“Try New Things” Continental Divide Winery 2017 Riverside Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon

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Yesterday began with the most intense workout of 2020, possibly of my life. I lifted for around forty-five minutes, ran a few miles, lifted a little more, then did back-to-back spin classes totaling forty miles by the conclusion of the second class. I was exhausted, but I also felt stronger than perhaps I’ve ever felt before.

Only a little over a year ago, I would walk past the spin room in the morning, listening to the loud music and the instructor yelling over the top of his or her own music while, in the dark room, silhouettes on stationary bicycles toiled away. It was equal parts intriguing and intimidating, and it took me a little while to work up the nerve to drop in one day and get on one of those bikes, not really knowing what I was in for. Once I had, however, I realized what an amazing thing was in front of me, especially as a runner: high-intensity, zero-impact cardio. It was a gift I didn’t even realize that I wanted until I had it in my possession, and it quickly became a cherished activity.

Not long after I gave it a shot, I mentioned it to Sonja. Coming off of having child number two, my once half marathon running wife was in a fairly sedentary post-partum mode, and I understood — as much as a man may be able to do so.  Then one day she went to a spin class at my gym. Then she joined my gym. Then she bought cycling shoes.  Then she bought a stationary bike for her home office. Then she subscribed to the Peleton Ap so she could get their live and recorded sessions. Then she sold her bike and upgraded to a really fancy Keiser bike, and she rides almost everyday, even going out of her way to locate spin studios when she travels for work. I won’t be at all surprised if she becomes a spin instructor at some point. What running no longer did for Sonja, cycling did in spades. The transformation has been really amazing to watch; I find my wife in this way and others to be inspirational.

I wonder, sometimes, what our lives might look like if, only maybe eighteen months ago or so, I never worked up the courage to try something new, never stepped into that spin studio at the gym. I know one thing for sure: I probably would not have completed four spin classes this week in addition to running just over forty miles, and in fact, I doubt I could run forty miles a week if I didn’t have low-impact cross-training that I truly enjoy to supplement the pounding.

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If you’ve been looking to get back in shape, yes, you might consider trying a spin class if you haven’t already, but that’s far from my point.  My son, Titus, now four, has loved having Dr. Seuss read to him for years now. Our favorites include There’s A Wocket in My Pocket, Fox in Socks, Horton Hears a Who, The Lorax, The Sneetches, and, of course, Green Eggs & Ham.  All of the good doctor’s stories had morals, of course, The Butter Battle Book‘s eerie, slightly ambiguous anti-Cold War message and conclusion striking just a little too close to home in 2020 for my liking, though it is the last book in the list, Green Eggs & Ham, that lately has totally captivated my son’s attention. This may have something to do with the fact that Netflix has put out a very creative and well done thirteen-part series using the book as the central premise, but I think it also has much to do with the message of the book, which is, effectively, don’t knock it ’til ya try it.

With that mantra in mind, Titus is a pretty good eater most of the time, amiable as he is, and is generally open to a suggestion when it comes to choosing activities or books. Exhausted by reading mindless, plotless Paw Patrol and PJ Mask stories to him, I recently suggested the Harry Potter series. We read the first one from the copy I bought he and Zooey the last time I was in the UK, but we read the second, Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, from the beautifully illustrated versions that my parents gave me for Christmas several years ago.

Titus doesn’t read himself, yet, and he occasionally still clamors for some hair-raisingly bad cartoon-based books with stickers in the end of them (I get my revenge by inserting my own sardonic lines into the text). But Titus truly enjoys Harry Potter, and so do I, and more than anything I think we enjoy the time together. In this way, I’m grateful to my son for being willing to try something new, and I look forward to starting Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban with him tonight.

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This brings me to the portion of the blog about wine. At our Christmas party this year, our dear friends Matt and Amy came bearing a bottle of Cabernet Sauvignon from, of all places, Colorado, as a gift.  “It’s pretty good,” Matt told me, adding “At least I think so.”  I have been eager to try it ever since, and got into it at last last night.

My friend Rob Griffin was told only some forty years ago by his professors at UC Davis that it would be impossible to make great wine in Washington State. Rob thought otherwise, and was one of the first to pioneer the Columbia Valley. Since that time, of course, we’ve seen an explosion of not only great but world-class wines coming out of Washington, with Quilceda Creek, K Vintners, Delille, and Rob’s own Barnard-Griffin producing wines that are universally understood by critics and casual imbibers alike to compete with the very best of California, France, and Italy.

I thought of this as I opened this bottle of Continental Divide Winery 2017 Cabernet Sauvignon last night. Studying the label, a number of things struck me: first, it’s single vineyard. This is often a mark of prestige in prestigious wine regions, yet not as often mentioned in the American Midwest. Second, the grapes are not only locally sourced, but from a specific American Viticultural Area, or AVA, which would indicate that a number of wine growers are doing a lot of work in the area to get an AVA designation. A quick Google search revealed that the Grand Valley AVA was established back in 1991, making is substantially older than many highly touted AVA’s in the Napa and Sonoma Valleys, to say nothing of Washington, Oregon, or the Finger Lakes.  Furthermore, the Grand Valley AVA grows a wide variety of vinifera (European grapes like Cab Sauv) which indicates to me that the climate there is something other than what I think of when I think of Colorado.

The Continental Divide Winery, too, is fascinating. Young, established in 2016, the web page reveals that it is the highest altitude winery in the world, sitting at well over 10,000 feet.  You can only imagine the temperatures and the threat of early and late frosts at an altitude like that, but wineries have been erected in far stranger locations, I know, and they are likely not growing much of their fruit that high up. The wine we tried last night was young, and the altitude came through perhaps in the tightness that reminded me that Cab Sauv should almost always be decanted when the option is available. What was really cool to me, however, was the very inviting nose that wafted from the rim of our glasses. It was chocolatey, laced in raspberry and darker fruits, a bouquet worthy of the name and reminiscent of some of the better wines I’ve had from more known wine growing regions.  Upon the palate, a somewhat delicate structure with mild tannins, and enough acidity and fruit to give it a pleasant balance.  The diversity of dark fruit flavors was enjoyable, as was the fact that those I shared it with were in agreement about our first Colorado Cab Sauv: this stuff is really good!

Guy didn’t want to try Green Eggs and Ham. My guess is that big name critics will be slow on the uptake when it comes to wine from AVA’s in Colorado, as they are with those from my native Nebraska, Indiana, Minnesota, and other places where I know they’re making some excellent wines — because I’m willing to try them. Hopefully, like Guy, they’ll eventually come around and realize what they’ve been missing. It bears mention that my most recent assignment for Edible Marin & Wine Country is about the changes to the industry that are coming as a direct result of climate change. As California heats up, and as climate change alters growing seasons and increases fire hazards among other things, already we are seeing those planting vineyards and making wine responding in some truly dramatic ways, not least planting different grape varietals that will do better with these more erratic, warmer climes.

In the decades to come, it is my suspicion that wine regions at high altitudes and those in other less traditional locales may become quite coveted indeed, and that one day soon we may be as thankful to the pioneers of the Grand Valley AVA and others as we are to Rob Griffin and those who looked at Washington State in the 1970’s and 1980’s and thought No, I think you’re wrong. I’m going to try something new.  If you find yourself passing through western Colorado, and you love wine, it seems to me that a stop is indeed in order. And if someone metaphorically chases us around for a while with a plate full of odd-looking food, perhaps it would behoove us to ask ourselves what makes him so passionate about it. I’m never too old to learn something new, and I’m glad I learned a bit more about Colorado’s wine scene last night.

Cheers,

Mark

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