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Bottling Big Reds In North Denver


Big bold reds. Big spicy reds. Big full reds. That’s what John Balistreri loves. A wine with some body that’s hot with alcohol. Sure, he makes other varieties at north Denver’s Balistreri winery, but he doesn’t hide what his favorites are—cabs, syrahs, merlots. The family-owned winery, which bottled its first vintage in 2000, has already made waves winning medal after medal at local, national and international competitions (including a double gold at the San Francisco International Wine Festival for his syrah).

Spending an evening with John, who learned the craft making it at home, and daughter Julie in the tasting room gives you reason to believe Colorado’s wine industry can be more than just bustling. The two talk about the craft with a passion equal to that of winery owners in more mature regions. This is evident as they take me through their varied product line. Each bottle is individually stamped with a barrel number, and are vineyard-specific—they receive grapes from a handful of Western Slope vineyards, and you can actually taste a significant difference between wines of the same variety derived a different vineyard’s grape. It’s that type of individuality (they even have children stomp the grapes that go into their annual Little Feet Merlot release) that has helped Balistreri grow into an operation that produces 50,000 bottles a year. The winery will be at this month’s Denver International Wine Festival.

Cuisine Scene: How did winemaking become a passion for a Colorado native?

John Balistreri: Always, it’s just been a passion (in our family). We always just tried to make good wine. Sometimes you taste homemade wines, and it’s not that good. I always strive to make good wine.

Julie Balistreri: He definitely makes wine he likes.

CS: What’s the difference now that you are a professional winemaker?

John: We still continue to make wines the same way.

Julie: We really have not changed—well, we do things in bigger batches than we used to.

CS: What’s the biggest hurdle you face as a Colorado winery?

John: I don’t know, I guess trying to get Colorado wines recognized as good wines. California has a good reputation. Napa has a good reputation. They have good wine and bad wine. We want Colorado to be recognized as an industry with good wine.

CS: When you’re not drinking a Balistreri, you sip on…

John: Oh, we taste a lot of other different wines. I always keep a little California cab around…I like zins. We buy a little of everything.

CS: Colorado wine is…

John: Ahhh, I don’t know. That’s a good question. Definitely wine you should try and give a chance. If you are disappointed, remember there are disappointing wines everywhere. Give it a try, you’ll find something you like.

Balistreri wines will be at the Denver International Wine Festival Nov. 1-4. For information, visit www.denverwinefest.com. For more on Balistreri, 1946 E. 66th Ave., Denver, or visit www.balistreriwine.com.

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