How the California Wildfires Impacted a Denver Winery

Enjoy the patio at Bigsby's Folly with man's best friend.
Enjoy the patio at Bigsby's Folly with man's best friend. Mark Antonation
Far from the wildfires that devastated parts of California's wine country in recent weeks, Chad Yetka, co-founder of Bigsby's Folly Winery & Restaurant at 3653 Wazee Street in RiNo, and I discussed the fire’s impact on the wine business. The grim subject seemed out of place in Bigsby's sunlit tasting room with its shimmering crystal chandeliers. Housed in the refurbished 1886 George Leyner Engineering Works building, the winery's whimsical yet elegant decor is a nod to the Roaring ’20s. The other inspiration is Bigsby, Chad and wife (and winery co-founder) Marla's beloved, now-passed-on golden retriever. A large drawing of the dog’s friendly face has a prominent place behind the bar, and an art-nouveau rendering of him wearing a suit and smoking a pipe adorns the wine labels.

The winery, which opened earlier this year, has been affected by the wildfires, as two thirds of its wine production and most of its grapes come from the Napa Valley. The winery’s 2017 malbec grapes were still on the vine when the fires started, and they may suffer from smoke taint, which could affect the taste. Fortunately, there’s a treatment for that, and Chad is quick to say how fortunate he and his wife feel.

The California wine country fires killed 42 people, displaced 100,000 residents, and destroyed 8,400 homes and other buildings. In Napa, Sonoma and Mendocino counties, 31 wineries were destroyed or damaged. According to Doug Caskey, executive director of the Colorado Wine Industry Development Board, the California grape harvest was 70 percent complete. The unharvested grapes could be tainted or lost. Even if spared the flames, fermenting wine could be damaged if exposed to too much heat. The loss, however, shouldn’t affect wine prices except for a few exclusive labels.

click to enlarge Growlers with the Bigsby's Folly label. - MARK ANTONATION
Growlers with the Bigsby's Folly label.
Mark Antonation

Opening a winery in Napa had once been Chad and Marla’s dream, but, says Chad, “In California, if you want to make a small fortune in wine, you have to start with a large one.” So they exchanged one dream for another and opened an urban winery in Denver.

Some of Bigsby’s wine is made on site. I got to “punch down the cap” — pushing grape skins down into the fermenting young wine with a special instrument to draw out the skins’ flavors and hues — on a zinfandel that will be ready to imbibe in 2019. If hands-on wine making is your thing, Bigsby’s offers a custom blending session. Participants get to take home a bottle of their own wine blend complete with a custom label. The opportunity is a way to demystify wine while encouraging guests to be adventurous. “Seek Adventure” is Chad and Marla’s motto; it’s inscribed on their bottles (in Latin, no less) and evident in their optimistic outlook about the wine business, despite the wildfires.

If flavor is a good sign of future success, they have reason to be optimistic. I tasted their 2015 cabernet sauvignon; its luscious berry and spice notes and silky finish will beckon me back for a growler or two. Bigsby’s also offers a full menu of flatbreads, salads and appetizers, as well as desserts made by a Cordon Bleu-trained chef.

The Bigsby's Folly tasting room is open Monday through Thursday from 4 to 10 p.m., Friday from 2 to 11 p.m., Saturday from noon to 11 p.m., and Sunday from noon to 8 p.m. Call the winery at 720-485-3158 for more details and information on events and tours.
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Krista Kafer is a Denver native who relishes good food and wine. Her motto: Cultivate taste, but never get so refined you can’t drink cheap red wine.
Contact: Krista Kafer