The Best Colorado Wines: Judging The Colorado Governor’s Cup

Judging wine competitions has always been somewhat thankless work. Sitting in what are often windowless, cold rooms for 8 hours at a stretch, evaluating hundreds of wines (many of which aren’t all that great) ends up being much more of a chore than it is a pleasure.

For this reason, I’m somewhat selective when it comes to accepting invitations to be a wine judge. I tend to say yes to competitions that are either opportunities for me to learn a lot about a region that I don’t know well, or are from regions that I believe need support. I also tend to say yes when I know the competitions are particularly well-run (poorly organized judging is its own sort of hell).

My annual participation in the Colorado Governor’s Cup Wine Competition pretty much ticks all three of those boxes. Though, after five or six years of judging, I’m starting to get a pretty good sense of Colorado wine. But this scrappy little region needs a lot of support, especially in the face of climate-driven disasters (e.g. crazy heat, killing freezes) that have put the whole industry in peril, and the competition continues to be an efficiently run event with an excellent cohort of judges.

Early in September, I joined my fellow judges, many of which have the initials MS and MW following their names, in tasting through a couple of hundred Colorado wines to select the very best that become the Colorado Governor’s Cup Collection, a grouping of wines that in addition to being celebrated as the state’s best, is made available for consumers to purchase as a set.

This year’s Governor’s Cup Collection included the following top-scoring wines:

2021 Aspen Peak Cellars Pinot Gris, American
2019 Carboy Winery Petit Verdot, Grand Valley
2020 Carboy Winery Teroldego, Grand Valley
2019 Carboy Winery Blanc LaLaLa (Sparkling Gruner Veltliner), Grand Valley
2021 Carlson Vineyards Sweet Baby White Blend, American
2020 Mesa Park Vineyards Equilibre Red Blend, Grand Valley
2021 The Peachfork Chambourcin, Grand Valley
NV Red Fox Cellars Nebbiolo, Grand Valley
NV Slaymaker Cellars Traditional Wildflower Mead
2019 The Winery at Holy Cross Abbey Syrah, Colorado
2017 Vino Salida Wine Cellars Tempranillo, Grand Valley
2021 Whitewater Hill Vineyards Dry Rose of St. Vincent, Grand Valley

The 2022 Colorado Governor’s Cup Collection.

They Make Wine in Colorado?

Colorado wine often elicits a “Wait, what?” reaction from even the most serious wine lovers. The state has a long history of wine growing, however, going back to the days of the western frontier, when settlers discovered that Colorado’s Grand Valley was an ideal place to grow both fruit trees (especially peaches) and grapes.

By the late 1880s, people were already making small amounts of wine, and by 1899, government reports show more than 250 tons of grapes were harvested and 1744 gallons of wine were produced. In the next 10 years, that crop would double in size, and then nearly double again just in time to be wiped out by the advent of Prohibition in 1916, along with the fledgling wine industries of so many other states.

Things were slow to recover after the repeal of Prohibition. But by 1968, a dentist named Dr. Gerald Ivancie had decided that Colorado needed to return to its winemaking heritage, and so he planted some vineyards and opened Ivancie Cellars. Not one to do anything by half measures, Ivancie decided he needed a trained winemaker to help him, and for that, he looked to California.

Coincidentally, a young Warren Winiarski (who would go on to make the Cabernet that triumphed at the 1976 Judgment of Paris competition) had recently been told his services were no longer needed at Robert Mondavi Winery. When Winiarski got the call from Ivancie, he leaped at the chance to help start an enterprise from the ground up.

Winiarski quickly convinced Ivancie to plant the first vitis vinifera vines in the state, and was responsible for making the first few vintages of Ivancie’s…

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