Find snippets and sonnets and diatribes and portraits of this unique corner of the world.
We would never embark on making wine with any partner without insisting that it was a truly authentic process. A process that starts early by tasting the new wines as soon as they are through fermentation, monitors them as they develop in the barrel and then imagines and anticipates the final blend. It is a time consuming and, at times, complicated process, but we would always insist that it was complied to. Telluride Ski and Golf were as committed to the genuine process as we were in partnering on their Telluride Red. It was brilliant to sense their total involvement in the crafting of this wine, no short cuts, no compromises, thorough, long tasting sessions with our wine makers and Andrew Shaffer and his critical players. Players who have a passion, as well as a skilled palate, for wines and were hell bent on creating something they could be intensely proud of. At some of the blending we would get so close to resolving the proportions, so close to a shared sense of what we wanted, but we couldn’t be rushed. Perhaps we narrowed the options, even eliminated some, but then felt we were not quite there.
We are currently close to deciding on the third blend we have done together. We came so close at our last blending to hammering it out at a long table in Alreds. I have to confess there were moments spent battling the urge to simply gloat at the most beautiful view from a dining room in the world. Fortunately the palpable joy that pervaded the group in their animated discussion dragged me back, a group where no one held back from expressing their opinions. We should have known that Telluride Ski and Golf want no compromises, they want a wine that matches their love of these glorious mountains, this quirky, authentic, little town and the world class skiing and life style they provide. Always nice to partner with someone as crazy and obsessive as oneself.
Some of our nicest moments are when people and places exceed our already lofty expectations. I recently had a series of those moments. I had driven from the Vineyard in McElmo Canyon to Amangiri, an exquisite resort amongst the deeply sculpted canyons above Lake Powell. It was not my first time there having followed its’ inception, creation and opening. So its’ stunning, somewhat severe, beauty was no surprise. Polished dove-grey concrete walls replete with Ulrike Arnold’s savagely beautiful earth paintings. Every brilliant color and texture from this technicolor, desiccated world. The abandon with which Ulrike creates these paintings is so evident as is her meticulous crafting of the myriad textures.
I knew the service would be fastidious and constant; the furnishings reserved and elegant; the gentle hum of conversation comforting. I had often perched before the deep, fierce oven watching nimble hands push and then recover innumerable dishes from the terrifying inferno. And of course all those things were still in place. So what lifted this experience from the wonderfully predictable to the truly memorable?
Essentially these elements. Intensely thoughtful, delicious food; effortless, almost instinctive service and arguably the most important of all, a palpable charm and warmth.
Sutcliffe Vineyards has always had their wines at Amangiri, actually from the day it opened, and we have had remarkable convivial evenings of wine and humor. We shared Krishna Hathaway’s indelibly elegant wine tastings and pairings. Poured our wines whilst basking in a Vermillion and Crimson as the sun reluctantly slid behind the towering Buttes.
With great excitement that relationship is returning, Sutcliffe Vineyards humble idiosyncrasy and delicious wines are to celebrated again in this remarkable setting. No vineyard could ask for more. Probably by April we will have scheduled some evenings of food, humor and wine in our own inimitable style.
The sun now appears slowly between the shoulders of the Sleeping Ute and Goodman point. Not the fierce, blistering light that heralded every summer morning. Paler now, gentler, almost diffident, shy perhaps that winder is coming
A deep carpet of once brilliant leaves has found a resting place, surrendering their color, huddled against the wind at every gully or vine row. One Cottonwood has turned late, stubborn against change, still brilliant yellow, defiant, so easy to revere.
A colder wind moans through the bare limbs of the towering trees. Gone are summer’s petulant gusts snatching at the shimmering leaves and limbs laden with plump pears. The birds now glide before the wind, no longer coiling and darting in the scorching air
Twenty years ago on a Ranch, deep in South West Colorado a tiny Vineyard was planted. The date stands out as it was the birth of a fundamentally new approach to Wine Making in Colorado. That legacy is both maintained and developed, arguably defining and leading the burgeoning Colorado Wine industry. The Vineyard's first wine maker was Ben Parsons who has parlayed his remarkable creativity and drive into The Infinite Monkey Theorem, a new and brilliant approach to the world of wines. At Sutcliffe Vineyards he produced delicious, deep and lasting wines. When Joe Buckel took over, fresh from Flowers in Sonoma, the direction changed to a more traditional model with increased emphasis on the growing of the grapes and less intrusive practices in the crafting of the wine.
The Vineyard now produces over 5,000 cases which find their way into some of America's most celebrated restaurants and resorts, wines that are sought by serious wine lovers, keen to celebrate the obscurity and idiosyncratic of Sutcliffe Vineyard's wines and of course their brilliance.
Perhaps having Princess Caroline of Monaco and her husband Prince Ernst-August of Hanover taste the the vineyards first Cabernet Franc, standing in the kitchen on a blustery morning was an omen of things to come.
I have been asked to spin a romantic web around the birth of Sutcliffe Vineyards. Even coached to recount long afternoons with cold rain rattling the windows as I stare out on our Welsh hills dreaming of serried ranks of vines basking under a cloudless sky. Tempting to endorse that sylvan dream and there were endless days when grey blankets of rain swept across our village from the Irish Sea. But there is a missing element, I had never seen a vineyard as a child, never stood between it manicured rows, only tasted the "fruit of the vine" in the form of sherry and port at Christmas. Maybe the odd sip of champagne at a cluttered wedding.
The real story behind the birth of our beautiful vineyard in deepest McElmo Canyon is sadly more mundane and accidental. After living on the Ranch for a number of years, our architect came out from Charleston to peruse his work, and like all architects, discover the poor taste people exhibit once the designer leaves the job. Reggie Gibson had not only designed the houses but had swung a hammer, if somewhat falteringly, during the construction. With a ring of dead Modelos around his feet and with the sweeping gesture of his arm he pronounced the place would never be aesthetically complete without its' own vineyard. "Hell it's like Tuscany, blistering hot, dry chalky mountains and the English dotted around."
We had bought the place as a base. Emily could rest from the rigors of medicine and I could put neurotic years in the restaurant business behind me. We would keep a few horses, have an orchard and garden, run a few cows, perhaps write and draw a little. In fact more thought was given to building a polo field than embarking on a serious farming venture. Reggie, as he was wont to do, had sold himself on the idea. "No I mean it, be perfect, trust me, be perfect"
It was the late spring, Reggie left, the days got longer, the sun fiercer and the wind settled into a summer lull. Our eschewing of the idea, the constant rejection of the vineyard became almost competitive. Every meal would elicit a more potent reason to dump the idea, and yet imperceptibly the romance of the plan took hold. Gradually our disavowal of the ides shifted to discussions of the merit of different varietals; how much could one intelligently plant, and more importantly, how many vines could one properly tend.
In 1995 a rather sartorial crew began to plant the 2 acres of Merlot and Cabernet Franc. Vintners from whom I had bought wine in New York when California wine was still hard to sell, an old school friend from England, a novelist, a sculptor, restaurateurs from Telluride and the son of my great friend in the British Army and some rather more productive neighbors who showed more familiarity with a shovel. From the 1999 harvest we made our first commercial wine and in 2001 we put it on the market. This vineyard which was so grudgingly allowed into the world now sells wine across this country, even exporting to Europe. My disquiet at starting this venture, the illogicity of planting vines in our isolated desiccated canyon was long ago converted to deep and irrefutable passion for what we do. Now, in my dotage, when I stare out of the window at our juniper dotted hills, I am aware how special farming for wine is. We plant the vines, nourish and water them, prune and train the canopy, harvest the fruit, crush and ferment it and finally bottle and market the wine. We control every step along the way.
Chronology of madness
1995 the architect said plant vines. 1997 the pleasant shock of discovering we have actually made wine (however ordinary). 1999 proper wine in the bottle. 2001 Sutcliffe Wine on the wine lists of terrific restaurants. Thoroughly ensuring the chronology of madness would continue.
Of course the wines are magic. How could they not be, growing between the Sleeping Ute Mountain and the Battle Rock. Wary wild horses watch us from the crumbling benches of the mountain while the ghosts of Navajos who leaped to their deaths off the Battlerock to avoid capture by the Utes. The wind, redolent with sage and chamomile, sweeps between these ancient battle grounds and spirits dance to the throb of legend.
Canyon of the Ancients
Within an hour of our Vineyard Oasis lie a plethora of exquisite Anasazi sites. In their long somnolence perhaps the Ancient Ones reflect on our stubborn struggle to make brilliant wine amongst the haunting ruins of their fleeting genius. I think they do with a grudging respect in concert with their aching sadness.