Two brothers from Peoria, Illinois, took completely different paths in life, but somehow they both ended up in an alley in downtown Denver. Wine was what brought them to this point.
James Blanchard attended the Air Force Academy and fell in love with wine while stationed at an Air Force base in California's wine country. His younger brother, Mark, studied poetry at a liberal arts college in Illinois, and developed a passion for the grape while working in Chicago wine shops. While their careers took different routes, they shared their favorite bottles over the years at family gatherings. And about ten years ago, the two opened Blanchard Family Wines in Healdsburg, California, with winemaker Jene Chapanar.
The brothers have operated the business as a boutique winery since then, making only about 2,000 to 3,000 cases a year and offering tastings by appointment only in a small storefront in Healdsburg. But they always wanted to open a larger tasting room with artisan food to accompany the wine, and James thought Denver was the right place to do it, since he considers Colorado home, having lived in Colorado Springs, Boulder and Fort Collins.
This month, James and Mark will unveil their new Blanchard Family Wines tasting room at 1855 Blake Street. While the street address is on Blake, the entrance is located in the Dairy Block's newly refurbished alley, which runs from 18th to 19th streets between Blake and Wazee. The space resembles a restaurant more than a simple tasting room, with two rooms offering several different seating arrangements in the form of a lounge with plush couches, a bar with several stools beneath a wine rack built to resemble rows of grapevines, a main room with two- and four-top tables, and a barrel room with community tables.
Wine is the main draw, and you'll find eight different varietals: three white, one rosé and four red, available by the glass (in a sample size or full pour), bottle or take-home growler. "I'm varietal-driven," explains Chapanar. "If I'm making a chardonnay, I want it to taste like chardonnay."
All of the grapes are sourced from Sonoma County in California. "We are a licensed Colorado winery, but we want to make the best wines possible," notes James. So grapes are procured from growers in Sonoma County's top regions (merlot and cabernet sauvignon from Alexander Valley, zinfandel and pinot noir from the Russian River Valley, for example) before being pressed in Healdsburg and sent to Colorado for bottling and kegging for the tasting room.
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To bring out the best in the wines, the Blanchards are offering charcuterie, cheeses and desserts, many from Colorado makers. Il Porcellino Salumi and Elevation Artisan Meats provide dry-cured sausage and other meats, while cheeses come from Haystack Mountain Cheese and Fruition Farm. Desserts are provided by Ruby Jean Patisserie and the Chocolate Therapist in Littleton.
The tasting room is still awaiting its final certificate of occupancy from the city, which could happen before the weekend, but an exact opening date has not been set. With luck, you'll be able to sit down for a glass of wine or two during your downtown holiday shopping.
Blanchard Family Wines is located about midway down the Dairy Block's alley (in suite 120). Once open, hours will be 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Sunday through Thursday and 11 a.m. to midnight on Friday and Saturday. Visit the tasting room's website, or call 720-990-9092 to inquire about private parties.