Bookcliff Vineyards is an ongoing act of discovery. Owners John Garlich and Ulla Merz discovered their appreciation of wine in the 1970s, then discovered different wines through wine tastings, and organized wine tastings with friends in the 1980s. They grew grapes in their backyard in Boulder, where they discovered the art of making their own wine.
They discovered Palisade while on a backpacking trip to Moab in spring 1994, when peaches were the main crop in this agricultural region of Colorado. They discovered the Colorado Mountain Winefest in 1994, where they attended a seminar on grape growing in Colorado. In 1995 they purchased a 10-acre peach orchard in Palisade and discovered their preference for controlling the process from source to finished product when their newly planted vines produced usable fruit in their third year.
Garlich and Merz’s discovery continues today as they grow all of the grapes for the six white, nine red, and five dessert wines they produce. They now own 24 acres and grow 10 varieties – Chardonnay, Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Muscat Blanc, Orange Muscat, Riesling, Rousanne, Syrah, and Viognier – using sustainable farming practices.
Their philosophy of wine is twofold: First, they make wine they like to drink, making Bookcliff Vineyards less of a business proposition than a passion for quality wine. Second, they control the process from beginning to end. When they started their own vineyard, it allowed them to control a critical aspect of the winemaking process in the grape-to-bottle quality. Bookcliff Vineyards is among a small handful of Colorado wineries that make wine from their own grapes. According to Garlich, they have discovered that controlling the growing process as well as the winemaking process has allowed them to produce higher-quality wines.
Once the grapes are harvested at Bookcliff Vineyards in Palisade, they are trucked to Boulder, where Garlich engages in the vinification or winemaking process, from crush to fermentation and bottling. The winery’s tasting room is located at the winery site in North Boulder. Visitors can see the fermenting tanks and aging barrels at the back of the tasting room.
Garlich and Merz, a former civil engineer and software developer, respectively, incorporate their philosophy of wine in the full process: “We live what we want, and we want what we live.” Garlich said there is no difference in the wine he would make for himself and the wine he would make for others. He and Mertz like to drink dry red and white wine, which is what they produce under the core Bookcliff Vineyards label. Their wines – the Cabernet Franc Reserve, Petite Sirah, Tempranillo, and Ensemble in particular – have garnered numerous awards at local and national wine festivals. Their Cabernet Franc Reserve 2009 and Petite Sirah 2010 won GOLD medals at this year’s Jefferson Cup Invitational Wine Competition.
Bookcliff Vineyards produces some sweet wines but labels them differently to indicate to consumers that what they are drinking are not the core Bookcliff Vineyards wines. Their fanciful dessert wines, Adagio, made from Black Muscat grapes, and Allegretto, made from Orange Muscat grapes, are two such examples.
Garlich discussed the origins of Friday’s Folly and Lucky Twenty. These red and white wines came from the question of what to do with wine that was not up to their standards: dump it down the drain or use it in a different creative endeavor. Starting with Friday’s Folly, they opted for the latter, and their value, $10 blended red wine was born. Friday’s Folly was named for a rock climbing route on the backside of the Third Flatiron. The wine is lighthearted and fun. A year after Friday’s Folly was introduced, Lucky Twenty was introduced as a value white blend. It was named after a gold and silver mine in the Ouray area. The goal with these value wines is to make Colorado wine drinkable every day. The wines are young, light, and fresh, and may be more appealing to a younger consumer. They are an easy-drinking style of wine with a lot of flavors derived from the blending of multiple grapes.
Accomplishments of which Garlich is proud include the steady growth of their winery and wines in the marketplace. He said wineries in Colorado tend to come and go, but Bookcliff Vineyards is still here. He credits their conservative approach to growth as helpful. Importantly, Garlich describes how they are never fully satisfied with the quality of the wine, which makes them strive for continuous improvement.
One of their next goals is to produce 5,000 cases annually. Now, they produce 3,000, but this year’s crush will produce more than 4,000 cases. When they reach the milestone volume of 5,000 cases, they will have maximized the capacity of the space they are in now.
Garlich and Merz reside in Boulder but spend time in Palisade tending the grapes. While the early winter tends to be quiet, in February Garlich will go to Palisade to survey the damage to the vines from the winter and begin pruning for the coming season. Garlich believes savvy consumers appreciate wines made from the winemaker’s grapes, and the seamless control it affords them over the winemaking process.
Garlich adds that it has been fun to see the progress Colorado wines have made and how this quality is being recognized by Colorado restaurants and consumers. He cites the recent Colorado wine dinner at Lou’s Foodbar as an example.
Garlich said he and Merz thoroughly enjoy what they do. They hope people enjoy the wines they produce. He said wine is sensitive to where grapes grow. They are proud of what they grow and believe it conveys an expression of the terroir of Colorado. Click here to see pictures: http://lodeplus.com/wine-in-denver/bookcliff-vineyards-wines-100-col…
Visit the Bookcliff Vineyards tasting room and winery in north Boulder at 1501 Lee Hill Road, Unit 17. Now through the end of the year, it is open Thursday-Sunday from 1pm-6pm. January through May it is open Friday-Sunday from 1pm-6pm.