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Meet the Women Changemakers in Wine

Colorado’s tastemakers have been passionately working to put the state on the map for years. Already beyond the cow-town stereotype, and well into a farm-centric and cutting-edge food and beverage destination — particularly gaining momentum over the past two decades in Denver’s food boom.

Much of the motivation is easily due to the state’s unwavering, entrepreneurial spirit, even through and especially over the pandemic. It is also based on what has always made Colorado so appealing: the climate and scenery.

The qualities that bear fruit specific to Colorado’s scenic climate, feeds the some 200+ breweries, around 100 distilleries — and the more than 160 wineries.

Characteristics of wine in Colorado that winemakers otherwise call terroir, cascades from fresh-water river falls from snowy seasons, high altitude and drier climates that make for warm days and cool nights, consistent sunshine, peaks and valleys, and spaces open wide enough to dream and plant business.

What was once more familiar of Colorado wine in only Meads and sweet wines, Colorado wine is now home to harvesting Rieslings and Viogniers to Cab Francs. Still encompassing those captivating honey-wines and more, thanks to the variety of stone fruits grown across the Rockies such as cherries, peaches, plums, including bee-keeping farms.

And what makes the business of making taste across the state further successful? The women taking the reins, in food and hospitality: and wine.

The business of wine plays a sizeable role in our state’s economy. And organizations like the Women’s Wine Guild of Colorado work to empower growth, creating inclusive and education-based programs and investments to help women in the Colorado food, wine, and hospitality industries flourish and grow.

Women working in wineries span Colorado, landing in geographies like Palisade, infamous for its high-sunshine plateaus and cool valleys, with vines all throughout the Grand Valley, across the Front Range to the Four Corners. And while other sites are not vineyards per se, more and more wineries and wine bars are starting to heavily dot the city stretch along I-25, branching out like a tree trunk to the surrounding lands that feed them.

In raising a glass to the women wielding wine across Colorado, here are seven of and among the greats, between the Western Slope and Nederland to Denver:


WESTERN SLOPE

Jayme Henderson, The Storm Cellar

Ajax And Telluride Peak Shutterstock Melanie Metz

Jayme Henderson worked in hospitality in Denver for more than a decade before moving to the Western Slope in 2017 with her husband to form The Storm Cellar, based in Hotchkiss.

Henderson served restaurants, event planning, and management, including uprising as a sommelier and mixologist. Today, she is the co-founder, farmer, and winemaker for the winery — bringing knowledge from travels and studies through wineries across Oregon, California, and Spain, including in the Findhorn village of Forres, Scotland.

When Henderson isn’t fulfilling her passions on the farm, she writes for her esteemed blog, holly & flora, including Grand Junction’s Spoke+Blossom, and the multi-platform Kitchn.

This summer, visitors to The Storm Cellar can join along Fridays for “Steak Nights” with wood-fired steaks and local produce by Chef Joseph Kerns, and get a first-taste at newly released wines at the “Asado at the Vineyard with the Forage Sisters” on July 27.

 

Juliann Adams, Vines79 Wine Barn

Palisade Colorado Rock FormationsVines79 Wine Barn positions itself as the “Wild, West Wines” of Palisade, where Juliann Adams is owner and winemaker. Adams turned making wine as a hobby into planting roots in a vineyard with her husband in 2013, opening the Wine Barn in 2019.

Benefiting from the sweeping climates that run off the Grand Mesa and the century-old peach orchard history on the land, the two-acre vineyard produces wines from Cab Francs and Syrahs to Viogniers and a namesake Cowboy Cab Reserve.

Though the Wine Barn has just been open a few years, Adams’ wines have already earned accolades, winning both local and international awards.

Visit this summer, at the saloon-style tasting room during weekends from noon-5pm.

 

Laura Black, Mesa Park Vineyards

Laura Black Mesa Park Vineyards
Laura Black (courtesy of: Mesa Park Vineyards)

When it comes to hospitality, industry members find themselves in the service of helping people, be it restaurants, and even the real estate industry. Laura Black’s story started there.

Black, and husband, were in the business of fix-and-flip house in Denver in 2015. Then, a trip through Argentina’s wine country changed everything.

The two moved to Palisade three years later, rebuilding in Mesa Park. This summer at the Vineyards features “Winery Comedy Tours” with stand-up comedy, food trucks, and of course, wine.

“After two years of constant pivoting for the pandemic and a devastating freeze in our vineyard in October of 2020 that took our crop in 2021, we are looking at 2022 with hopeful eyes for our grape crop and a huge appreciation for our customers who supported us over the last couple years.

“Due to the freeze, we don’t have the inventory to aim for huge growth in our business, so instead we’re using this year as an opportunity to focus on how we can better engage with our existing customers and make their experience (and wine) better and better with each visit and bottle. Cheers!” -Laura Black, Mesa Park Vineyards

 

Jenne Baldwin-Eaton, Western Colorado Community College

Jenne Baldwin Eaton Western Colorado Community College
Jenne Baldwin-Eaton (courtesy of: Jenne, WCCC)

Western Colorado Community College (a division of Colorado Mesa University) is the first college in Colorado to offer an associate degree in viticulture and enology — where Jenne Baldwin-Eaton is a Technical Instructor in these fields and has helped to develop the programs in Grand Junction.

Baldwin-Eaton threads 22 years of experience, kicking off her career in winemaking in 1994 at Palisade’s Plum Creek Cellars, which is often considered one of the pioneer wineries in Colorado, and for utilizing 100-percent Colorado-grown grapes.

Classes by Baldwin-Eaton include curriculum in fermented beverage and science, sensory analysis, winemaking, and viticulture. The programs at WCCC are designed to prepare students for careers in entrepreneurship, sustainability, wine production, and business management.

“2022 will be a year of renewal for our wine industry — new growth out in the vineyards, emergence of new wineries, new owners taking the lead of established wineries, and the anticipation of a high-quality Colorado grape harvest.” –Jenne Baldwin-Eaton, WCCC

 

NEDERLAND

Marianne “Gussie” Walter, Augustina Winery

Vineyards At Sunset In Autumn Harvest. Ripe Grapes In Fall.Augustina Winery is a one-of-a-kind establishment, with winemaker “Gussie” Walter leading as a one-woman show. It was also a first of its kind in Boulder, originating in 1997, moving winery operations to Nederland in 2016.

Walter sources grapes entirely from Colorado, across the Western Slope and the Eastern Plains, and not forgetting local growers from friends in Boulder County. Grapes take form in Sauvignon Blanc and Gewurztraminer to Shiraz and St. Vincent-graped varietals.

To give you a taste, the WineChick Blues carries, “A blend of Colorado grown Merlot and St. Vincents. A smooth, luscious, fruity red wine. Goes with some chocolate desserts, most blues music, and all Chris Smithers tunes.”

Upon visiting, goers can bring their own snacks to pair with wine, and as it’s located within a festive shopping center, join along in the Caribou Village Artwalk every fourth Friday, including wine tastings and more.

 

DENVER

Julie Balistreri, Balistreri Vineyards

Julie In Tasting Room Julie Balistreri Balistreri Vineyards
Julie Balistreri (courtesy of: Balistreri Vineyards)

Julie Balistreri is Vice President to the family business, Balistreri Vineyards, which incepted 22 years ago with family roots extending back to Sicily.

A unique vineyard among the Front Range, it is situated minutes from Downtown Denver just north of RiNo and west of Commerce City.

There, the family hand-crafts wines without the addition of sulfites or chemicals.

Visitors are welcomed to tasting rooms, tours, to dining for lunch.

Across the food menu, are items like expected charcuterie boards, including Riesling-Garlic Shrimp and Balsamic-Braised Short Ribs. Wine wise, the vineyards specialize in Orange Wines, Muscat, Carignan, Zinfandel, Petit Verdot, and barrels more.

“After pivoting for the past two years, I am optimistically looking forward to 2022 with positive growth in all areas of Balistreri Vineyards, including our tasting room, event center, winery events, wine sales to onsite and offsite customers as well as increasing our overall wine production.

“As we continue to produce traditionally handcrafted natural wines, we are excited to be releasing several new wine varieties this year — Teroldego, Nebbiolo, Montepulciano, to name a few — and an Alicante Bouschet that recently received Gold and Double Gold accolades at international competitions. We are passionate about making completely natural wines and love to share them. I look forward to raising a glass with you in the tasting room!” -Julie Balistreri, Balistreri Vineyards

 

Nicki McTague, Infinite Monkey Theorem

White Grapes Ready To Be Harvested.Opening in 2008, Infinite Monkey Theorem was one of the early innovators of not only positioning as an urban winery, but also for canning wine. Named CEO and President in 2020, Nicki McTague has helped to keep that legacy alive.

McTague brings over 16 years of experience, and seven working at Infinite Monkey Theorem in RiNo, Denver. Most notably, she has helped bring the Theorem to be owned and operated predominantly by women. Growing up in Colorado, McTague’s careers span Washington to Europe.

Today, locals and tourists often mingle in the taproom or the patio, join for yoga or trivia nights, even peruse through the garden to create their own bouquet from their findings.

Wines include Bubbles and Roses to Hopped Ciders and complex Reds, made in both Denver and Austin, sourcing grapes from the Western Slope and High Plains of Texas.

The Infinite Monkey Theorem namesake describes, “that a monkey hitting keys at random on a typewriter for an infinite amount of time will almost surely type a given text, such as the complete works of William Shakespeare.”

 

AI is Changing Urban Forestry

What comes to mind when you hear the word infrastructure? Roads, bridges, maybe power lines and storm drains?

Add to that list — the trees lining the street and shading your favorite parks.

These trees, collectively known as the “urban forest,” also provide essential infrastructural services. They mitigate stormwater, cool air temperatures, improve air quality, and enhance the livability of communities. The urban forest canopy is becoming increasingly important as global populations urbanize and climate change intensifies.

Yet, over the years an upwards of over 20 million trees were lost every year in U.S. cities from development and climate change to lack of care and labor shortages. The urban forest requires continuous upkeep, just like any infrastructure, to continue providing benefits to the communities around them.

Cities can now measure their tree canopy coverage in a couple of days instead of a couple months.

Combating Canopy Loss With Technology

This is the domain of PlanIT Geo, an Arvada-based tech company that developed a suite of software applications to simplify and improve urban forest management. The company made a name for itself first in consulting and then by creating leading-edge software for urban foresters.

Skyline Of Denver Downtown With Rocky Mountains

The company’s latest innovation is looking to tree canopy analysis — where satellite imagery and geographic data are used to map out the distribution of trees in a defined area. It provides foresters with a big-picture view of the quantity and location of their trees and helps guide where new trees should be planted.

Historically, a tree canopy analysis is a lengthy process, requiring contracting a specialized company, lots of meetings, and special budgeting to absorb the large cost every 5-10 years. A response by PlanIT Geo was to partner with EarthDefine out of Redmond, Washington, in using artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning to offer dramatically faster and less expensive canopy analysis.

More Accessible Data Means Better Managed Trees

Nowadays, there is no longer a need for staff utilizing Geographic Information Systems (GIS) to analyze or scope a tree canopy study — the work is already done by AI. Cities can now measure their tree canopy coverage in a couple of days instead of a couple months. And, since it is on an annual subscription model, the cost is flatlined into more manageable payments.

This has opened the door for smaller urban forestry programs to get data previously only pursued by larger cities. For example, locally in the Grand Valley, it was unlikely Grand Junction’s forestry department would have been able to purchase a traditional canopy analysis. This new offering was accessible for their budget and the forestry department can now back up budget discussions with city leadership with hard numbers about the value of their trees.

Through partnerships and AI analysis, it is now easier more than ever to use and share information on changes in urban tree canopy. More communities are going to be able to track the health of their urban forests and work towards more equitable distribution of their trees. This latest tech innovation for canopy assessment equates to better understood urban forests, which leads to better management, and therefore more resilient and livable communities.

 

Alec SabatiniAlec Sabatini is a writer and editor at PlanIT Geo, a global urban forestry consulting and software development firm, where he creates educational content at the intersection of trees and technology. To learn more about the latest in innovative urban forestry, visit: PlanIT Geo.