: Environmentally savvy Jack Rabbit Hill spearheads shift to steel kegs

By Kimberly Dean
THE COLORADO STATESMAN

Jack Rabbit Hill prides itself on being environmentally conscientious with their out-of-the-box thinking. This unique-to-Colorado farm property also includes some production of organic vodka and gin, not to mention their newest addition: hops. The organic spirits are sold through their other venture, Peak Spirits, and they were recently given a $10,000 grant for re-creating their labels for marketing.

In the interest of further advancing their efforts to reduce and reuse, Jack Rabbit Hill’s Lance Hanson recently sent a letter to Congressman John Salazar, D-CD 3, asking for help in changing legislation to allow for larger containers of wine and spirits, such as kegs, to be sold to bars and restaurants, similar to the way beer is currently sold. He received a response from Salazar’s office within one week of his May request, and shortly thereafter flew to D.C. to talk with the Congressman for about 25 minutes on the subject.

Lance Hanson pouring Jack Rabbit Hill wine by the glass at the Mercury Cafe? steel barrel tasting.
Photo by Kimberly Dean/The Colorado Statesman
Lance and Anna Hanson at their tasting table.
Photo by Kimberly Dean/The Colorado Statesman
The entrance to the Mercury Cafe? in Denver.
Photo by Kimberly Dean/The Colorado Statesman

The argument was that it would reduce the overall footprint by the restaurant and beverage industries. Hanson also says that the manufacturing and logistics costs for the extraneous packaging given the size of the bottles allowed may actually be higher than the product cost itself. This was obviously the case when it came to wine…um, cases.

But that is changing. Jack Rabbit Hill is now the first winery in Colorado to sell wine by the steel-barrel keg, though it is already being done in some other states, including California, Oregon and New York, not to mention Europe, according to Hanson.

Salazar was very receptive. He sent a letter to John Manfreda, administrator at the Department of the Treasury, Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau. In his brief letter he stated, “I urge the Bureau to conduct this review in a timely manner, giving particular consideration to the concerns of my constituent and the thousands of others like him around the country.”

Clearly in favor of revisiting the regulatory standards, Salazar has confirmed Lance Hanson’s belief in the democratic process. “Representative democracy works!!!” Hanson emailed to me afterwards.

I decided to follow up once the first tasting of the wine was announced to see whether I could tell the difference between keg and bottle pours. I couldn’t.

Held at the Mercury Café in downtown Denver, the wine tasting was very well organized. My friend Jamie Wollman, an attorney, and I sat down next to a small table featuring locally made sausage and various cheeses while Lance spoke to the crowd about his wines and the concept behind the new large-sized packaging — which he says is standard practice in Europe by now. He says all the wines he produces will be available in kegs effective immediately.

The restaurant was decorated with red and white Christmas lights, oriental rugs, and was staffed by very knowledgeable and attentive servers. Don’t let the piercings and funky hairdos fool you. The grand piano on the small stage awaited a three-piece jazz band, which provided a relaxing atmosphere for the Denver crowd as the place quickly filled for dinner.

Jamie and I tasted two whites and two reds, both favoring the whites. The Pinot Gris and the Riesling were both delightful, and the ‘Barn Red 2008,’ which is the Mercury Café’s house red, went very well with all the food. Jamie remarked, “A good wine should always match well with a variety of foods.”

The wine taps behind the bar were a separate entity from the beer taps. The kegs of red wine were just below the bar, and the white kegs in the refrigerated room with the beer kegs. A minor installation for a huge return and a smaller footprint. As far as I’m concerned, whatever the size of the bottle or barrel, this wine is worth consuming.

I must add that on a recent trip out to the farm this September in Hotchkiss, Lance and Anna Hanson live in a utopia. Everything is organic, with the cows, sheep and chickens to match. They couldn’t farm sustainably without the animals. Their extensive views from the house make you feel like you are in your own world atop a Colorado mesa. Their winery and distillery are very sophisticated operations, and everything is made with a passion for their farming practices.

Don’t ever say, “It’s not personal, it’s business,” because here it is the same. The four of us shared much wine together, and never tired of the wine biz conversation. It is an endless topic to be continued …

If you have any comments, questions or know of any wine events, especially political ones, please contact me at politicsuncorked@coloradostatesman.com, and please, enjoy in moderation.