Sunday, April 19, 2015

It Takes One to Make One--Creekside Cellars

Visiting with winemakers is one of my favorite parts of wine writing.  The love these individuals exhibit for their crafts is absolutely contagious.  Learning about wines from those whose blood, sweat, and tears created the beverages I’m sipping is a truly eye-opening and awe-inspiring experience.  Every winemaker I have ever spoken with has left me a more knowledgeable consumer and a more passionate drinker (if that is even possible). 

This is the exact case when I was able to talk and taste with Michelle Cleveland, winemaker for Creekside Cellars in Evergreen, Colorado.  Her understanding of wine and the winemaking process, coupled with her love of Colorado, shows in every bottle she produces.

Michelle Cleveland showing some of her wines in barrel.
Michelle’s road to wine making in Colorado was a curvy one.  It started in Illinois when Michelle graduated from the University of Illinois with a degree in agriculture.  She eventually found her way to Denver as the Director of Production and Distribution and a Master Roaster for Dazbog coffee.  (Yes, Michelle worked with the other beverage of the gods, coffee, before she worked with wine—that could just possibly be like winning the employment lottery!)

Michelle often hiked in Evergreen, the small mountain town just west of Denver; she also attended the Colorado Mountain Wine Fest on multiple occasions.  She saw the wines from Creekside Cellars at the festival and then saw the winery in Evergreen—a former service station along Bear Creek converted to a restaurant and tasting room.  Bill and Anita Donahue opened the winery in 1996 and purchased their own vineyard acreage in Palisade (the Grand Valley of Colorado) in 2002 to grow the grapes for Creekside Cellars. 

Creekside Cellars.
Michelle got to know Bill and started spending time at the winery.  She then put her agriculture background to good use as she volunteered for a year assisting with production.  Though her agriculture degree was helpful, Michelle wanted more formal education dealing with the production of wine.  She enrolled in the online enology program through prestigious UC Davis.  In 2007-2008, she took over as the official Creekside Cellars wine maker. 

Creekside Cellars primarily uses Grand Valley grapes supplemented with some Washington state grapes when Colorado’s growing area has a difficult year.  Reds, whites, roses, and desserts are all produced right at the Evergreen facility.  Both blends and single varietals are made from petit verdot, syrah, petite sirah, cabernet sauvignon, merlot, cabernet franc, cinsaut, mourvedre, viognier, chardonnay, riesling, sauvignon blanc, moscato bianco, moscato arancio, and moscato d’amburgo.  In addition to quality wines, the café at Creekside Cellars has a talented chef who has created an impressive Italian-inspired menu serving flavorful panini sandwiches, unique insalatas, and an impressive antipasto platter. 

Award-winning wines made at the Evergreen facility.

All of this is located on the banks of Bear Creek, where the name Creekside Cellars originates.  The winery is open for production, tasting, and food all year.  However, the prime time for a patio lover like me to go taste wines is during the spring, summer, or fall.  When the weather is nice, a seat on the patio gives a magnificent view of the stream below, the trees beyond, and the wildlife outdoors.  If the sense of sight isn’t enough to make customers happy, the babbling of the brook truly makes this location one-of-a-kind.

Scenes from Creekside Cellars' beautiful patio.
This natural beauty was the backdrop for the tasting Michelle did with me and my daughter.  Throughout the wine lineup, Michelle’s passion and knowledge for wine were evident.  Her teaching background was also quite obvious; Michelle co-teaches enology classes at the Denver Metro campus.  These classes divide time between classroom instruction and hands-on work at the winery with Michelle.  My twenty-two year old learned more from this one tasting with Michelle than she had in a decade of me spouting wine information.  Michelle’s students at Metro are lucky to have her—I saw that first hand.

All of Creekside Cellars’ wines have an old-world quality about them.  Michelle works with the vineyard managers to harvest grapes at a slightly higher acid level than many other wine makers in the state.  She does fine and filter all her wines, yet she often takes a more hands-off role in wine production, making sure to let the grapes do the work and not “bastardizing” the grape variety through over-manipulation.  I enjoyed every wine we tasted that day; several were standouts. 

Michelle and her wines--a woman and her passion.
2012 Chardonnay—With grapes sourced from Book Cliff vineyards near Creekside’s Palisade site, this chard has slight butter and golden fruit on the nose.  On the palate, there is again the slight butter, but also fruit—honeycrisp apple and cantelope—and floral notes before a pleasant, long finish.  Michelle explained the slight butter was purposeful.  When she first started making the wine, the original chard was much too buttery for her.  She “weaned” the wine off the oak over the years for a less buttery style that shows more fruit.  (I purchased this bottle for a chardonnay-loving friend.)

2012 Riesling—Sourced from Creekside’s own Palisade fruit, this dryer style of riesling is a great example of what the grape can be.  On the nose, the slight petrol and mineral of a typical riesling are evident.  On the palate, golden delicious apple, fresh herbs, and slight floral notes prevail.  As a dry riesling fan, I purchased this bottle.  Can’t wait to sip on it again.

Dry Rose—The cinsaut and mouvedre for this rose blend are sourced from other Colorado growers.  (I love that Michelle uses an obscure grape like cinsaut!)  The beautiful salmon color leads to green herbs and strawberry on the nose and palate with perfect acid.  The finish lasts forever.  My only complaint about this wine is that it is not yet bottled, so a future trip or an online-shopping spree to purchase is in my future.

Rosso—A cinsaut, mouvedre, syrah, and cab sauv blend, this wine sees French oak for nine months.  The wine shows earth, cherry, smoke, and pepper on the nose before revealing raspberry, strawberry, and forest floor on the palate.  The evolution in the mouth goes from fruit to tannin back to fruit before a long finish.  Great acid makes this a nice pairing wine for the Italian menu of the café. 

2010 Syrah—Creekside’s Palisade vineyards provide the basis for this Syrah that also has two percent viognier, mouvedre, and cinsaut (future vintages will also have a small amount of counoise, another obscure grape.)  White pepper and ripe red fruits show on both the nose and the palate.  Like all of Michelle’s Creekside Cellars’ wines, this wine has less than fourteen percent alcohol, making it possible for the ripe fruits to show through.

2012 Robusto—The most popular wine at Creekside, this wine regularly sells out.  Because of this, we drank the Bordeaux blend (blended with a heavier dose of cab franc) from the barrel.  This wine is a superb blend with good structure.  It is bold and robust yet has ripe fruit with balanced tannins.  Nothing is overdone, which is why locals and tourists alike love it.  It is another purchase I will have to make in the future.

Our fantastic tasting on the patio.
Tasting with a wine maker is truly a learning experience, especially when that wine maker is a passionate teacher of the beverage, like Michelle Cleveland.  Getting the inside story from the person who makes the beautiful drink in the glass one is sipping is an awesome experience.  Michelle’s knowledge of and love for wine—her wines—comes through in every sip from the glass.  The beautiful surroundings on the Creekside Cellars’ patio only enhanced an afternoon of delicious wines and informative conversation.  Thank you, Michelle!