By Jamie Siebrase | Feb 24, 2017
It started 30 years ago with a marriage proposal in France, in Roquebrune-Cap-Martin. "When Scott [High] proposed to me, he promised me a vineyard," Theresa recalls.
Scott and Theresa worked in the wine industry, and Scott eventually founded a Denver-based distribution company -- Classic Wines -- in the 1990s. The couple never stopped dreaming of owning a vineyard.
In 1999, the Highs purchased a 10-acre peach orchard in Palisade, and resolved to continue growing peaches until they had the means to move to the Western Slope. It wasn't a bad gig: High Country Orchards and Vineyards has been the exclusive distributor of conventional Palisade peaches for Whole Foods Markets' Rocky Mountain Region since 2006.
While growing peaches, the Highs also grew their land, adding 170 acres to their property in the Grand Valley American Viticultural Area, a government-regulated premium growing area Theresa likens to Napa Valley and Sonoma County. Today, about half of the Highs' parcel is an estate vineyard producing grapes for some of our region's most distinguished wines.
Colterris is one of a few wineries in the state using 100 percent Colorado grapes. From Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc to Malbec, Merlot, Chardonnay, and a pink Malbec dubbed Livid, the company manufactures its varietals with vitis vinifera grapes, the first of which were harvested in 2008 in preparation for Colterris' inaugural release in 2010.
For its first six years, Colterris outsourced manufacturing. In 2017, the company will begin making and bottling wines on-site. "Winemaking equipment is very expensive, which is the reason why many folks don't get into this level of production," Theresa explains.
Colterris recently invested $100,000 into equipment, adding to its arsenal over a dozen 500-gallon stainless steel wine tanks necessary for aging white varieties. The vineyard also acquired new French and American oak barrels, bringing their collection to about 250, kept in an underground cave cellar. Winemaking takes up 8,000 to 10,000 square feet of space, Theresa estimates, including the winemaking facility, cave, and a dry goods storage area.
This season, Theresa and her team will use that space to produce approximately 14,000 cases of wine. Grapes were harvested last year, between August and November, and white varieties are coming out of their tanks right about now, and running through the filtering and settling processes.
Many of the red grapes will age in their barrels until the summer -- some won't come out for another two years -- before the racking, which is a method of moving wine from one barrel to another using gravity.
At Colterris, different clones are put into separate tanks and barrels. And this is where the art of winemaking comes into play. Bo Felton, a recent California transplant and Colterris' new head winemaker, blends clones to make unique varietals.
Few Bordeaux wines are composed of just one variety, Theresa explains. "That's boring," she says, explaining that "75 percent of a wine must be of one variety to be able to call it by that variety's name. From there, you can blend in other varietals to make the wine more interesting."
Theresa usually includes blend information on Colterris' labels, "because it makes it fun for the consumers," she says. Finished bottles are then corked or capsuled -- or canned, Theresa adds, pointing to her winery's latest endeavor: canned wine.
Colterris' canning line was made by Wild Goose Canning in Boulder, and Colterris anticipates releasing three canned wines -- a white, red, and rosé -- over Memorial Day weekend to accommodate a growing constituency of Millennial wine drinkers looking for a convenient way to pack wine on their outdoor excursions.
While Colterris currently distributes in Colorado, Theresa says, "People are already knocking on our door." The Highs are looking to move their product into other states: Arizona, Texas, Nevada, and Illinois, for example. In the meantime, wine lovers can sample the brand in one of the Colterris' two Western Slope tasting rooms, located at 3907 North River Rd. and 3548 East ½ Rd., at Colterris at the Overlook.
Challenges: "In order to maintain quality in this industry, you need to have consistency," Theresa explains. That's why she is so picky about both Colterris' land and its grapes. Challenges resultantly include finding a quality labor force and responding to finicky Colorado weather, which is marked by its unpredictable swings.
Opportunities: Theresa is growing her company lightning-fast, and is producing a high-quality wine in a region that isn't known for wine -- yet. "We have an opportunity to make a great first impression for the state of Colorado," she observes.
Needs: Currently, Colterris' biggest need is exposure. As Colterris prepares to release its first round of wines bottled and canned on-site, the company is looking to develop stronger brand recognition.