Stone Cottage: Wine at 6,300 Feet

Posted by | Posted in Grape Adventures | Posted on 04-27-2012

When a rocket scientist decides to quit his day job in Boulder, Colorado and make wine at the northern hemisphere’s second-highest vineyard, one can safely assume that the wine is going to be interesting.

But the wine at Stone Cottage Cellars is more than just interesting. The winery’s Chardonnay and Gewurztraminer are both exceptional – and I definitely plan on stocking my own cellar with a few bottles.

Stone Cottage Cellars can trace its roots to the early 1990s, when Brent and Karen Helleckson decided it was time to find some farmland near their home in Boulder.

Brent grew up on a farm in Minnesota, and Karen grew up on a farm in South Dakota. As their children grew older, both wanted escape the city and return to agriculture.

Unfortunately, the land around Boulder was tremendously expensive. So they started traveling the state looking for property, eventually winding up in Paonia, a town in Delta County with a population of just 1,500. There, they found a 13-acre parcel for sale – and it was stunning. Sitting at about 6,300 feet, the property had sweeping views of the Rocky Mountains and some Gewürztraminer was already planted. So in 1994, they purchased the land.

In 1997, Karen and Brent moved to the property and started working on the vineyard and making plans to join the wine industry. Although the Gewürztraminer vines were more 20-years old, they were in terrible condition and needed to be nursed back to health. The husband-and-wife team also decided to plant Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, and Merlot and start building a cellar and winery.

In 2001, the Hellecksons released their first commercial wine — a Merlot — and in 2003, Brent quit his day job to dedicate more time to the fledgling vineyard in Colorado’s West Elks AVA.

During a pre-excursion to the DrinkLocalWine Conference, I visited Stone Cottage Cellars and tasted through four bottled wines and two barrel samples.  The Gewürztraminer and Chardonnay – which I revisited later than night with dinner – were absolutely delicious.

Tasting notes below.

2009 Stone Cottage Cellars Gewürztraminer
On the nose, an explosive nose of sweet lime juice, peach pit, lime zest, limestone, and chalk. On the palate, a wonderfully refreshing Gewürztraminer – full of bright citrus fruit and tons and tons of acidity.

2009 Stone Cottage Cellars Chardonnay
Barrel fermented, partial malo, a small percentage of new oak. On the nose, I’m immediately reminded of South Africa’s top Chardonnays – as this wine seems to combine the best of the New World and Old World. A hint of butter, but it’s both restrained and seductive. Underneath the butter is sweet green apple, granite and chalk, some leesiness, and a hint of pineapple and hazelnut. On the palate, the wine has a bracing acidity. The wine doesn’t quite have enough depth to match the acidity, but the wine is quite impressive.

2010 Stone Cottage Cellars Syrah
This wine undergoes whole berry fermentation, which results in a profile that’s similar to wines that see carbonic maceration – and it shows. The wine is bright and very berryish, with explosive aromas of fresh, ripe blueberry juice jumping out of the glass. On the palate, it’s soft and round – and the American oak shows. A quaffable red, but not one I’d seek out.

2009 Stone Cottage Cellars Gewürztraminer Alpine Dessert Wine
On the nose, this wine is beautiful — brilliantly ripe apricots and peaches, with sweet white flowers and vanilla ice cream providing the foundation. Unfortunately, the palate is too hot – the wine is fortified, and it shows.

Comments (1)

  1. Drink in “il dolce far niente” and a glass of hand-crafted wine on the patio overlooking the stunning North Fork valley of the Gunnison River at the foot of the West Elk mountains. The surrounding vineyards, which are the highest in elevation on the continent, produce distinctive Chardonnay, Riesling, Gewurztraminer, Pinot Gris, Pinot Noir, Gamay, Cayuga and Chamborcin varietals. The mood of the West Elks and Surface Creek tours is slower-paced, more intimate focus on fresh local organic food, drink and crafts.

    Sojourn over-night in a bed and breakfast for a second leisurely day exploring western Colorado’s bountiful sunny countryside.