Colorado Dreamin’: Colorado winemaker and Chairman of the Board talks about possible changes

By Kimberly Dean
THE COLORADO STATESMAN

On a recent evening at home I decided to treat myself by making a home-cooked meal accompanied by a glass of red wine. I opened the 2007 Guy Drew Petit Verdot that has been sitting in my office for months, waiting for me. As it happens, the tasting notes on the website recommend it with spiced meats like a garlic and rosemary roast, prime rib or honeyed ham. I used a pork chop and some salt and pepper, but that is enough when you also have peas, carrots and leftover potato salad — which was all I had left in my fridge after coming back from vacation.


Photo by Kimberly Dean/The Colorado Statesman

According to Guy Drew’s website, the Petit Verdot is “one of the primary Bordeaux red grapes most often used as a blender. It has a deep-red color, and the flavor is dark blueberry, a full mid-palate of cola and mocha with firm tannin and a lingering finish.” I only let the wine breathe for about 20 minutes, and found it a little spicy, but as the meal went on, it started to open up and the sharpness started to dissipate and I found that it complemented the food quite well. The next day I had another glass with a frozen fajita pizza, and it was even better! The day after that, my fiancé drank the rest with some cheese while making a beef stew — he likes Bordeaux.

Later in the week I spoke to Mr. Drew, who was appointed chairman of the Wine Industry Development Board last year by Governor Ritter. Mr. Drew agreed that it is a good idea to taste a wine over the course of several days. I asked him about the appropriate length of time a wine should be opened before consumption. “That depends on the wine,” he said. “Most people don’t have a decanter (which may be the best way of aerating wine). Sometimes three to four hours in a bottle is enough, sometimes it is meant to be drunk right away. A lot of mass-produced wines are meant to be drunk early,” reluctantly referring to some California wineries that produce wine in high quantities for the purpose of consistency and market demand. However, “Colorado wines can benefit from decanting,” he said.

I also asked Mr. Drew how long he keeps his wine generally. “I hold a couple of cases from each wine every year,” he told me. This way, a winemaker can taste the difference in the aged wine and it gives him an idea of what it will taste like as time goes by. Unfortunately, the 2007 Petit Verdot is no longer available from Guy Drew Vineyards directly, but may be found in independent wine and liquor stores around Colorado and at Nero’s Italian Restaurant in Cortez.

The upcoming legislative session is expecting a fourth attempt by lobbyists for grocery and convenience stores to seek to change the current laws in favor of allowing them to sell full-strength beer and liquor. It would seem this inevitably includes wine as a result. However, Mr. Drew believes that the beer and wine issues are separate, and is not sure exactly how this possible change will impact the wine industry. “The current legislation refers to the labeling of alcohol content.”

I suggested that if grocery and convenience stores are permitted to sell full-strength beer, that ultimately that means liquor and wine as well. “I don’t know. I don’t know. Or maybe I don’t want to say,” he laughed. “If grocers are able to start selling wine, they are primarily purchasing on a corporate level. What they put on their shelves, just like with food, is what sells. They might have limited shelf space and less selection (than liquor stores). Many liquor stores will go out of business, and perhaps smaller distributors would be in trouble. Brand names are generally sold through larger distributors. So there are a couple of causes and effects.”

Mr. Drew believes that it could impact some of the smaller wineries since stores like Safeway buy their wine to go in all their stores. He gave me a scenario: “If a winery produces 1500 cases of wine per year, 300-400 of each of their wines, and they reserve a number of cases for tasting in their tasting rooms, that might leave them with only 100-150 cases of wine they could sell.” If a large grocer goes to the trouble of finding a wine for their customers, they may not be able to keep it in stock and that makes more work for them trying to find a wine to replace it on their shelves. It could end up being more work than simply stocking wine that is mass-produced, likely from California where they have a lot more space to grow grapes and can produce larger quantities.

In November I received a grand opening circular in the mail for a King Soopers in Glendale which advertised their sale of beer, liquor and wine — mostly from California. I was curious whether I could find Colorado-made beer and wine at this location. I called the store and was told that they are the only King Soopers in Colorado to sell full-strength beer, liquor and wine. A Target in Glendale and a Safeway in Littleton are among the only ones stores in Colorado from a large chain that are permitted to do so, at least for now.

When I rang the King Soopers in Glendale to ask whether they carried any Colorado wine or beer, I was put on hold twice while the customer service representative tried to find the answer. I enjoyed the Christmas music, but after 15 minutes it seemed hopeless. When the representative came back on the line, she was still trying to find an answer. She was aware that they carried Colorado beer, but wasn’t sure how many, or whether they carried any wine from the state. I was transferred to the Wine and Spirits Department and woman named Tina told me, “We carry a pretty good selection: about four or five Colorado wines and between eight and 15 Colorado beers.” When there are over 100 wineries and over 100 micro brews in the state, is that a good selection? I don’t know.

I later called the Target in Glendale to ask the same questions, and was told by a customer service representative that she wasn’t sure about Colorado wine, but they did have some Colorado New Belguim beer (out of Fort Collins), Tommy Knockers (out of Idaho Springs), and Blue Moon (Denver). She wanted to get me more information, so she transferred me to another “team member.” He told me that they do not carry any Colorado wine, but they are working on it. He did add to the beer list, though, citing Fat Tire, Sunshine Wheat and 2 Below, by New Belgium. He then whispered that the King Soopers behind the Target has a much wider selection. How funny is that? It’s not a particularly a good sign when other stores know what you carry better than you do and recommend them to customers. So much for loyalty and product knowledge. This may not matter to the Budweiser and Sutter Home drinkers, but for the rest of the interested population, this just won’t do.

Specialty wine shops may be the only places left to buy the kind of wine you like if your taste buds are a bit more developed (unless you frequent wineries), but if the bulk of their sales are of full-strength beer and $10-$15 bottles of wine, they may go under anyway. This is one of the major concerns facing the small business owners once again.

I asked Mr. Drew whether he thought that the recent attention given to the ban on light beer (less than 4% alcohol) being sold in these stores or in restaurants and bars was a way for grocers to fight back or make their point. He laughed and said he wasn’t sure. It seems as though our choices are becoming more limited. I wonder if there will ever be a solution to please everyone. Probably not, which is why it so interesting!

Apparently, this tug-of-war is not over, and it will be interesting to see how things unfold in the upcoming legislative session. If you have an opinion on this matter, I would love to hear from you. Please e-mail me at politicsuncorked@yahoo.com.