Wednesday, March 17, 2010
Bennett Price takes his time when creating something good, whether it's the wine he sells or the Colorado wine industry he helped launch.
Right: Bennett Price checks wine from a barrel at DeBeque Canyon Winery.
Bennett, who with his wife, Davy, owns DeBeque Canyon Winery in Palisade, says he barrel-ages wine longer than most other wineries in order to create a unique concentration of flavors. He also was an early player in the modern Colorado wine industry, joining an effort in the late 1970s to start a Palisade-area winery and helping to nurture the industry as it grew into the 21st century.
As a geologist working in the oil industry, Bennett landed in Denver in 1971. He started making wine at home and became acquainted with several other home winemakers. In the late 1970s, Bennett and Davy joined a group of investors who formed Colorado Mountain Vineyards, an East Orchard Mesa winery that set the stage for today's industry.
"Our first vintage was 1978," Bennett said. "We struggled, being the only one going. A few liquor stores supported us, and a few restaurants supported us."
Colorado-grown grapes were hard to find, so winemakers worked with growers to find the best places where vineyards would thrive. Bennett said such "microclimates" -- locations that have the ideal mix of climate, temperature, and soil -- were found in the Grand Valley, in the North Fork Valley of Delta County, and in regions around Cortez and Penrose.
Bennett made a specialty of constructing and planting vineyards for growers throughout the state. He shaped the fields, built trellises, planted different grape varieties, and developed ways of improving grape quality and yield.
"At one time, I probably had planted 75 percent of the grapes in Colorado," he says.
Bennett and Davy bought their own vineyard in the Grand Valley in the early 1980s and moved to the area soon after. After building, planting, and maintaining vineyards for years, they started DeBeque Canyon Winery in 1997. Today, with Bennett as winemaker and Davy managing the tasting room, the winery produces about 3,000 cases per year of several varieties, including Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Chardonnay, Gewurztraminer, Viognier, and several port-style wines.
"Our flagship wine is the Claret," Bennett says. "We've won a number of awards with the Claret. Itís been good for us."
DeBeque Canyon's Claret is a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Petit Verdot, Malbec, and Merlot. Bennett said he enjoys the challenge of growing an excellent grape and producing a fine wine from it. Each year and each variety seem to bring new possibilities.
"Wine making is not an exact art, but it is an art," he says.
"Our style is to barrel-age longer than anyone else," Bennett says.
For example, a 2003 Syrah that has spent seven years in the barrel is ready to release this year. Bennett explains that as wine ages in oak barrels, it loses a certain amount of water from evaporation through the wood. The result is an increased concentration of alcohol and flavors.
"That makes a bigger, bolder wine," he says.
"Our customers are more likely to enjoy a fully integrated wine," Davy says.
DeBeque Canyon Winery's tasting room is located at 3943 Highway 6, a few miles east of Palisade at the base of Grand Mesa. Although the Prices distribute their wine to stores and restaurants throughout Colorado, they depend on tasting room sales for a significant part of their revenue. The variety of attractions and activities available in the Grand Valley help attract wine lovers to the area, and that's good for sales.
"People are realizing the entertainment we have (in Palisade)," Bennett said, noting that the annual Palisade Peach Festival in August and Winefest in September draw a significant number of customers to the area from other communities. Palisade also plays host to a summer bluegrass festival that promises to boost the number of visitors, as well.
"I think people are wanting to come over here because they realize how fun it is," he says. "Not only does the Grand Valley offer many special events, but it has other attractions such as Colorado National Monument, mountain biking, and off-roading."
The Prices say they hope the number of attractions in the area continues to increase, because visitors who make day trips or overnight visits to the area might decide to add an extra day to their stay. And that extra day could mean that they stop by and pick up a few more bottles of Colorado wine before heading home.
DeBeque Canyon Winery
3943 Highway 6
About the Author: Bob Kretschman is a freelance journalist in Grand Junction and is owner of Kretschman Communications, a custom writing and editing service. He is being remunerated by the Wine Country Inn for his contributions to this blog.