Press "Enter" to skip to content

Stomping grapes and making wine

Article by Mike Rosso

Agriculture – February 2009 – Colorado Central Magazine

WHO WOULD HAVE GUESSED a clandestine wine-making operation in the family armoire in upstate New York would lead to a celebration of grapes and wine in Colorado years later?

Winemaker Steve Flynn of Salida certainly did not.

That first batch of orange juice wine fermenting in plastic milk jugs could easily have soured him on the concept of winemaking before he was even of legal drinking age. “It was pretty bad, gassy wine,” Flynn recalled in a recent interview at his apartment in downtown Salida.

Private wine label
Private wine label

But a move to the West in 1991 inspired him to once again pursue an interest sparked by hours spent in the library as a teenager poring over books on winemaking. “I was a bookworm,” he confessed.

He started experimenting with vinous spirits while living in Abiquiu, New Mexico. Flynn was fresh out of art school and working as a prep cook at the Inn of the Governors in Santa Fé, but he didn’t start to take winemaking seriously until he relocated to Colorado the following year.

Flynn continued working in the food service industry in Denver and experimented with a variety of raw materials to create alcoholic beverages. A foray into potato wine ended poorly. “It tasted crappy,” he recalled but afterward he began making high-octane liqueurs using Colorado produce such as peaches and became more pleased with the results with each successive batch.

The next several years found him living in a variety of locations and conditions. For awhile he worked as a cook in Nederland while living in a 1971 Plymouth Fury on public land outside Rollinsville, but he eventually upgraded to a cabin in Gamble Gulch. During those years he put the brakes on any serious pursuit of homemade spirits and focused on his artwork and paying the bills.

A move to Salida in 1999 proved fortuitous. Flynn found a welcoming community, a vibrant art scene and, finally, an opportunity to work for an actual winery. In 2002 he was hired by Mountain Spirit Winery near Maysville and became involved with the production and marketing of their products. While working in their lab, he gained an education in the finer points of winemaking.

In 2003, he decided to try his hand with homemade spirits again. Flynn conjured up some dandelion wine, a beverage he described as grassy, strong and sweet. After that effort he obtained some five-gallon buckets and glass vats and contrived his first grape wine, a Merlot. The yield was nine bottles which he enjoyed and shared with friends.

That led to an explosion in varieties of small experimental batches: chokecherry, plum, peach, and apricot as well as mead, or honey wine.

By now he had gotten the bug. In 2004, he headed to Moab, Utah, to purchase 400 pounds of Guwertztraminer grapes. After many small batches, Flynn thought he was ready for some serious winemaking and invited a group of about 20 friends to his home to help de-stem and stomp the grapes. They all agreed to contribute to a common fund to help purchase more grapes, bottles, corks and oak wine casks so everyone would get a share in the final product.

Stomping grapes
Stomping grapes

Such activities are loosely modeled after the Gallo Wine Brats, a group of generation-X offspring of established California winemakers, who developed a taste for wine and wine culture early on and have worked to change wine’s snobby reputation and bring good tasting, low-cost wines to the masses.

Soon the local event caught on, and in 2008 two tons of grapes were purchased from a grower in Palisade, hauled over the pass, and nearly 100 participants from Chaffee County, as well as from Fort Collins, Denver, Monument, and Colorado Springs, showed up to share food and wine, and de-stem and dance barefoot in huge vats of Merlot grapes, an event Flynn has dubbed, “Uva Stompa.”

Steve Flynn
Steve Flynn

The wine grapes are de-stemmed and pressed and the juice is placed into oak barrels in the fall. By the following spring the wine is ready to be bottled and enjoyed and the group has a tasting event to celebrate the new batches.

Flynn has several goals for the future: to “find a nice balance between my personal winemaking goals and continuing to provide a community wine-making event,” and to eventually open his own winery, preferably of straw bale construction, in Salida. For now he is content to continue making what he calls, “damned tasty wine.”

Steve Flynn can be contacted at 719-539-2674.

Mike Rosso lives in Salida, where he is a member in good standing of the Mountain Mail Survivors’ Association and the Salida Single Malt Sampling Society. If all goes according to plan, he will take over this magazine, starting with the next edition.