Colorado Wine Coming of Age

Carboy Winery is expanding the Colorado scene by pushing beyond household varietals. Photos: Courtesy Carboy Winery

Carboy Winery is expanding the Colorado scene by pushing beyond household varietals.
Photos: Courtesy Carboy Winery

How Carboy Winery is changing the narrative 

By Monica Parpal Stockbridge

It’s been over 100 years since Colorado voted for Prohibition in 1916, four years before the rest of the country followed suit. At first glance, you’d hardly know it. Colorado ranks third in the country for most breweries per capita and almost 100 distilleries call Colorado home. But when it comes to wine, it’s taken a little longer to recover from the Prohibition-era slump.

“Most people would be surprised to learn that in the early 19th century, wine flourished in Colorado,” says Kevin Webber, Carboy Winery’s director of winery operations and sales. He’s also a sommelier and a fourth-generation Colorado native, and like many of us, he’s been rooting for the Colorado wine industry for years. 

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“Some of California’s biggest names in wine started in Colorado before moving to Napa Valley,” he adds, before the time when thousands of vines were ripped out during Prohibition. “So in some ways, the California wine industry wouldn’t be where it is today without those humble Colorado beginnings.”

While the Colorado wine industry has come a long way in the last 100 years, the saga of Colorado’s wine potential is still being written. And that’s where Carboy Winery comes in.

Located just off Brewery Lane in Littleton, Carboy Winery is a three-year-old Colorado winery that works hands-on with growers, vineyards and winemakers from around the country, vinting, blending and aging Carboy wines in-house. Don’t be fooled by the fact that Carboy isn’t located on vine-covered hills. This winery is producing award-winning bottled (and kegged) wine that’s not only changing the experience of drinking wine in the Mile High City, but changing the face of what Colorado wine can be.

The idea for Carboy emerged soon after restaurateurs Craig Jones and Eric Hyatt purchased Angelo’s Taverna on 6th Avenue in 2013. In 2016, they built a second Angelo’s location in Littleton — this time, with a winery next door and a goal of serving Colorado-made wine on tap.

“In starting our winery, we discovered that back in the 1800s in Colorado, they were using carboys for making moonshine,” Webber says. In a nod to the state’s heritage, Carboy Winery was born: a place where customers could enjoy a great glass of wine and fill their own liter vessels (carboys) with high-quality wine to take home.

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Head Winemaker Tyzok Wharton and the Carboy Winery team started out by sourcing grapes from California, Washington and Oregon. In 2017, Carboy began harvesting 15 tons of fruit and eight grape varietals from Colorado’s Grand Valley and The West Elks American Viticultural Area, or AVA. In 2018, that number rose to 60 tons and 14 varietals. That will grow to 100 tons this year.

“Colorado’s Grand Valley is an ideal fruit growing mecca,” Webber says. “However, the climate and weather can be challenging for some grape varietals, while others flourish.” 

Part of the goal is to show people the best of what Colorado can produce — not just the wines everyone is familiar with. That might mean more Cabernet Franc than Cabernet Sauvignon, more Viognier than Chardonnay. “We’re not necessarily focusing on household varietal names,” Webber says. 

Yet, Carboy is on its way to becoming a household name in its own right. In early 2018, Carboy purchased the Gold Pan Saloon, holder of the longest continuous liquor license west of the Mississippi. Carboy kept its 1879 aesthetic but converted the south dining room into a 1900s-era  wine tasting room. Later in 2019, Carboy will open a winery tasting room, restaurant, and breakfast concept in the former Govnr’s Park Tavern and Lala’s Wine + Pizzeria space in Denver. Carboy is also expanding its original Littleton location with an 8,000-square-foot production facility to support their ongoing growth. 

That kind of growth goes hand-in-hand with greater recognition. The 2017 Grand Valley Cabernet Franc recently received a 90-point rating from internationally acclaimed wine critic James Suckling, former editor of Wine Spectator. 

“All the Colorado wines we make, we make in a very old-world style,” Webber says, “meaning we tend to produce more fineness, terroir-driven wines that are food-friendly and that highlight the unique growing region.”

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Another signature is the Vin ’59, a red blend with mild acidity and a perfect balance of tannins and fruit. The name honors the pioneers of the 1859 gold rush, known as “Fifty-Niners.” Both of Vin ’59’s first two vintages were made from all California grapes, but in 2019 this blend will transition to all Colorado grapes, while the California counterpart will be rechristened as Vin ’49 to reflect the California gold rush of 1849. 

Every Colorado craft beverage is enhanced with food that pairs with it, and Carboy isn’t wanting for talent in the kitchen. Executive Chef Scott Hybbeneth (formerly of Wynkoop Brewing Company, Barolo Grill and Sushi Den) joined Angelo’s Taverna in 2013, and now oversees the culinary program for Carboy. Executive Chef Rebecca Weitzman, who won Denver Westword’s Best Chef 2006 before pursuing a culinary career in New York, has returned to Denver and will run the culinary program at the new Denver restaurant and breakfast concept opening later this year. The chefs also host quarterly wine dinners at the Littleton winery. 

More than anything, Carboy Winery is about showing people an outstanding experience that emphasizes local, high-quality wine. 

“There’s a sense of responsibility to be a champion for the industry as a whole,” Webber says, “and help to put Colorado wine at the forefront.”

Monica Parpal Stockbridge writes about food, travel and technology in Colorado and beyond. Read more of her work at monicastockbridge.com.