Food & Dining

Grape Expectations

Ten Bears Winery tackles a beer-soaked market.

IN A TOWN THAT SEEMS TO HAVE an endless tap of new breweries, Ten Bears Winery gets attention for being something—anything!—other than beer.

“You would be surprised the number of people who come out and say, ‘We’ve been to brewery after brewery after brewery after brewery, and you are the only winery around here,’” says Conkling, the owner and winemaker a Ten Bears. “Being in a beer town, I would say, it’s not that tough to be a winery. Besides,” he says, “variety is what makes Colorado great.”

Still, Conkling is a quality wonk, and he is working diligently to produce good Colorado wine. And when Conkling talks about “good Colorado wine,” he means good wines made with grapes grown in Colorado, something that he says is a rarity these days.

“That’s the thing about Colorado wines: Many of them are California wines,” he says.

Ten Bears wines taste of Colorado. Conkling sources many of his grapes from vineyards in the Grand Valley; out of his nearly 30 wines, two contain California grapes, but they are varietals not found in Colorado. He also grows two varietals on his LaPorte vineyard, cold-hardy hybrids called Marquette and La Crescent.

“It’s as pure as you can get in Larimer County,” he says of the Marquette, which he calls their highest quality wine. “There are no pesticides. Just 100 percent local grapes and a little yeast.”

To Conkling, Colorado grapes make a unique style of wine that set them apart from what comes out of California. Because of elevation and weather, grapes become more developed in flavor. It’s something that wine drinkers may not expect.

“For instance our merlot and cab and even tempranillo come out with more spice and character,” he says. “In California, you might have to be a sommelier to pick up on the subtleties. In Colorado wines, the flavors are there. You taste them.”

In Colorado wines, the tannins are also smoother. “They are easier drinking but bigger in flavor and typically bigger alcohol,” he says.

Conkling has been making wines for more than two decades, even while he worked full-time doing microbiology, chemistry and quality assurance for Anheuser Busch just north of Fort Collins. While he helped make Bud the king of beers for 16 years, he’s been a wine drinker since he could drink, and he fell in love with the pastoral vibe of wineries while traveling in California, Washington and the Finger Lakes. It’s partially that ambiance and setting that draws him to wine. “It just kind of grew on me. It’s the laid back feeling,” he says. “If you think about a brewery or you go to a brewery for a tour, you walk through this industrial process.

Breweries are usually located in an industrial park or a city or urban area. A winery has more of a country feel.”

His winery—relaxed and the perfect place to sip a glass of local red on a sunny day — reflects this laid-back and Colorado-centric mindset. It’s peaceful and beautiful with views of the valley and his beloved vineyards. “I love that feeling of heading out of town, but not too far out of town,” he says.

William Conkling’s Colorado Favorites

Three must-visit spots (and sips) winemaker is excited about:

Maison La Belle Vie: “The owner, John Barbier, comes from a long line of wine makers and grew up in the Loire Valley of France. That knowledge is obvious in his wine. Don’t miss the King Syrah and the Vin De Peche.” maisonlabellevie.com

Hunter’s Moon Meadery: “From berries to saffron to coffee, this small, family-owned business is developing beautiful meads, some with honey from their own beehives.” huntersmoonmeadery.com

Blue Mountain Winery: “This beautiful winery in the foothills west of Berthoud has limited tasting times, but you’ll enjoy conversation with the owner, Bill, who has years of experience in the industry. Try the port-style dessert wine that’s aged in American Oak.” coloradobluemountain.com

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