DrinkLocalWine Colorado: Stone Cottage Cellars

Hello Friends,

During my visit to Colorado’s Western Slope, where the lion’s share of the state’s vineyards are located, I had an opportunity to visit a few small family-owned and operated vineyard and farm wineries. The first winery I dropped in on, nestled in the majestic mountains of Delta County’s small town of Paonia, was Stone Cottage Cellars. The tasting room and adjacent 4.5 acre vineyard are situated at a lofty elevation of 6,300 feet and located within the West Elks AVA, which boasts some of the highest vineyards in North America.

Stone Cottage Cellars' vineyard (6,300 ft above sea-level)

Owners Brent Helleckson, a former aerospace engineer, and wife Karen, a former business professional, left the hustle and bustle of the big city [Boulder] with their two children to return to their farming roots and spend more time as a family. The family purchased the Paonia property in 1994, which was already planted to Gewürztraminer, and over time built a modest, yet charming tasting room and a barrel room that’s built into the side of a hill. In addition to the existing Gewürztraminer vines, they planted Chardonnay, Merlot, Pinot Noir, and Chardonnay. Factoid: Their Gewürztraminer vines are some of the oldest in the state at 28 years old.

Stone Cottage Cellars Tasting Room and Barrel Room

By 2003, Stone Cottage Cellars opened its doors to the public and Brent and Karen were fully dedicated to making wines reflective of the West Elks’ unique terroir. What I personally found to be the AVA’s signature feature was expressive, crisp and refreshing white wines. The higher acids, yet still good flavor profile, may be attributed to a slightly shorter growing season, but ample sunshine (light intensity) at 6,300 feet. However, there are obstacles. The most challenging aspect of growing grapes in Colorado’s Western Slope said Brent, “… are frost, birds, hail, coon, elk, and deer.” Karen went on to add, “Late spring frosts can be a threat well into June.”

In the Barrel Room with Brent Helleckson

Despite the challenges, the rewards expressed themselves in a delicious, elegantly-styled [2009] Chardonnay that offered seamless [tree] fruit and oak integration, baking spice, and slight minerality with a wonderful mouth-feel and lingering finish. Equally as tasty was the Stone Cottage Cellars’ 2009 Gewürztraminer; fragrant with lemon peel, citrus lime, spice, white pitted fruit, and mouth-watering acidity. I also had the opportunity to taste a fruit-driven and fairly high octane, yet decently balanced Syrah and a fortified Gewürztraminer dessert wine. The shining stars for me, however, were the food-friendly and well-made Chardonnay and Gewürztraminer wines that I should have in my cellar sometime soon. From vineyard to glass, the family does all the work and produces a manageable 600 to 800 cases of wine annually.

The Beautiful Smith Fork Ranch

After leaving Stone Cottage Cellars, I checked into Smith Fork Ranch for an overnight stay and a memorable wine dinner with a few Delta County wineries, including: Alfred Eames Cellars (fairly ripe, board line intense, modern blends and estate-grown Pinot Noir) and Leroux Creek Inn and Vineyard (B&B, restaurant, poured a well-made Chambourcin and a refreshing Cayuga white). The ranch, located in west Crawford and owned by Linda and Marley Hodgson Jr., is a slice of heaven -- very tranquil with breathtaking views. Dinner was glorious; and it was quite fitting that one of the best pairings of the night was a Colorado Striped Bass Crudo (Italian version of sashimi) and Stone Cottage Cellars 2009 West Elks Chardonnay. If you plan a trip to the Western Slope (Delta County), the Smith Fork Ranch is a great place to stay (friendly atmosphere, near wine country, hiking, horseback riding, fishing, wildlife, adventure, relaxation, and a great wine cellar) and Stone Cottage Cellars a must visit – especially if you’re suffering from the ABC (Anything But Chardonnay) blues. There’s a cure for you in Paonia my friend. Cheers!

CO Striped Bass and Stone Cottage Cellars Chardonnay

Have a question about this post, friends? Feel free to leave a comment or send me an e-mail at myvinespot@yahoo.com, and as always, Happy Sipping! Stay tuned ...more to come.

Next Up: A trip to a few Grand Valley producers

Click Here to visit Smith Fork Ranch website.

Click Here to visit Stone Cottage Cellar's website.

Click Here to visit the DrinkLocalWine website.

Click Here to visit the Colorado wine website.

Have a question about this post, friends? Feel free to leave a comment or send me an e-mail at myvinespot@yahoo.com, and as always, Happy Sipping! Stay tuned ...more to come.

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