Yes, Utah has a “Wine Country”

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Yes, Utah has a “Wine Country”

starofindia

by Julie Hooker

“Cowboys makin’ wine” at Castle Creek Winery, near Moab.

hooker_wineOh, that’s smooth,” commented a student at a wine class in Park City recently. In a blind tasting, people noted the scent of blackberry, currant and oak in the wine. It was Kid Red, a blend of Merlot and Cabernet from Castle Creek Winery 15 miles northeast of Moab, Utah.
Overcoming their surprise, the students realized they could combine all of their favorite things-river running, horseback riding, mountain biking, hiking and wine tasting: Red Cliffs Lodge and Castle Creek Winery is easily reached, affordable and family friendly.

Oh, that’s smooth,” commented a student at a wine class in Park City recently. In a blind tasting, people noted the scent of blackberry, currant and oak in the wine. It was Kid Red, a blend of Merlot and Cabernet from Castle Creek Winery 15 miles northeast of Moab, Utah.

Overcoming their surprise, the students realized they could combine all of their favorite things-river running, horseback riding, mountain biking, hiking and wine tasting: Red Cliffs Lodge and Castle Creek Winery is easily reached, affordable and family friendly.

As Colin Fryer, owner of Red Cliffs Lodge and Castle Creek Winery, says, “We’re just cowboys makin’ wine.”

Well, it’s true that it’s not exactly a trip down the Rhine when the vineyard experience includes a flat iron ranch steak, outdoor barbecues and horseback riding.

Wearing his signature white cowboy hat, Colin noted, “I do tourism and wine to support my cattle ranching habit.” His 200 head of Angus cattle are at home on the wide-open range.

On my first visit to Red Cliffs Lodge, Colin took me on a tour. Seeing cows but no fences, I asked the obvious city girl question:

“But don’t they get hit?”

“No,” Colin said. “People drive slower so they don’t hit them.”

In 1999, Colin was living in Montana and looking for a ranch to buy. He was “retired,” after years of running a car stereo and waterbed business. Returning home from Bluff, where he’d gone to run the San Juan River, his boat trailer lost a wheel bearing just outside of Moab. Forced to wait a couple of days for the new part to arrive, Colin drove around exploring the area. That’s when he found the old White’s Ranch for sale.

He bought the last property available on the Colorado and created Red Cliffs Lodge.

The redrock canyonlands around Red Cliffs was a last Indian stronghold and the site of the last great American Indian battle. At the turn of the century, Red Cliffs was homesteaded by a family of ranchers and has been a working ranch ever since.

Above the lodge and vineyards sits a small pioneer cemetery that remains the private property of the White family. In addition to the human graves, Tuffy, Duke and Ding, three of the White family’s favorite dogs, rest in the cemetery overlooking the river.

Red Cliffs Lodge has a homey feel, and they aim to make you feel right at home. Literally right on the river, each cabin and suite looks out on the water. From the private patios, guests can sip their locally produced Chardonnay and watch the red cliffs where John Wayne filmed many of his movies including “Rio Grande” and “Wagon Master.” In fact, his cabin still sits on the ranch.

Downstairs in the lodge is a collection of memorabilia honoring both film and ranching. Castle Creek wines themselves have a cameo in the upcoming “Ghosts of Girlfriends Past.”

In 1998, Colin purchased Arches Winery and moved it to his Red Cliffs Ranch. He and his son, Will, contracted with a renowned California vintner to learn the art of wine making. This led to a trip to Italy, which resulted in upgrading their equipment with state-of-the art presses and tanks.

With the help of local legislators and the Utah Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control, Colin campaigned successfully to get winery regulations and taxes liberalized. The 2004 legislation allows wineries to be open during the busy tourist times and reduces the taxes to a reasonable level. Visitors to Red Cliffs Lodge can tour the winery and enjoy complimentary wine tastings.

And-wonder of wonders-they can even buy wine directly from the winery.

Colin says Moab is the perfect climate for growing excellent grapes. He acquired the Castle Valley vineyards, and in 2004 planted his own as well. The winery also purchases grapes from local growers.

Harvest usually happens around Labor Day. Castle Creek now produces over 15,000 gallons of wine annually.

Bottling requires teamwork, and everyone, from the trail guides to front desk staff, pitches in. On a good day, a team of four to seven people can bottle, label and box 2,000 gallons.

Colin is committed to making respectable wines that will do his adopted state proud. Already the Castle Creek Merlot took home the bronze medal at the Pacific Rim International Wine Competition. His other wines include Chenin Blanc, Uintah Blanc, Lily Rose White, Chardonnay, Outlaw Red, Kid Red, Pinot Noir and Cabernet Sauvignon.

Of course, the restaurant menu (which includes range-fed beef, elk and venison) showcases the Castle Creek wines.

What’s your recreational pleasure? From horseback riding and river rafting to golfing and motor toys for the mechanized crowd, or maybe a massage, the lodge folks will set it up for you. If you’re shy outside of a city, you might prefer a Canyon-lands tour instead of stepping out on your own.

Just miles away from Arches Na­tion­al Park, the hiking around Red Cliffs is spectacular, with trails range from easy to difficult and short to long.

And then there’s the river. Running the Colorado next to Red Cliffs is, besides thrilling, a gourmet experience: Think barbecue, fresh salads, delicious desserts.

Colin sits on the Utah Office of Tourism Board where he helps generate increased awareness for all aspects of tourism in Utah, from Moab to Park City, and is a driving force for increasing international tourism.

Colin may joke about just being “cowboys makin’ wine,” but he and his clan are creating a good local product at a fair price that allows Utah wine drinkers and restaurants to reduce their carbon footprints. They are available at both Salt Lake City and Park City wine stores, and fall into the extremely reasonable $8-$13 category.

The lodge features five pet-friendly rooms. Horse boarding is offered, too. Rates vary with the season.

The restaurant is usually very busy on weekends, with brunch a sell out for guests, locals and other tourists; reservations are recommended

www.redcliffslodge.com
www.castlecreekwinery.com

Julie Hooker is a middle school teacher and freelance writer living in Park City.

 
 
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