Boulder County has stealthily become a destination for wine, mead and cider — fermented beverages not often associated with Colorado's Front Range. For Denver residents, it’s worth traveling northwest to get a taste at Boulder and Lafayette’s wineries, meaderies and cider houses; there are nearly a dozen such establishments in the county. Here are four to whet your appetite for more.
1501 Lee Hill Drive, #16, Boulder
At the small European-style Settembre Cellars tasting room in north Boulder, you’ll find a small winery specializing in single-vineyard and single-varietal wines made from Colorado grapes. Owners Blake and Tracy Eliasson released their first wines in 2009 and only produce 500 cases a year. Making good wine takes “art, science and patience,” the couple says, and you can taste their diligence. They named their winery Settembre, Italian for September, because they fell in love while eating and drinking Italian food and wine and were married in the month of September.
Be sure to try the refreshingly tart, bone-dry riesling, the earthy sangiovese, the syrah with its dark fruit and chocolate notes, and the rosato, a pale rosé wine made from cabernet franc grapes. The Eliassons also make a nice dry apple wine from Colorado-grown heirloom apples from the Montezuma Orchard Restoration Project.
Settembre wines are food-friendly, and the winery encourages patrons to bring picnics to the tasting room. You can also buy a glass on Thursdays at the 63rd Street Farm in Boulder, which is pick-up day for customers in the farm-share program. Settembre also offers wine shares at the Farm. The Tasting Room & Winery is open Thursday through Sunday from 1 to 6 p.m.
Bookcliff Vineyards Tasting Room
1501 Lee Hill Drive, #17, Boulder
After exiting Settembre, you have only to walk a few feet to Bookcliff's tasting room. Twenty-three years ago, John Garlich, a civil engineer, and his wife, Ulla Merz, a computer scientist, bought ten acres of land in Palisade. Today they grow fourteen wine varietals and produce award-winning wines. Why grow your own grapes? “We didn’t want to be at the mercy of other people’s grapes," says Garlich. "The quality of the grapes is so important."
Be sure to try the muscat blanc, with its amazing bouquet redolent of grapefruit and roses. Something about it reminded me of candy, even though it isn’t sweet, and it's definitely one of the most delicious Colorado whites I've sampled. Also try the graciano, the dark-purple malbec, and the cabernet franc, which, like the muscat, has an intoxicating bouquet.
Bookcliff is open from 1 to 6 p.m Thursday through Sunday. You can also enjoy Merz and Garlich's wines in various restaurants around Boulder.
4700 Pearl Street, #2A, Boulder
While in Boulder, give honey wine a try at Redstone Meadery. If you’ve only had amateur-made mead from a neighbor's basement or garage, be prepared to be blown away by the sophistication and deliciousness of David Myers’s mead.
Myers makes three types of mead. The first, called nectars, are fruited or spiced blends that offer a hit of sweet honey with the first sip, followed by fruit or spice and ending with a smooth, dry finish. The fruit-blended nectars are all wonderful, but Passion Fruit Nectar stood out as especially luscious. I also recommend Nectar of the Hops, a hopped cider. These are all lower in alcohol (8 percent ABV) than wine, lightly carbonated and only lightly sweet.
Myers calls the second type Mountain Honey Wine; these are a little heavier (12 percent ABV) and, like traditional grape-based wines, pair well with food. The flavors are complex and intriguing. I recommend the Zambian Traditional Mountain Honey Wine, which has a smoky, nutty taste from the unique African honey; the Juniper Mountain Honey Wine; and the Barrel Aged Traditional Mountain Honey Wine, which has a hint of bourbon flavor.
Finally, the port-like Reserve Meads are aged at least five years and would make a perfect after-dinner dessert pairing. Red Raspberry Reserve mead tastes and feels luxurious on the tongue.
Redstone is open Monday through Friday from noon to 6:30 p.m. and Saturday from noon to 5 p.m. Tours are available weekdays at 1 and 3 p.m. and at 12:30 p.m. on Saturday. Call for reservations if you have a group with ten or more people.
Acreage by Stem Ciders
1380 Horizon Avenue
If you’ve enjoyed the tiny Stem Ciders tasting room in RiNo, you'll be blown away after a pilgrimage to Acreage by Stem Cider, the cider company's massive new restaurant and brewing facility. No matter where you live along the Front Range, it's well worth the drive.
The restaurant, a modernized version of Spanish and Basque cider houses, serves flavorful and simple food that pairs beautifully with Stem's refreshing ciders made on site. Mussels simmered in a cider-based sauce and down-home skillet cornbread are both worthy counterparts to a cider flight.
Eric Foster, co-founder and CEO of Stem Ciders, hadn’t originally thought about opening a restaurant, but he needed more room for the company's growing business, and the twelve-acre hilltop property in Lafayette — with its amazing mountain views — proved just right for starting a farm-to-table restaurant surrounded by gardens and orchards. The facility just opened at the beginning of the year, and Stem is beginning to break ground on the farm operation.
Acreage by Stem Ciders is open from 3 to 9 p.m. Tuesday through Thursday, 3 to 10 p.m. Friday, 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. Saturday, and 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. Sunday.