By Jacob Harkins | Local Winos Magazine editor
Beaujolais nouveau will be released on Thursday. The iconic French red from this season’s harvest is a hit the minute it hits shelves. Matt Cookson likes to one up the Burgundy region, releasing the annual Wild Cañon Harvest blush rosé one full day ahead of Beaujolais.
“To throw eggs, you know what I mean … to say that we can do it faster than the French,” Cookson says.
Sparky fighting words aside, The Winery at the Holy Cross Abbey has taken a page from the harvest celebrations of Beaujolais, mixed it with the unique history of Cañon City and created an annual release like none other in Colorado — or perhaps the world for that matter.
Cookson, Holy Cross winemaker, came up with the idea in 2002 to focus on the harvest of the region, using the winery property as the core. In the early days of area farming, the property the winery now occupies used to be the spot where all the neighboring farms would drop off produce to pack and ship all over the country.
As an homage to the pre-19th century practices, Cookson invited area grape growers to sell their juicy berries to him, regardless of flavor. Year one yielded about three tons of fruit from 30 growers — some professional and some hobbyists — with a mix of grapes including everything from Concord to the classic wine varieties.
Because of the unpredictable mix of red and white, and flavor and quality for that matter, he opted to combine everything into a sweet rosé. The idea caught on, despite some admitted trial and error.
“Because of all the grape varieties in there, there’s no way we are going to make a red wine, there’s no way were going to make a white wine. Let’s just make it what it is,” Cookson says. “The first years we really didn’t understand what we were doing. Now we understand how things are going to come in.”
And what for that matter.
The 2012 version, released tomorrow, features 30 tons of grapes from about 130 area growers. There’s Concord, Niagra, Riesling, Norton, Baco Noir, Cabernet Franc, Gewurztraminer, Cabernet Sauvignon, Cayuga White, Pinot Noir, Canadian Muscat, Steuben and a host more.
The winery pays $800 a ton to its neighbors for grapes like Concord and Niagra, and $1,200 for Vinifera such as Pinot Noir, Riesling and Cabernet Franc.
Cookson will throw in a little extra for those who lug the grapes from far away places such as Pueblo. “Some people come in from as far away; I pay them a little extra for gas,” he says.
Each grower gets his or her name on the back label, in order of the weight of grapes provided. The 2,200 cases produced will sell out by spring, proving the community harvest celebration wine has been a success.
Beyond the popularity, it has also served as an experiment in Cañon City grape growing. Each year, Cookson helps the farmers get the most out of the varieties on their properties, and also discovers rich growing pockets for some of the most sought after grapes in the world.
“When you see people that are growing acres of Pinot Noir and acres of Cabernet Franc, the potential is there,” he says. “Most of these guys that never really produced are in their seventh and eighth year — and it just seems to be optimum now.”
This year alone, he crushed some good Pinot Noir, Cabernet Franc, Viognier and Riesling. The Viognier, in fact, was good and plentiful enough that he may even create a separate release of it.
“It’s in beautiful brand new barrels, and it’s going to be a screaming Viognier,” Cookson says.
You’ll have to wait a few months to see that wine to fruition; he’s not racing the French to bottle on his more serious wines.