Wine & Art – Paonia, Colorado

[October 2019 | San Juan Silver Stage | By Kathryn R. Burke]

Art and wine—they kind of go together, don’t they. What do you usually see served at an art reception? Wine. At an outdoor concert? Wine (and probably beer, too). What do you see on the walls of a winetasting or sales room at a winery? Art (often paintings and pictures of the vineyard, its owners, and the winemaking process). What do you serve with a special meal at home or order to have with it when you eat out? Wine. And, if the meal is one that involves a number of guests, the preparation and serving of it is also a form of artistry; table décor is an art form in and of itself. Just ask places like Fabula Gifts in Montrose that specialize in helping you design a beautiful table. And at AppleShed in Cedaredge, where you can find the wine, the art, and the total décor all in one place.

When we put this issue together, and looked at farm and ranch, we couldn’t pass up grapes. I love wine, so this article was definitely mine to write! Tammy Molone, who was working with us at the time, helped with the interviews and the winetasting. (Tough job, but somebody had to do it!) Because we featured Paonia, Tammy and I wanted to take a look at their wineries to see what their story is about. And what we found was—wine and art pairings!

The West Elks American Viticultural Area (AVA) in Delta County includes some of the highest vineyards in North America. The soil, climate, and altitude give the wines a unique flavor. The AVA hosts two annual events, “North Fork Uncorked” and the “West Elks Wine Trail.” Winetastings and tours also occur during the annual Mountain Harvest Festival in Paonia, the last weekend of September. We attended, and because there was so much to learn and see, we were able to visit just four wineries. We learned their stories and tasted their wines. All of them shared visual artistry with viniculture tasting artistry!

Azura Cellars and Gallery

An Experience Beyond the Bottle. “Experience” (or maybe “adventurous experiences”) defines Azura owners Helen and Ty Gillespie. Never short of inspiration and always ready to try a new path, both were artists long before they became winemakers. The couple began making art in San Francisco, where Ty’s store design business was based.

Ready for a new adventure, and long-time sailing enthusiasts, they sold the business and headed off to sail the open ocean. “We left the day they had that big earthquake in San Franciso,” Ty said. (These folks are not only adventurous, they are also lucky.) They spent several years on the water, sailing around the world on their 38’ sloop, named Azura.

Next stop was Minturn, Colorado, where Ty and Helen set up a shop and studio to continue their vocations. When they visited Paonia, they fell in love with the town and the countryside, and decided to move their studios there and produce wine. “One of the original winemakers in the valley helped me get started,” Ty said. “Now, we’ve been doing it for 12 years.” The winery is named after their sailboat.

Wine and art—Ty creates public art these days, a natural evolution from his sculpture. Helen does various media. Never short of creative imagination, they also own and host a remote control (R/C) model yacht club. (Weekly sailings 4 – 6 P.M. Wednesday night, and 1-3 P.M. Sunday.)

The views looking out from their winetasting room and patio, or yacht club terrace, are spectacular. “We only use eight acres,” Ty said, “so we can keep our beautiful vistas.”

Azura bottles five varietal wines: 2016 Yacht Club Red, 2018 Malbec, 2015 Gret Loop Red, 2017 Pinot Noir, and Merlot Chocolate Sauce. 16764 Farmers Mine Road, Paonia CO. 970-390-4251.

Alfred Eames Cellars & Puesta del Sol Vineyards

The wine and winery were inspired by a trip to Spain Alfred took as a young man. “I learned about wines there,” he said. “I really enjoyed experimenting with different wines.” Later, Alfred was making wines, although not commercially until 1994. “The time I lived in Spain was a big influence,” he said.

Puesta del Sol (which means “sunset”) is the name of the family vineyard Al

fred runs with his wife, and son, Devin, and reflects that Spanish influence. Alfred Eames belowground cellars, arched, and filled with aged oak barrels, have an “old world” feeling. Wine labels, designed by Wilkie Studio, also help tell the story. The names of several of the vintages, also recall those early days in Spanish wineries: Tempranillo, Sangre del Sol, Noche, and Vino Tinto.

Alfred and his wife are also musicians. They’ve been playing gigs with close friends from around the area for many years. Catch them in Carbondale for Oktoberfest, where they will be playing under the Irish name of “Oran Mor” (loosely translated as “creative energy”), since the festival’s theme is Celtic.

Alfred Eames makes six varietal wines and four blends, which are sold in restaurants and liquor stores throughout Southwest Colorado. The winery is located at 11931 4050 Rd., Paonia CO. 970-361-5630.

Stone Cottage Cellars

The artistry of winery owners Karen and Brent Helleckson lies in their vision, dedication, and hard work in creating Stone Cottage Cellars. “We literally built it from the ground up,” they explained. “One stone at a time, using fieldstone from this property.” The result, since they bought the property 25 years ago, was their home (where they raised their family), the Stone Cottage, the wine cellar (which holds 60 barrels), and the tasting room. They’re still moving stone, expanding to accommodate a growing family and growing business.

Their original home is now a vacation rental. The Stone Cottage is where they not only conduct tastings, but hold events from wine dinners to hosting private parties and weddings. Both Karen and Brent come from farm country—Brent grew up in Minnesota; they met in college in North Dakota. They both had been hobbyist winemakers. While visiting the North Fork Valley, they fell in love with the area, decided to leave the corporate life behind—Brent is a rocket scientist!—and purchased one of the highest-elevation vineyards in the world. Growing grapes here has been a challenge, but the results are absolutely delightful.

Stone Cottage produces a rosé, three whites, three reds, and an Alpine Dessert Wine. 4716 Reds Road, Paonia CO. 970-527-3444.

Qutori Winery

Four years ago, the Bennett family was running a liquor store—among other things. Then, they bought this incredible property (some with vines already growing on it), which also included a cherry orchard. They started making wine. Within only three years, their Qutori Syrah had taken home a double gold at the 2019 Colorado Governor’s Cup. “We have a passion for winemaking,” Julie said. Too true. You can taste it!

The name, Qutori, means creativity and leadership. “It’s the inspiration for our winery and the qualities we’d hoped to embody in our business,” Julie said. Which helps to explain that gold medal.

Julie also has a passion for creative food. They bought the building—a dark, rather dingy, liquor store—across from the vineyards, with the intention of serving food. They opened it up, added a wall of windows, and a lovely outdoor patio overlooking their orchards and the mountains, and designed an irresistible menu, with creative dishes like Spinach Feta Pie, Organic Peanut Butter Banana Grilled Sandwich, and Polenta Casserole. Locals like to gather, drink a little coffee or wine, use the Wi-Fi, and while away some restful time. It’s a great place to hang out.

Next, came wine dinners and special events. The café, which includes a tasting area and little retail space, also hosts art gatherings. Not surprising, since Julie is an artist, too, with some graphics background. She designs the Qutori labels using the “en-caustic” technique, painting with heated beeswax to which color is added.

Qutori makes seven wines, two aged in bourbon barrels, which give them a unique flavor. Qutori Winery and the Root and Vine. 40823 Highway 133. Paonia CO. 970-527-3236.

All four wineries are open daily May-October. After that, open only for events or by appointment—weather and owner-whim depending. Root and Vine restaurant will be open three or four days a week in the winter.