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Rocky Mountain Vino

Manitou Wine Festival features Colorado vineyards and wineries

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Winemaking generally is not the first thing that comes to mind in association with Colorado. And yet fruit trees and grape vines have flourished in Colorado for over 100 years. Despite the climate challenges -- short growing seasons, the potential for hail and high winds -- the grape-growing regions of Colorado enjoy some ideal conditions. Though it is a young profession (most vines under cultivation have been planted within the last 15 years), winemaking in Colorado is thriving.

The Manitou Springs Colorado Wine Festival on June 7 offers an opportunity to sample some of the state's finest wines and to support a good cause: all proceeds after expenses will benefit the Manitou Springs Beautification Project and enable the completion of a Xeriscape project in a median at the west end of town.

The $15 admission fee will get you a commemorative glass and tastings from participating vineyards. A $5 admission for designated drivers and those under 21 includes nonalcoholic beverages; there is no admission fee for children under 10.

Live musical entertainment will include bluegrass, jazz and acoustic folk. Cripple Creek Band and John Stone are among the scheduled performers. Area restaurants will offer refreshments for a nominal fee. You'll be able to sample Breadhead's signature bread salad and artisanal breads; cheese and chocolate fondue (separately) from Mona Lisa; sausage and peppers from Paravicini, the new kid on the block in Old Colorado City; assorted barbeque dishes from Front Range Barbeque; and gourmet coffee drinks from Spice of Life. Rumor has it that Wines of Colorado may offer their signature wine burgers.

Colorado now has over 40 licensed wineries. Among those participating in the festival are:

Trail Ridge Winery, Loveland, known for its fresh and fruity blends under labels like Never Summer White, Prairie Rose and Fall River Red. They make some unusual wines with the Lemberger grape as well as a delightful cherry wine.

The Winery at Holy Cross Abbey, Cañon City, is one of the youngest wineries in the state. Is God on their side? Try their Riesling, Chardonnay, Cab Franc or Merlot and decide.

Rocky Hill Winery, Montrose, has consistently won state and regional awards for stalwarts like Sauvignon Blanc and upstart blends like Ski Bunny Blush. If you're not man enough to try that, sample their cherry wine.

Augustina's Winery, Boulder, is a one-woman operation making gutsy blends with great names like Boulder Backpacking wine and WineChick Red. That proprietor Marianne Walter is a great-grandniece of temperance icon Carrie Nation, giving a certain frisson to her award-winning wines.

DeBeque Canyon Winery, Palisade, has won recognition for its Syrah, Merlot and Gewrztraminer. Try their Claret, considered their flagship wine.

Two Rivers Winery, Grand Junction, not only offers award-winning wines but overnight stays at their bed-and-breakfast. Sample their Chardonnay and pick up some information for your next Western Slope getaway.

Cottonwood Cellars, Olathe, prides itself on its European-style aging process. Try their Chardonnay and taste the difference.

Garfield Estates, Palisade, is one of the state's newest wineries (established in 2000). Their 2001 Fume Blanc has recently won recognition at the San Diego Wine Competition.

Most participating wineries are in the Grand Valley, particularly Delta and Montrose counties. Two are closer to home: Balistreri Vineyards in Denver and Pikes Peak Vineyards & Winery in the southern end of town, across I-25 from the World Arena.

You'll be able to purchase bottles (or cases) from any of the purveyors at the Festival.

The Wine Festival's opening event will be a Wine Makers' Dinner on Friday, June 6 at the Briarhurst Manor. The reception is at 7:30 with dinner at 8. Chef Chip Johnson will prepare a multi-course dinner carefully paired with appropriate Colorado wines, beginning with Forest Mushroom Cappuccino with whipped Bingham Hill Blue Cheese and slivers of yucca root. The appetizer course will feature Hazelnut-crusted Frog Legs with Strawberry-Horseradish Emulsion and Balsamic Glac. Rocky Mountain Red Trout with Wild Onion-Crayfish Crme will be the next course, followed by Pinon and Rosehip Crusted Loin of Colorado Elk. And for dessert: Caramelized Pears with frozen Vanilla Custard, minted Crme Anglais and a prickly pear reduction. Ten bucks of the $60 cost will go to the Manitou Springs Beautification Project.

For information and reservations for the Wine Makers Dinner, call the Briarhurst at 685-1864. Tickets for the Festival may be purchased at: Coaltrain Liquors, 330 W. Uintah; Wines of Colorado, 8045 Highway 24 West, Cascade; Powers Liquor Mart, 5847 Palmer Park Blvd.; Creekside Liquors, 1108 Manitou Ave.; Manitou Springs Chamber of Commerce, 354 Manitou Ave.

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