Canyons group, winery join to get kids out of the house!

By Dave Buchanan 
Wednesday, June 29, 2016
Grand Junction Daily Sentinel

 Mara Ferris and Kate Graham look on as Garrett leads the way in the wine making process!

Mara Ferris and Kate Graham look on as Garrett leads the way in the wine making process!

Yo, bro: Pass the Desert Rat Red. A unique partnership between Colorado Canyons Association and Carlson Vineyards, forged through a spirited commitment of giving back to the community as well as finding needed resources to get young people into the backcountry, may provide the perfect pairing for your next canyon-inspired meal.

Sunday afternoon found Garret Portra, owner and winemaker at Carlson Vineyards, and a group of CCA staff and board members sampling wines, all in the name of conservation and defeating nature- deficit disorder.

 Garrett Portra provides the group with an overview of the blending process.

Garrett Portra provides the group with an overview of the blending process.

Sunday’s working group, which included CCA Executive Director Joe Neuhof and Assistant Director Kate Graham, spent a few hours in the cool environs of the Carlson winery tasting various blends and rejecting them in turn until, as a little blonde girl once said, it was “just right.”

I know, tough work, but someone has to do it, right?

Neuhof said the idea was born during a series of “Crazy about Canyons” dinners sponsored by the CCA and held at Carlson Vineyards (the last one was June 11).

 CCA Board Member Zebulon Miracle looks on as his wife Jess take careful measure. 

CCA Board Member Zebulon Miracle looks on as his wife Jess take careful measure. 

“Garret and I would talk after the dinners and we both were looking for something to bring our efforts together,” Neuhof said. “This seemed like a natural.”

Once on the market, $1 from every bottle purchased will go the Colorado Canyons’ youth programs, Neuhof said.

“This might seem strange to some people, but I think it’s a good fit for us and Carlson’s,” he said. “Our goal in 2017 is to get 3,500 kids into the backcountry and this will help that happen.”

 Ture Nycum and Collin Ewing look on as Amanda Ewing carefully taps into her inner chemist while helping to develop the winning CCA - Carlson blend.

Ture Nycum and Collin Ewing look on as Amanda Ewing carefully taps into her inner chemist while helping to develop the winning CCA - Carlson blend.

The final decision is a blend of 72-percent Lemberger, also known as Blaufrankisch, the spicy red grape that adds a bit of ripe cherry fruit, acidity and medium tannins, and 28-percent Cabernet Franc, the savory Bordeaux blend grape that does well in the high desert climes of the Grand Valley.

The wine, which is yet to be bottled and named (don’t expect “Desert Rat Red”), will spend some time in French oak barrels and may be available late this fall, Portra said.

Portra, who purchased the winery in 2014 from Parker Carlson, said the front label art still is in the works.

“We expect that approval to go pretty quickly once we submit it” to the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau, Portra said.

Neuhof said the front label will feature a photo from one of the canyons and Sunday the board members looked at several selections, including Rattlesnake Canyon arches and pictographs.

[Update since this story ran...CCA put a call out to community members for photo submissions to be considered for the label. We received hundreds of entries and have narrowed down them down to two final images. We are in the process of creating mocked-up labels and making the final selection. Stay tuned for the winning image and photographer!]

Portra said the label idea came from Dave Phinney of Orin Swift winery in Napa Valley.

Phinney is known for his creative labeling and Portra saw the opportunity to do something eye-catching as well as provocative.

“We wanted something different,” he said. “Not only to stand out on the shelf but to let people know we support the CCA’s efforts. Cailin (his wife) and I are always looking for ways to give back to the community for our good fortune.”

As for Portra, this wine is his first opportunity to make his mark on the familiar and popular lineup of Carlson Vineyards wines.

“I am excited about this,” said the eternally upbeat Portra. “I didn’t think it would come this soon, but it’s my chance to put my stamp on Carlson wines.

“And I’ve gotten lots of support from Parker.”