With so many hot, trendy places popping up in RiNo (as areas from Globeville to Five Points are now being called), opening reports start to seem like another small-plates-this, a craft-cocktails-that or, even more often, an artisan-brewery-everything. So when something truly different comes along, it catches our attention. That's the case with Bigsby's Folly, a new winery-restaurant set to open at 3563 Wazee Street on Saturday, June 17.
What's so new and different about the place? Founders Chad and Marla Yetka explain that Bigsby's Folly is the first winery in the City of Denver to take advantage of Colorado's new vintner's restaurant liquor license, which allows an establishment to sell food and alcoholic beverages while producing a maximum of 250,000 gallons of wine on the premises annually. So unlike a standard winery or brewery that only serves its own product, Bigsby's Folly, named after the Yetka's late golden retriever, will also serve wines from around the world as well as a selection of craft beers and cocktails. (Carboy Winery in Littleton operates under a similar model.)
The winery operation is a little different from those of other recent urban vintners in Denver and the surrounding suburbs. The Yetkas knew they wanted to create top-quality wines, so rather than tackling wine-making responsibilities themselves, they hired two professionals: Chris Nelson moved here from San Francisco to act as on-site wine-maker and general manager, while Brian Graham will oversee wine-making at a separate site in Napa Valley. For all of the opening wines, the grapes were either procured in California and crushed before the unfermented juice was shipped to Denver, or the grapes were turned into wine at the Napa facility and shipped here already bottled.
As Chad Yetka explains the reasoning behind the setup, "We want to immerse people in the artisan atmosphere and the production process." But he also wanted to bring bold, fruit-forward California varietals to the table. The result is a collection of wines that still carry California appellations but have a Denver connection.
That Denver connection is evident in the building and its handsome design, as drawn up by Xan Creative, which has amassed a considerable resume of top Denver restaurants, and executed by P.G. Arnold Construction. The building itself dates back to the late 1800s and was once a factory for mining equipment; photos of the original factory and its employees grace the entryway of the winery. Inside, garage windows face the railroad track and the new pedestrian bridge that will soon connect the two currently bisected halves of the RiNo district. Next door, Zeppelin Station, a multi-story, multi-use property that will house business offices and ground-floor retail, is slowly rising;its tenants will add to the winery's customer base once the facility opens.
The winery itself looks tiny at the back of the 10,000-square-foot space, and a barrel-aging room takes up the central area, filled with oak casks and 300-gallon totes brimming with wine ready to be moved into the barrels. Bigsby's Folly will open with a rose, a pinot noir, a chardonnay, a malbec and a cabernet sauvignon, all made with grapes sourced from specific Sonoma and Napa vineyards. Nelson, an urban-winery veteran from the West Coast, is more than happy to chat about techniques like whole-cluster pressing and malolactic fermentation and flavor profiles such as spearmint, watermelon or winter spices (not in the same wine, of course), but he also just enjoys a good glass. "Wine's supposed to be fun — it's relaxing and good for you," he says, adding that he hopes the casual, airy atmosphere of the winery will help ease the intimidation factor that keeps many folks from delving into new varietals and flavors.
To help build that atmosphere, the Yetkas have also hired chef Rebecca Austin, who previously owned Vinue Wine Bar in Cherry Creek, to oversee the food program. The menu is small but covers a range of charcuterie boards, small plates, flat breads and other wine-friendly fare, much of which will be available gluten-free — a smart move, since many gluten-intolerant diners are shut out of the craft-brewery boom.
Right now, Bigsby's Folly might be a little tough to get to, with heavy construction on Brighton Boulevard and the light-rail pedestrian bridge still not open, but if you wind your way along 38th Street and down Wynkoop, you'll find some street parking that has yet to be metered by the city. Better still, let a Lyft or taxi driver handle the confusion — which will give you a chance to sample a few more wines. Those wines will be available in bottles to drink on-premises (or take home once corked, in accordance with Denver's weird regulations), on tap (along with several guest wines), or in growlers to go. You can also join the wine club to have bottles shipped directly to your house.
Bigsby's Folly will be 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. Keep reading for more photos.
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