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Sunday, December 7, 2008

Barrel tastin' in the North Fork

Here's what's great about the place I live, known as the North Fork Valley in Western Colorado.

On a Saturday afternoon, I can head out into the 'dobes and shoot things amid rotting animal carcasses, garbage and a variety of abandoned appliances. An hour later, I can be in a setting that, to a foodie, rivals the south of France.

The 'dobes is an area of badland-like terrain, ubiquitous in this part of the state wherever irrigation doesn't reach, that is scruffy with scrub and dotted here and there with juniper trees and sage. There's one particular part of the 'dobes, not far from Paonia, that locals use as dumping ground, nightclub, shooting range and, apparently, a place to sacrifice both deer and Whirlpool washing machines. This Saturday, my daughter Lydia and I headed out there to practice archery with some friends. Scattered about were dozens of deer and elk bones, hides, and heads in various states of decay. It was tough to walk without stepping on a hair-covered skull, or a still meaty ribcage. And the ground -- grey brown by nature -- was instead green, red and metallic, thanks to a plethora of spent shotgun shells and Keystone Light cans. But it gave us plenty of things to shoot at, including an old air filter that we threw up into the air and tried, unsuccessfully, to take down in flight.

Within an hour after returning we were here:

The cave, or cellar, of Alfred Eames winery. Eames, who produces the most consistently delicious wine in the valley -- and perhaps the state of Colorado -- held his annual barrel tasting event this past weekend. On hand were Joe and Corrine Coniglio, of Roubideau Farms, with their very French raw goat milk cheeses. Eames gave us a taste of Merlot from the barrel (it had a very raw taste to it; unrefined; rustic; and for some reason reminded me of Jean Giono, the great French author. A lot about this area reminds me of Giono, who often writes about places in France where farming and nature collide -- in a nice way.

Plenty of other tasting -- from bottles, not barrels -- was to be had. The Pinot Noir is a favorite of mine, for no other reason than the grapes all are grown right here (it's too cold to easily grow Cabernet Sauvignon or Franc -- those grapes are imported from Palisade, over the Grand Mesa from here).

But that wasn't all: Delicious Orchards had its own open house tasting. I once referred to this place as a "fruit stand," which is partly true, but doesn't get near the reality. It's really a full-blown local grocery store, general market and wine bar (with gin and vodka, too!), located just outside Paonia. They even have an entire wing devoted to yarn and knitting.

I tasted a fair number of wines, but my favorites there were the Stone Cottage Cellars Syrah and the Bethlehem Syrah/Cabernet Sauvignon blend. Both have a lot of character to them.

Today, I didn't get to go dance around on deer carcasses. But I did get to enjoy the fruits of my tasting labors of the night before. I cooked up a flank steak (local) with mushrooms and arugula (local) -- really quick and easy recipe, if you want it, let me know. Some delicata squash (local). We accompanied it with Eames's Menage (which is a spicy, forward threesome in which Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc and Merlot come together to create a whole much bigger than the parts) and had a Coniglione Tomme goat cheese for desert.


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