I don’t make wine; I just drink it. And I drink more than most. I know I spit out way more than the average person! Yes, sipping, spitting, and swallowing wine teaches a lot about the drink. However, by talking to multiple winemakers this summer, I learned more about wine than hours of sipping and spitting. I have learned many of the qualities it takes to make good wine, and I have written about the passion and patience that it takes to turn grapes into the nectar of the gods. However, there is another important element winemakers exhibit: curiosity! It didn’t kill the cat; however, it does make great wine…especially when the curious soul is Kenneth Dunn Jr. at Hermosa Vineyards in the Grand Valley of Colorado.
Vines and equipment at Hermosa Vineyards.
Dunn's vines growing in Colorado's beautiful Grand Valley.
Driving to Hermosa Vineyards, I was the one who started to feel curious. The Colorado wine guidebook said to look for the signs, so we twisted and turned to follow the gold arrows leading to this winery. When we pulled into the driveway, we became even more curious as we saw a man opening a garage door to the tasting room as he waved and smiled to greet us. This was our introduction to Kenneth—winemaker, tasting room associate, bottling assembly line clerk, janitor, and general jack-of-all trades—of Hermosa Vineyards. We were instantly invited up to the tasting bar and taken into the world of curiosity that leads Kenneth to make unique and intriguing Colorado wines. We spent almost two hours at Hermosa Vineyards, not only because the wines were so interesting, but because Dunn was so friendly and engaging. We truly felt at home at the tasting counter, and by the time we left, we had definitely made a new friend!
Hermosa Vineyards tasting room space, don't let the garage door fool you!
Kenneth, an engineer by trade, bought his vineyard in 1993 when it was an apple orchard and by 1994 was growing grapes and cherries. He grew fruit and made wine for years before opening his official tasting room in 2011. His sense of fun and inquiring nature were shown as he told us of his future winery plans, which include an underground tasting room and facility. (He said this with a mischievous smile, so I know that this tasting room will not be an average, run-of-the-mill tasting area. He has some surprises in store for this space.) Dunn’s inquisitive nature showed up again and again in his wines; they all see some oak aging, even the whites. This probably explained why my husband liked these slightly robust and complicated whites more than he usually likes refreshing and acidic ones. Hermosa Vineyards produces the expected Chardonnay and Chenin Blanc wines, but again, because they both see some oak, the wines were actually very unexpected. What else was unexpected was the unique Viognier and Viognier-Chenin Blanc blend. All of these whites were from 2006 and 2007, yet one more surprising trait at Hermosa Vineyards.
Barrels for aging all wines, whites included.
The red wines also did not disappoint. The Merlot, Malbec, and Syrah all showed earth, smoke, and leather from their time in oak. The Cabernet Franc, a grape the Grand Valley can grow incredibly well, was filled with pine and berries. Dunn grows five clones of Cab Franc on young vines and blends all five clones for his Cabernet Franc wine. Another unique standout was the Cabernet Sauvignon. This 2008 was in oak an additional year, leaving more smoke on the nose with softer tannins on the palate. We tasted this in both the bottle and the barrel, and from both sources, this was a special Cabernet.
The red wines were not the only wines that showed the inquiring nature of Hermosa Vineyard’s winemaker. The late-harvest Gewurztraminer had wet-stone on the nose, candy on the palate, and melon on the finish. The final special treat was the ice wine, a one-of-a-kind blend of seventeen grape varieties. Kenneth decided to put all the “leftover” fruit on his vines to work after the harvest was complete. He picked the remaining frozen grapes at four in the morning on a frigid December day to make this beautiful, baby-pink dessert wine with a light honey taste. Dunn’s sense of curiosity created yet another unique wine found no where else.
Kenneth Dunn Jr.'s bottling line, a product of his own making...and curiosity.
Though I don’t make wine, I know that wine making requires many special skills, like passion and patience. But to produce truly unique and exceptional wines, good winemakers also need to have a keen sense of curiosity. Kenneth Dunn Jr. has an overwhelming amount, and this sense of inquisitiveness is seen in every wine he makes. Whether it is the surprise of a Viognier grown in Colorado, of white wines that see oak, or of an ice wine from multiple varieties, this winemaker’s curiosity leads to a wine drinker’s pleasure from the beginning of a tasting to the end of the day. If you want surprising wines from one of the friendliest producers in the area (Dunn not only gave us his card but his personal number in case we needed anything during our stay in Grand Junction), take the time to follow the signs to Hermosa Vineyards in Colorado’s Grand Valley. Kenneth will become your newest friend, and Colorado wines will become your newest curiosity!
Kenneth Dunn Jr., friendliest winemaker in the Grand Valley!