Governor/beer brewer Hickenlooper now pitches Colorado wine — Move over, Napa Valley!

The Colorado Statesman

Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper is well known for crafting a positive pitch for beer — afterall, he co-founded the iconic Wynkoop Brewing Co. in lower downtown Denver in 1988 and the sudsy stuff has been one of his trademarks since being elected Denver’s mayor 15 years later.

Gov. Hickenlooper, standing by the wineyards of Canyon Wind Cellars, talks about Colorado Wine Week during his trip to Palisade and the Western Slope.
Photo by Jody Hope Strogoff/The Colorado Statesman
Sarah Catlin, executive director of Colorado Winefest, chats with Agriculture Commissioner John Salazar at Canyon Wind Cellars, a family-owned estate winery in Palisade.
Photo by Jody Hope Strogoff/The Colorado Statesman
Bob Witham leads a tour of the fermentation room at his Two Rivers Winery.
Photo by Jody Hope Strogoff/The Colorado Statesman
Barbara Bowman, division manager of the Grand Junction Visitors and Convention Bureau, talks about the economic impact of the Colorado wine industry as Sarah Catlin of Colorado Winefest and Doug Caskey, executive director of the Colorado Wine Industry Development Board, listen outside Canyon Wind Cellars in Palisade.
Photo by Jody Hope Strogoff/The Colorado Statesman
Finn Witham, the six-year-old grandson of Two Rivers Winery proprietor Bob Witham, presents a homemade plaque to visiting Gov. John Hickenlooper.
Photo by Jody Hope Strogoff/The Colorado Statesman
Agriculture Commissioner John Salazar, and Jennifer and Jay Christianson of Canyon Wind Cellars stand by the vineyards, nestled near the Grand Mesa in the eastern part of Grand Valley.
Photo by Jody Hope Strogoff/The Colorado Statesman
Roxane White, chief of staff to the Governor, listens as Gov. John Hickenlooper talks about the importance of Colorado wine.
Photo by Jody Hope Strogoff/The Colorado Statesman
Jay Christianson of Canyon Wind Cellars in Palisade talks with visiting Gov. John Hickenlooper during Colorado Wine Week.
Photo by Jody Hope Strogoff/The Colorado Statesman
Gov. John Hickenlooper and Mesa County Commissioner Steve Acquafresca, former legislator, at Two Rivers Winery & Chateau.
Photo by Jody Hope Strogoff/The Colorado Statesman

When he was inaugurated governor this past January, Hickenlooper even rode the Wynkoop’s beer wagon to his inauguration party.

But last week, during bill signing ceremonies on the Western Slope and tours of local vineyards and other attractions in the Grand Valley, Hickenlooper was more apt to be talking about bouquet, vintage years, tannins and variety of oak than he was to use such beer-related terms as hopping rate, malted barley, and lager.

Hickenlooper, as the state’s chief marketer, has discovered Colorado’s other homespun beverage — wine — and he was intent on promoting the state’s emerging wine industry as he issued a proclamation officially calling the first week in June Colorado Wine Week.

The visionary Hickenlooper, who was largely responsible for Colorado’s burgeoning craft beer biz which began in the late 1980s and is in full gear today, thinks the high altitude vineyards dotting Colorado’s Western slope landscape and elsewhere in the state can propel Colorado into chief wine producing status.

Afterall, he reminded, it wasn’t so long ago when California was known mostly for its jug wine. Colorado can become a major wine industry by capitalizing on some of the marketing procedures which California honed in the 1970s and 1980s, Hickenlooper said.

“My real specialty was beer so I’m rapidly trying to get up to speed about wine,” he explained while touring the Canyon Wind Cellars in the peach producing community of Palisade outside of Grand Junction. His tour of the 35 acres of vineyards and wine producing facility was the second such tour during two days in the Grand Valley. The night before, Hickenlooper and his entourage visited the Two Rivers Winery and Chateau in Grand Junction and heard firsthand from owner Bob Witham about how the industry has grown over the last couple of decades.

“I know enough about wine to be dangerous,” Hickenlooper acknowledged with a chuckle as he got ready to read the proclamation about Colorado Wine Week, the first such official notation ever.

“This is a unique time in Colorado’s wine industry,” said Hickenlooper, standing next to vineyards buffered by a huge mesa in the background.

“We can make very high quality wine in Colorado,” he declared before reading portions of the proclamation.

“WHEREAS, Colorado’s wine industry, which took root in the late 19th century, has earned a well-deserved reputation for creating a variety of premium wines; and
WHEREAS, Colorado’s many wineries, all small family-owned estates, produce award winning wines often using locally grown grapes, fruit and honey; and
WHEREAS, Colorado’s wine production has increased ten-fold over the last eighteen years; and
WHEREAS, Colorado has an estimated 120 grape growers tending more than 1,000 acres of vineyards, and nearly one hundred licensed commercial wineries and wine tasting rooms; and
WHEREAS, the State of Colorado recognizes that Colorado’s wine industry contributes to the state economy, provides jobs, and adds value to our quality of life;
Therefore, I, John Hickenlooper, Governor of the State of Colorado, do hereby proclaim June 5-11, 2011, COLORADO WINE WEEK in the State of Colorado.”

Hickenlooper was joined by Commissioner of Agriculture John Salazar, who echoed the importance of Colorado’s wine-making industry as a major part of the state’s overall agricultural programs, Doug Caskey, executive director of the state’s wine industry development board, Barbara Bowman, who heads up the Grand Junction area’s visitors and convention bureau and locally elected officials.

Jody@coloradostatesman.com