Colorado Wine Boy

Santa's Wine Delivery

Jacob Helleckson

Winters in Western Colorado can be quite snowy at times. Usually, we get a solid blast of snow from early December to mid-January, and then a dry spell comes for the majority of February before the snow resumes in March. However, the first band of bad weather usually coincides with Christmas and the holiday wine-shipping season.  Growing up, we didn't have a 4-wheel drive vehicle, even though our home and winery is on top of a mesa. It rests 500 feet above the valley floor with a steep, 3-mile winding road to reach it. This was fine for 95% of the year, but there was one storm brought our old front-wheel-drive minivan to its knees. Try as we might, we couldn't get that thing back up to our house.

The front of our wine cellar mid-winter

The front of our wine cellar mid-winter

With Christmas wine shipments streaming in and no way to deliver them to the UPS store, my dad decided to pull a Santa Claus-themed stunt. He loaded the wine onto a children's runner sled and we dragged it down the three-mile road off the mesa to our stranded car. All we needed was to tie a red nose on our dog, Beau, and we would have had a fully-fledged Christmas delivery cruising down the road. Lesson learned: Sometimes holiday-themed ingenuity and the limitations of minivan traction leaves you with a great memory and the makings of a great story :)

stone_cottage_winter

Home during the winter months

Diced Straw Hat

Jacob Helleckson

During the summer, hats are essential when working outside for full days at 6300 ft. Unless you're into the "cooked lobster" look on your neck, having a full-brimmed straw hat is the way to go. While not the epitome of style and fashion, it's worth the investment. These hats usually come with a drawstring that goes around the chin for added sexiness, but I always drew the line at this level of cutting-edge fashion and cut the strap off the hat. This story is about time when that vogue chinstrap would have come in very handy. 

During the summers, it was my job to take care of mowing the vineyard. It's a beautiful job, that's very tangible when completed. Nothing feels as good as looking back on a freshly tended vineyard that looks like it was just laid out on a golf course. But wind is a real thing in Western Colorado, and while I was mowing the vineyard on a blustery late September afternoon, that wind decided to gust and catch my hat. My hat blew off conveniently slid right under the mower behind the tractor. A neat pile of straw was all that exited the back. Lesson learned: Sometimes you have to wear that chin strap!

Nobel-Prize Winning Magpies

Jacob Helleckson

Every fall, as the grapes change color and other food becomes hard to come by, magpies begin to prey on the harvest. A magpie bird is a rather strapping feathered creature, with a clean white body, and black tail and wings. About five minutes is enough time with one however. They are the smartest grape thieves ever. 

To remedy the bird problem, we lay netting over each row of grapes. It adds another pass through the vineyard, but it can also save an entire harvest. You would think that this would be enough to keep the magpies at bay, but they have outsmarted us. Yep. Birds win the Nobel Prize for thievery.

They sit on the top wire of the vineyard trellis, and then purposefully tip over, swing down, and push the bird netting into the grapevine, causing the cluster to stick through the netting, and allowing them to pluck some off for lunch. While hilarious to watch, this "bobbing for apples" technique accounts for a small percentage of crop loss every year in the North Fork. Lesson learned: Magpies, while good looking, actually are annoying pests.  

Grapes with a side of Gravel

Jacob Helleckson

I learned how to drive a tractor well before I ever got behind the wheel of a car. As soon as I was heavy enough to step in a clutch, I was out in the vineyard, working the vines. Our tractor at Stone Cottage Cellars is what you'd call VERY manual. Sometimes it feels like you run out of appendages operating equipment, and it's one of those things that requires absolute attention. This story is an example of when paying a little more attention would have come in very handy.

I was driving a load of grapes out of the vineyard late on an October evening. After gathering all of the lugs on the platform attached to the back, I started to make my way out of the vineyard. As I came out onto the main road, I de-clutched to shift gears. This was about when my foot slipped off the clutch. The tractor jolted forward, and the grapes, unsecured on the back, decided to agree with physics and proceeded to fall everywhere in the gravel driveway.

After spending the next 2 hours in the dark sorting through gravel and grapes, I finally delivered them to the crush pad. This was one of those "parents shake heads" moments. Lesson learned: Gravel and grapes shouldn't mix :) 

Slush in the Hoses

Jacob Helleckson

Fall is a fascinating time for a winery. Harvest is one of those "do or die" kind of seasons, where days stretch at both ends, temperatures drop, and excitement of the new vintages mounts. The fall of 2011 was no different. The days were a symphony of "pick, press, pump, repeat" when during the daylight hours, our family would harvest as many pounds of grapes as we could, and then process them that evening. This includes crushing grapes, adding rice hulls to spread the crushed grapes out  and then pressing them in our bladder press. It holds about 1000 lbs of crushed grapes, which are loaded, by hand, and then squeezed for approximately 1 hour. Then, we pump all of the juice into our cellar for inoculation and fermentation in the following days. 

What's missing from that whole process described above is the sheer amount of cleaning involved with doing the process correctly. Washing picking bins and lugs, presses, crushers, pumps, hundreds of feet of hoses all happen in sync with the glamorous stuff. ;)

The fall of 2011 was a particularly cold one, even for 6300 ft, when temps came ever closer to the stressful 32 degree mark. One cold October night, we found ourselves cleaning hoses at 11:00 PM, after a full day of harvesting and processing. As we started our small air diaphragm pump we noticed a certain slurpy-like substance exuding itself from the end of the hoses. After freaking out briefly and draining everything out as fast as possible, we started to chuckle and realize how lucky we were that we didn't crack the entire system.  Lesson learned: H20 likes to change form around that 32 degree point. It's like magic I swear!