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Spirits rise high at Colorado’s newest winery

Article by Lynda La Rocca

Local Winery – July 1996 – Colorado Central Magazine

In vino veritas. In wine, there is truth. And in Salida, there’s truly good wine, thanks to Mountain Spirit Winery, Ltd., one of the region’s newest enterprises.

Owners and winemakers Mike and Terry Barkett are crafting memorable wines from Colorado grapes and fruits in a state-of-the-art winery nestled amid five acres of apple and chokecherry trees. The winery is located just off Highway 50 about five miles west of Poncha Springs.

“We’re trying to give people a unique wine taste they won’t find elsewhere,” Mike says.

And judging from its initial offerings, Mountain Spirit Winery is already a success at doing just that.

Its “Angel Blush,” an unusual, 40-40-20 percent blend of pear, apple and raspberry, is a delightfully clean, delicate wine with a lovely aroma of pear and a delicious taste of raspberry. The winery’s not-too-sweet cherry wine, made from Montmorency cherries, fairly bursts with fresh cherry flavor and unexpected hints of burnt sugar and cinnamon.

The Barketts believe in keeping their enterprise as Colorado-oriented as possible. Their wine grapes and fruits are purchased from the western slope’s Grand Valley and Hotchkiss in Delta County, while winery signs, T-shirts, and even the logo, are locally produced. The logo, designed by Salida artist Pat Oglesby, features a “southwestern angel” garbed in rose-colored buckskin and bearing bunches of grapes. The angel stands before snow-capped peaks (with the Angel of Shavano visible on one), her long hair stirred by a mountain breeze.

Terry gladly provides novice wine drinkers with tips on how to determine whether they are, indeed, purchasing an authentic Colorado product.

“If a wine bottle label reads `cellared and bottled by,’ the wine wasn’t actually made by the winery,” she explains. “Look for a bottle that reads `produced and bottled by’ for assurance that the wine was made right here in Colorado.”

Fluctuating volume due to severe weather or diseases that attack fruit or vines may put an occasional crimp in the Barketts’ determination to use 100 percent Colorado produce in their wines. But barring unforeseen market conditions, “our plan is to make sure it all comes from Colorado,” Mike promises.

“This is economic development in action,” adds Terry. “Our operation uses a product produced in Colorado. It supports the state’s agricultural environment and helps maintain green space. It also supports small growers of wine grapes and fruits. I’ve always been a big believer in economic development, and now I’m finally putting my money where my mouth is.”

But why a winery? The Barketts–he’s a general surgeon and she’s a former Chaffee County commissioner and the current proprietor of the Fresh Ideas Gallery in Salida–were originally winemaking hobbyists whose interest in wine deepened as they attended tastings and seminars.

“We always wanted our own business, one where we didn’t have to go to an office every day,” Terry says. “We enjoy wine and we enjoy doing things together, so a winery seemed like a natural choice.”

Mike’s medical knowledge coupled with Terry’s experience in laboratory technology make the couple as emphatic about the conditions under which their wine is made as they are about the authenticity of their product.

“Jim Seewald (the Barketts’ winery consultant and the founder of Colorado Mountain Vineyards, the state’s first large-scale commercial winery) says cleanliness is the way to keep bad stuff out of the wine,” Terry notes.

“So with our medical backgrounds, we run this place like a hospital. We keep it spotless,” she continues. That includes cleaning fermentation tanks with the same kind of antiseptic used in surgical procedures.

The couple’s familiarity with medicine’s odd hours really came in handy during what is probably the busiest time of the year for winemakers, the September “crush.” During this aptly-named period, newly-harvested grapes are literally crushed by special winery equipment, and the juice alone, or juice with crushed grapes and grape skins, is then pumped into fermentation tanks. It’s a process that requires speed to prevent both grapes and “must,” the grape juice or crushed grapes, from losing freshness.

“The grapes are delivered whole and ripe, and we process them immediately,” Terry explains. “One time the grapes arrived at 1 a.m. — and we were still working at 5 a.m.”

Visitors to the winery will see rows of large tanks which hold the fermenting wines, along with oak aging barrels used to infuse fine red wines and some white wines with the distinctive “oaky nose” and taste prized by many wine aficionados.

“I read somewhere that Silver Oak (a renowned California winery which limits production to cabernet sauvignon) got all its oak barrels from one cooperage in Missouri,” Mike recalls. “So I called Silver Oak, got the name of the cooperage and ordered some barrels. I asked about shipping procedures and was told that would be taken care of later. Then one day a truck drove up and unloaded ten barrels. The cooperage trucked them out here to us at no charge. When I tried to pay for shipping, the response was, `Silver Oak was once a small winery, too.'”

Mountain Spirit Winery, Colorado’s 15th winery, has a maximum production capacity of approximately 10,000 gallons, with a first-release volume of about 4,200 gallons, or 1,700 cases of wine. (The Barketts are expecting to increase production to about 6,000 gallons this year.)

In addition to the Angel Blush and cherry wines, Mountain Spirit currently markets a minty-tasting sémillon-chardonnay blend. The Barketts plan to release their first chardonnay and merlot this fall, with reserve chardonnay and merlot scheduled for a Christmastime debut. And after sampling their present offerings, this wine lover believes that, come autumn, local oenophiles will be in for another real treat.

If wine drinking is indeed a celebration of life, the spirits can’t get much higher than those at Mountain Spirit Winery.

Lynda La Rocca enjoys drinking wine, especially when it’s part of a writing job. She lives near Leadville, which once boasted five breweries but never a winery.