Nope, Woodland Park can’t be disguised as the next Napa Valley, Tuscany or Russian River region. But a slew of Woodland Park retail shops are now reeling in a mini-Colorado wine boom, as part of a way to attract more customers and enhance the town’s calling as a destination spot.
Besides serving as small gift shops, boutiques and quaint retail hubs, downtown Woodland is carving a niche as one of the more remarkable hubs for tasting great vino from a wide variety of wineries across the state. “This is very unique thing,” said Ben Caperton, co-owner of The Cellar Door, one of nearly 10 retail operators that have added wine tasting rooms to their lineup. It’s a good mix, as some shoppers can sip a glass of Riesling, Cabernet, Chardonnay or a Merlot while browsing through a shop or taking a needed break from the exhaustive buying sprees of their spouses. It also enhances a new caliber of entertainment offered at local businesses. “I don’t know of any place in the state that has this many tasting rooms located inside existing retail areas. It is incredible,” added Caperton. Caperton and his wife Jamie started this trend several years ago when they introduced D’Vine wine at their Charitable Treasures shop. They now offer wines from Aspen Peak Cellars, based in Bailey, at an expanded business that caters more to wine tasting and jazz.
The Woodland wine movement has escalated dramatically. “It’s like a domino effect,” said Deb Nichols, owner of Cowbells Western Interiors, which sports a spacious wine tasting room equipped with saddle bar stools and comfortable chairs and couches. “This is a great way to draw people to town and get them to stay here longer,” said Nichols. Her shop features Cottonwood Cellars wines, based in Olathe. But Nichols cites the variety of wines showcased in Woodland Park shops as a great selling point, covering the gamut of vineyards from the entire state. Colorado law permits an individual winery to have five tasting areas. Each shop in Woodland Park has wines from one wine company or winery, but they often have 10 to 15 different types of wines. Tastings in Woodland Park usually offer three to six tastes for $5. Individuals also can buy wine by the glass or bottle. “We have a great selection of wines in Woodland Park,” said Nichols, who sees this as a big plus. “Wine is such a personal taste. I really like our white Pinot Noir, but many other customers prefer other types.” The local selections encompass a diverse lineup, representing a full spectrum of Colorado wines including Black Forest Meads at Vintage Vines, Turquoise Mesa at Seven Arrows Gallery, Dithyramb at Mountain Rains Gallery, Mountain View at Brenda’s Boutique, Spring Creek Vineyards at Studio West and the forthcoming Ten Bears at Windows of Heaven Gifts. And Cowbells and The Cellar Door, which feature wines from Cottonwood and Aspen Peak Cellars, sport probably the two biggest tasting areas in town.
Some of the Woodland wines have familiar tastes, drawing comparisons with more standard vintages in California and other big wine hubs, while others feature certain spices, aromas and scents more characteristic of Colorado agricultural products. Colorado wines, according to most reports, are definitely diverse. Many of the wines have received national awards. Moreover, Nichols and other retail operators see the growth of wine tasting areas in Woodland Park as ideal for a downtown that now features monthly art walks and regular weekly entertainment. “It is another way to explore what we have here in Woodland Park,” explained Caperton. A booming industry It is the latest development for a burgeoning state wine industry that now sports nearly 100 wineries and an even larger number of tasting areas.
This trend was celebrated last week, with Governor John Hickenlooper proclaiming June 3-10 as Colorado Wine Week, in recognition of 120 grape growers tending more than 1,000 acres of vineyards. And according to Nichols, word is getting out about the Woodland wine movement. This local vino buzz has started receiving attention by the Colorado Springs media and even by major trade outlets like the Wine Trail Traveler and the state wine association. Woodland Park has even gained notice as a key stop along the state’s Pikes Peak/Arkansas Valley wine tasting region. Plus, the collection of Woodland wines became an instant hit at the kick-off Farmer’s Market, held last Friday. Plans are being discussed to formalize a possible organization, such as the Wine Merchants of Woodland Park. Some of the shops are even mulling plans for wine pairing meals and food samplings and regular events, or even a wine passport card. Woodland Park’s fifth annual Vino and Notes festival, scheduled for Aug. 4 and sponsored by The Cellar Door, has also helped put the town on the state wine map. “People could not believe we have this in Woodland Park,” said Caperton, who quips that wine doesn’t exactly adhere to the town’s cowboy western image. “They often look each other and say ‘what the heck.’” Caperton attributes much of the growing movement to vast improvements in the production of Colorado wine. “Colorado wine is kicking some serious butt. We are now competing with California. We have some real quality wines,” said Caperton. Local experts attribute the rise of Colorado wineries, with production increasing 10-fold in the last two decades, to much better wine makers.
That wasn’t always the case. When the industry was in its infancy 15 or 18 years ago, Colorado wineries incurred a few definite growing pains. But according to Colorado wine industry officials, the state’s “abundant sunshine, warm days, cool nights and low humidity provide the perfect conditions for wine grapes that feature the complex character and chemistry required to craft award-winning wines.” And unlike other big wine commercial hubs such as Napa Valley, the Colorado wine industry is characterized by a more personal atmosphere, with many wineries run by small families. The industry is also becoming more diverse due to better technology and wine-growing innovations. In the past, the lion’s share of Colorado wine originated from the Grand Junction/Palisade area and the Paonia/Hotchkiss agricultural hub. But now, wineries and tasting areas are sprouting across the state. Another big plus for the Woodland wine tasting craze is the ambiance it creates. This is one reason why Bob Redding, co-owner of Brenda’s Boutique, opted to showcase wine from Olathe-based Mountain View. Brenda’s is the newest business to join the Woodland Park wine bandwagon. “We have some of the best views of Pikes Peak,” said Redding, who says their new wine tasting area plans to reap the benefits of this natural asset. “The wine seems to be the thing for more shops. It’s a fun time for people,” added Redding. Jan Cummer, owner of Curves and Vintage Vines agrees. She sees the burgeoning wine movement as giving Woodland Park a new calling card and much more variety. “It’s a lot of fun,” said the business owner, who is also involved with the Downtown Development Authority and has seen the ups and downs of Woodland Park business activity. According to Cummer, the Colorado wine enticement adds a new shopping experience for many customers. The mix between retail and wine was hailed by Rebecca Blasco of Colorado Springs during a visit to The Cellar Door with her son several months ago. “I didn’t know you had this quality of wine,” said Blasco, who purchased a slew of wine bottles and gift items during the same visit. As an experienced, wine connoisseur, she classified the selections featured as ideal for her tastes, and has vowed to make return trips to the area. The town’s secret as a wine hub is starting to get unveiled.