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September 21, 2011 § Leave a comment
Not sure what to do this weekend? You won’t want to miss Ska’s Sweet Sixteen Anniversary Party and Brewers’ Invitational. This blowout bash begins at 4:00 p.m. at the Ska Brewing World Headquarters, at 225 Girard. Ticket prices include your entry fee, a commemorative Toasters tasting glass, and samples from the region’s finest breweries.
Musical guests The Toasters, The Blue Hornets and The Nuns of Brixton will be on hand to rock the house with live tunes. The Toasters- a legendary ska band- will take the stage Saturday evening after opening sets by The Blue Hornets and The Nuns of Brixton. Twenty of the region’s finest craft brewers will be presenting their best brews- lip up, fatty! Local food vendors will be serving up the good stuff to make sure you’ve got plenty of energy for the dance floor. To add a literary flair to the event, author Ed Sealover will be signing copies of his fantastic new book, Mountain Brew: A Guide to Colorado’s Breweries. Cheers, Ed! Sounds like an enticing read- I can’t wait to get my hands on a copy.
Who’s on the guest list? Breweries from all over the region have stepped up to show their support, and help the Ska Brew Crew celebrate sixteen years of great beer, great music, and great memories. The breweries involved in this event include: Avery, Breckenridge, Carver’s, Dolores River Brewery, Durango Brewing Company, Left Hand, Lumberyard Brewery, Marble, New Belgium, Odell’s, Oskar Blues, Ouray Brewing, Pagosa Brewing, San Luis Valley Brewing, Santa Fe Brewing, Second Street Brewery, Steamworks, Stone, Three Barrel Brewing and Three Rivers Brewing.
Tickets cost $25, and can be purchased online at: http://www.brownpapertickets.com/event/187061. The website predicts that this event will sell out, so suds-lovers and ska fans alike are advised to purchase tickets as soon as humanly possible.
– Molly Childers
June 24, 2011 § Leave a comment
By Eric Allen
Winemaking in Southwest Colorado? Mostly that means McElmo Canyon, the place, and its two producers, John Sutcliffe and Guy Drew. Blessed by isolation, tranquility, and most important some would say, the climate to ripen wine grapes, McElmo Canyon is secreted away in Southwest Colorado’s archeology-rich Montezuma County, close to the imposing Sleeping Ute Mountain, fascinating Sand Canyon, and the vast Canyons of the Ancients National Monument.
Scrawled on a crudely made sign along dusty McElmo Canyon Road were the words, “Peaches, Melons, Chiles, Ranch.” He pulled over, and as he says, “I bought all four.” The year was 1990, and John Sutcliffe was exploring a sleepy back road in what turned out to be the middle reaches of McElmo Canyon. So began the wine business in Southwest Colorado.
Sutcliffe planted vines in 1995 with aesthetics as the primary objective (grape vines are beautiful), but as the vines matured, the quality of fruit also proved to be very good. No less an authority than Patrick Elliot-Smith, of cult wine favorite Elan Vineyards in Napa, pronounced Sutcliffe’s luscious ripe Merlot the best he had ever tasted.
No surprise, really, as McElmo Canyon and surrounding Montezuma County had been known for fabulous fruits and vegetables for a long time. Montezuma County history is rich with accounts of abundant apple, peach, melon, and pepper harvests. Prizes were even awarded at the 1904 St. Louis World’s Fair…but that’s another story. The other half of this story is about Guy Drew and his wife, Ruth, long-time Front Range residents, who made frequent visits to Southwest Colorado over the years. In 1999, they established vineyards near the upper end of McElmo Canyon; construction of a winery and home followed shortly.
Their early wines were produced from fruit purchased in Colorado’s Grand Valley. The Drew vineyard site, as it turns out, is not quite right for vitus vinifera, the traditional noble European grape varieties, and is currently being replanted with cold-hardier hybrid vines. Look for wines from Baco Noir, Traminette, and Chambourcin in three to four years. Currently Guy Drew wines are produced primarily from purchased Montezuma County fruit, making Cabernet Sauvignon, Riesling, Gewürztraminer, Syrah, Rosé, and a delicious red proprietary blend of Cabernet and Merlot, called “Metate.” They can be purchased at numerous retail stores in Colorado, and are poured in selected restaurants.
Sutcliffe Vineyards, meanwhile, produces estate wines from 26 acres planted to Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Syrah, Petit Verdot, and Chardonnay – with Pinot Noir and Viognier on the way. Various blended reds, produced in minute quantities, are available occasionally, and are well worth seeking out. Sutcliffe wines are available at selected retail locations around Colorado, and are on restaurant wine lists far and wide: Durango, Aspen, Denver, Santa Fe, New York, San Francisco, London – even Beijing – are among the cities where they can be found.
The wines from both producers offer taste experiences that are uniquely Colorado. And while, at this point, many other Colorado wines need to be tasted with an apologetic, “This is pretty good for a Colorado wine,” that is definitely not the case with either of these producers.
Sutcliffe’s 2010 production, with winemaker Joe Buckle (from Flowers Vineyards in Sonoma) in charge, was about 3,600 cases. The same vintage saw Guy Drew produce about 4,500 cases, so there isn’t much wine to go around in a world thirsty for unique, quality wines. McElmo Canyon wines, while not the secret they once were, are still not widely recognized, but with their quality and distinctive, delicious flavors, that will soon change. Seek them out, taste them, and decide for yourself. Then you can tell people you tasted these wines at the beginning of something very, very good.
Eric Allen got his start in the wine business in California’s Bay Area in the mid 1970s. Since that time, he has pulled corks in restaurants, has pounded the pavement for a wine distributor, and has taught Fort Lewis College’s World of Wine class. He opened The Wine Merchant in Durango with Ron Greene in 2002.
June 24, 2011 § Leave a comment
AN EDIBLE INTERVIEW WITH JOHN WICKMAN
If you want the skinny on edible gardening in the southwest, spend a few minutes with John Wickman. He’s been gardening for over 30 years in Colorado and is the owner/operator of Native Roots Gardening Center in Durango. Our plot of paradise here in the Southwest is a far cry from the throw-a-seed-in- the-ground-and-it-will-grow-like-crazy climate of other regions. But those with a bright green thumb like Wickman manage to grow vegetables and beyond in this harsher climate. His skills have even rubbed off on family members. His daughter grew hundreds of pounds of produce last year for a school project—then donated it all to the Manna Soup Kitchen. Here John shares some insight on gardening at high altitude.
What actually constitutes “high altitude”?
JW: Anything above 6,500 feet. Even the difference between Durango and Denver is huge. High-altitude gardeners have to contend with a much shorter growing season; we have three months here whereas Farmington has five months, Denver has five months.
What do you think is the biggest challenge of high altitude gardening, and how can we overcome it?
JW: The nighttime temperatures. They are in the 40s, and even though daytime temps are high, the soil still cools down a lot at night. Soil temperature drives a lot of plant metabolism; when soil temps drops below 55 degrees, plants stops growing. I suggest frost guard, which is a white fabric that helps a lot with maintaining nighttime temps. Basically you put it over the top of soil and plants grow underneath. It’s really lightweight, and as plants grow they push it up, then you can pull it off mid-July. The other option is to build a cold frame, or some type of greenhouse, which would obviously extend the season.
Is the soil here problematic and how can a new gardener work with it?
JW: The soil above us is high in minerals, like in Silverton and Telluride. Down here (in Durango) we have fairly fine clays because of the sediments coming out of the mountains, so the pH is going to be different depending on where you are. Because plants are sensitive to the pH, it’s good to get your levels tested. You can pick up soil sample kits at the extension office in Durango (2500 Main Avenue) or at most gardening centers. Once you know what your pH is, we give recommendations on how to amend the land for growing certain crops with organic matter based on those results.
* According to the Colorado State University Extenstion Office: “ pH can be described as the measure of acidity or alkalinity of soil. pH is measured on a scale of 1 to 14 where 7, which is neutral, is the optimal level for most plants. Numbers lower than 7 are considered acidic and numbers higher than 7 are considered alkaline or calcareous (high in calcium carbonate). Garden soils in Colorado that have never had amendments added may have a pH value of up to 8.5, which is higher than most plants can tolerate.”
Are there certain pests gardeners in the area need to contend with?
JW: By far the most complaints we get are deer and elk. Build a fence. Or you can get repellants that are organic and made out of eggs, or some made from blood, which instills fear in the animal rather than stinks them out. By far the biggest pest is aphids. But the good news with climate change is the predatory insects that never used to be here like praying mantis, lacewings, parasitic wasps, now over-winter here. These beneficial insects help keep the insect pest population down.
Are there certain seeds or plant breeds to look for that are specific to the growing season in high-altitude areas?
Yes. There are all different vegetable gardening plants that have varying days to harvest. Some tomatoes you can get to mature in 60 to 120 days, while most heirlooms take 100 to 120 days, which is unfortunate because heirlooms are better. Fast-maturing tomato breeds include Siberian, Early Girl or Celebrity—there are quite a few that have been bred to ripen in a shorter amount of time. There are also some beans, squash varieties, and even cabbage (that mature quickly).
What are some specific edible plants that might be considered “no-fail” and easy to grow for someone who is looking to get into gardening in our area?
The easiest would be some of the lettuces, beets, broccoli, Swiss chard, zucchini. Hard ones would be watermelon and cantaloupe because nights are too cool, so they produce fruit but the fruit is too small. They grow terrific cantaloupe out in La Junta, so I say buy those at the store and save garden space for what is productive. My advice is always to be patient, experiment and don’t get discouraged because it’s difficult.