Parker Carlson likes to keep his wines fun and whimsical at Carlson Vineyard in Palisade, Colorado, not too far away from the Wine Country Inn.
By BOB KRETSCHMAN
The first thing you notice about Parker Carlson’s wines might be their names.
Browse the labels at Carlson Vineyards, and you’ll find Tyrannosaurus Red, Laughing Cat Riesling, Fat Cat Muscat, and Prairie Dog Blush, among others. They’re not names that you would expect to find at a typical winery.
“We like to have fun with it,” says Parker Carlson, who serves as winemaker and co-owns the business with his wife, Mary.
The fanciful names come from a variety of sources. The “mythical dinosaur” series, a lineup that included names such as Blancosaurus and Pinotsaurus Red, was inspired by the paleontological treasures of the Grand Valley. Prairie Dog Blush was named when a prairie dog appeared across the road from the Carlson home one morning during a wine-name brainstorming session. The cat series honors the felines that the Carlsons keep at home and at the winery.
“You want something catchy, something fun. People remember the names,” Carlson says. “It doesn’t hurt to have a good marketing gimmick.”
It doesn’t hurt to make high-quality wine, either, and Carlson puts his wine up against some of the best in the country. The winery enters three or four competitions each year in different parts of the United States. Carlson says tastes and styles vary among different regions of the country, and competitions help him ensure that his wines compare well with others in the industry. Carlson brings home his fair share of honors. For example, Carlson Vineyards won the 2004 World Riesling Cup competition in New York against national and international competitors.
“It was an outstanding wine,” Carlson says. “That was the highlight of my winemaking career.”
Carlson Vineyards also is known for its fruit wines, particularly cherry wine, which is one of the winery’s top sellers. Carlson also makes peach wine when fruit is available. He says the sweet taste of the fruit wines is popular with customers.
Other strong sellers at Carlson Vineyards are Riesling, which Carlson says would be his best seller if he had the production capacity to make more, and Sweet Baby Red, a blend of five or six red varieties including merlot, cabernet sauvignon, two muscats, and Gewurztraminer. Sweet Baby Red came about after customers asked for a red wine without the strong, somewhat bitter taste of some varieties.
“It’s a semi-sweet red. It’s hit a nerve (with customers) and just gone nuts,” Carlson said.
Parker Carlson made wine and hard apple cider as a home hobby in Denver before his day job prompted a move to western Colorado to help open the Coors Ceramics manufacturing plant in Grand Junction. He and Mary bought four acres on East Orchard Mesa in 1980, planted several acres of Riesling grapes, and dove into the winemaking business. They learned the ropes by working for Jim and Ann Seewald at Colorado Mountain Vineyards, one of the wineries that pioneered the modern Colorado wine industry, and started Carlson Vineyards in 1988.
Today, Carlson Vineyards produces about 9,000 cases of wine annually, making it one of the larger wineries in Colorado. Its products are sold throughout Colorado and in a five-store chain of specialty markets in Wisconsin. The grapes and fruit used to produce Carlson’s wine are 100 percent Colorado-grown.
“We’ve always used everything grown in Colorado. We’ve never brought anything in,” Carlson says.
He says he is pleased that the Colorado wine industry is gaining credibility in the eyes of consumers throughout the state and the rest of the country.
“There’s more and more quality. You can see it in people’s faces when they come in,” he says. “There are so many world-class wines being made here now, and the wineries win their share of medals.”
Carlson Vineyards’ tasting room, located at 461 35 Road amid the orchards and vineyards of East Orchard Mesa, is cozy and rustic, and the Carlsons invite people to stop by. The tasting room is open year-round except for Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year’s Day. “We usually close early on Super Bowl Sunday,” Carlson says.
461 35 Road
About the Author: Kretschman is a freelance journalist living in the Grand Valley area. He is being remunerated by the Wine Country Inn for his contributions to this blog.