Colorado wineries make the most wine since Prohibition

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Harsh temperatures in the winter of 2009 didn’t ruin the 2010 Colorado wine harvest season. Wine makers tapped into their reserves and turned out one of the best seasons they’ve had, officials said.

For the first time since the repeal of Prohibition, Colorado wineries reported more than 1 million liters of wine to the Colorado Department of Revenue, an increase of 10.23 percent over the previous year.

“In the face of a small, difficult harvest in 2010 and ongoing economic uncertainty, our wineries continue to expand,” said Doug Caskey, executive director of the Colorado Wine Industry Development Board.

Colorado wines’ market share rose to 1.84 percent by volume and represents a 30 percent growth by Colorado wines during the past five years.

Colorado wine is a $42 million industry. There are now 100 licensed wineries in Colorado, 40 of which are east of the Continental Divide.  Front Range wineries contributed 41 percent of the wine reported to the Department of Revenue, while the wineries in the Grand Valley American Viticultural Area, along the Colorado River between Palisade and Grand Junction, accounted for 47 percent.

It’s good news for wine consumers.

“It means more Colorado wine out there than last year,” Caskey said.

It’s been a tough couple of weather years for the wineries, especially those in Grand Valley, where 80 percent of Colorado’s grapes are grown. In December 2009, temperatures hit 20 below zero in late spring, and growers lost 40 percent of their grapes, Caskey said.

Those below-freezing temperatures hit at a time when the grapes were still tender, not hardened for the winter. And then,  some harsh spring frosts in April 2010 killed off some of the grapes that had survived the winter.

“By itself it’s not the end of the world, but any surviving buds from the winter got hit,” Caskey said. “We really ended up losing 60 percent of the harvest.”

In some cases, wine makers imported fruit from other states, including California, to be able to make their wine. Other wine growing areas like Delta County had better weather and were able to make up some of the shortages.  But, Caskey noted, it is often “unpredictable weather coupled with low humidity that gives Colorado wine its world-class flavor.”

“There were still grapes that survived and a lot of the people did better than they expected to,” he said.

Now, wine makers are in the middle of the 2011 harvest season.

“It’s hard to say how successful that will be,” Caskey said. “Nasty weather is moving in now.”

But, so far, wine makers are better off now than they were last year, he said.

Most Colorado wineries are small and are not yet producing enough wine to make it through the next vintage.

“That means this time of year, people are waiting for new releases,” Caskey said.