Regional American wines are increasingly popular, with winery tasting rooms buzzing in New York, Ohio, Virginia, North Carolina, and… Utah!?
Yes, Utah. After all, there are wineries in fifty states. Even in that most Mormon of states, where beer is weaker than elsewhere in the country and wine is exclusively sold from state-run shops.
Wine production isn’t exactly a major industry in the state, but it is a small touristy bonus for visitors to the southeast portion of the state looking for a short diversion from the routine of hiking, rafting, mountain biking, and generally being extreme.
I visited two of Utah’s four “real” wineries (sorry, fruit wines don’t count) on a trip to Moab in May. The larger of the two, Castle Creek winery, was also the first commercial winery in the state. It’s in a lovely setting, along the Colorado River, northwest of Moab proper. The grounds include a lodge and a film museum, tracing the area’s history as a backdrop in Westerns. (The Marlboro Man ads were shot here.)
Production is small: Castle Creek only produces a total of 2000 cases of wine a year, produced from grapes grown in the Moab area. Some vineyards exist on the property (pictured above), but most fruit comes to the winery from local growers, some of whom grow grapes in their backyards or along fencelines. These are small, small suppliers. If you look for vast vineyards, you won’t find them. The white wines were superior to the reds — the “Lily Rose White” blend was full of fruit (like all wines here, actually) and easy to glug.
South of town, smaller Spanish Valley Vineyards only produces 700 cases. The co-owner, self-taught winemaker Cory Dezelsky, used to send his fruit across the state line to Colorado wineries in the Grand Junction area, but figured he could do as well or better making and selling his own wine.
The winery is tiny. Really, really tiny. The entire process, from crushing to fermentation to bottling, takes places within the confines of the small yellow house (pictured). Interestingly, Spanish Valley doesn’t age their wines in oak barrels, or even steel. They use plastic. (Fermentation en plastique!) The process works reasonably well for Dezelsky, especially for the dessert wines. Other wines are generally competent, though I would avoid the zinfandel at all costs.
Utah wines won’t be a sommelier’s pick at Per Se or Trotter’s anytime soon, but the wineries are run by motivated wine lovers who want to showcase their skills and local character. You won’t find a 98-point wine that you’ll want to cellar for years to come at either of these wineries, but no matter where you are, it’s nice to step out of the sun and into the tasting room.
Dr. Vino 7/21 update: Congratulations, guest author Mark! This post was just named one of the “top five blog posts of the week” by Food & Wine magazine’s website!