I am So High: I recently visited the highest-elevation commercial vineyard in North America, renowned for its unique ‘demo wine‘, while camping in the Okanagan Valley. It was a real eye-opener and got me thinking that we need to rethink the North American idea that hybrid grapes don’t have value and that irrigation is always needed.
During my tour of the Okanagan Valley this summer, I had some guests who own the highest vineyard that grows grapes for commercial wine in North America, where I first encountered this intriguing demo wine. They are near Cortez, Colorado, at an elevation of 6600 feet (2011 meters).
We decided to visit Jerry Fetterman and Jean Ann Mercer on our way to New Mexico this fall, and I’m so glad we did. They are a middle-aged couple with backgrounds in science and enjoy being in a rural part of Colorado. During our visit, we also had the pleasure of savoring some delightful red label wine together. Jerry built a cabin there in the 70’s and over the years added on to it as well as acquired more property in the area. It was on one of these properties that he decided they would plant grapes but also that they would dry-farm them. If you have been to wineries in the Okanagan you know that the thought of dry farming is an anathema to most growers.
So imagine a one-acre vineyard growing Baco Noir (a hybrid grape) at 6600 feet in the high desert area of western Colorado. Baco Noir from Wikipedia “ Baco noir is a hybrid red wine grape variety produced by Francois Baco from a cross of Vitis vinifera var. Folle Blanche, a French wine grape, and an unknown variety of Vitis riparia indigenous to North America.” This area is breathtaking in it’s beauty and among some of the most rugged and challenging conditions I have seen to attempt to ripen grapes. And yet they thrive up there. We visited about a week before the planned harvest of the grapes, and the dry-farmed vines were thriving and producing grapes that looked lovely. It felt like an early surprise from a wine advent calendar.
All the wines, including the delightful Papi wine, olive wine, blueberry wine, and cold duck wine, have an interesting, bright fruit character and can benefit from a few years of age. 2018 was my favorite. The wines were made by Guy Drew Wines (now defunct). The labels were created by the vineyard owners and not commercially released.
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