There are certainly a few things to notice about Sutcliffe Vineyards that set it a part. For one, it’s a mostly estate vineyard in Cortez, making it just one of two to claim that distinction (Guy Drew being the other). Beyond that, however, it’s the approach to making and growing that begins to really tell the story.
First, the vines that grow near the winery are actually on their own rootstock. Those who know their geeky wine facts will understand that this is rare. See, back in the 19th century, large swaths of European vines were killed by phylloxera, a tiny bug that feasted on the roots. The solution was to take Europe’s fabled vines such as Cabernet Sauvignon, Pinot Noir and Chardonnay and graft them to the rootstock of native American grapes that were resistent to phylloxera.
Well, owner John Sutcliffe and Co. don’t seem to think phylloxera is an issue in the high desert climate of Cortez, so they grow many of their grapes on natural roots just like all of Europe in the early 1800s. It’s all part of being as natural as possible, and the vineyards are even farmed organically.
Another odd aspect of the operation: Despite churning out just 4,200 cases of wine each year, no single bottling exceeds 360 cases. So everything on the menu is seriously small batch. Winemaker Joe Buckel (who cut his chops at California powerhouses Flowers and Rutz Cellars) produces a lineup of roughly a dozen offerings from the key Bordeaux grapes as well as Chardonnay, Grenache and a few others.
The winery operation, which opened in 2000, farms about 22 acres in Cortez. It also produces wines from other Colorado vineyards and in some cases, brings in small amounts of California product to round out its offerings.