The Grand Valley AVA, located in the little towns of Grand Junction and Palisade, Colo., is buzzing with vineyards. Its reputation in the wine world is growing, thanks to countless winemakers focused on bringing the true taste of Colorado wines made from estate-grown grapes to market. One leader of this charge is Patric Matysiewski of Sauvage Spectrum.
Matysiewski’s journey to winemaking was less than traditional. In fact, it started with beer, an industry Colorado is better known for. In 2009, he began his career as a brewer, learning techniques from carbonating to packaging, and in 2011, he took a job canning wine utilizing the same skillset.
What began as just another job blossomed into a passion and Matysiewski, who has now been making wine for eight years, began to see the potential for artisanal and small-batch winemaking in the Centennial State. “Palisade is a tight-knit community, so everything we do here is a labor of love,” he says. Upon arriving in the quaint yet charming town, you’ll find that motto to be true everywhere you look.
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In this unique environment, where high elevation, a “million-dollar breeze,” irrigation from the Colorado River, and intense sunshine from the high desert valley all factor into wine production, Matysiewski is crafting new, innovative sparkling wines. Here, he speaks with VinePair about his winemaking journey and what makes Colorado wines unlike those of other regions.
1. What was the transition from beer to wine like?
It was kind of ironic. I was a regular at a local brewery (Breckenridge Brewery), and when I was laid off from my warehouse job, I inquired about work there. After a few months of kitchen work, they asked me to work in the brewery. In that role, I ran the keg machine, worked on the canning line, and did the bottling. It was pretty intense, but it really taught me the ins and outs of beer packaging. Soon after, they moved me to work on carbonating the beer, which gave me the opportunity to learn about the tanks. My goal was to understand how to produce quality beer and quickly get it to market. When I made the transition to wine, all that knowledge transitioned seamlessly. At Sauvage, we wanted to make a sparkling wine that was as close to Prosecco as we could get using Colorado-grown grapes.
2. Was it a whole new game, or were there any similarities between the two?
Well, sanitation in beer making is very rigorous. Everything is so precise because you’re dealing with a higher pH product that is essentially a breeding ground for microbes. When I started making wine, I was blown away by the vast amount of differences there were when it came to fermenting. It was eye-opening, and it really attracted me to winemaking. The other thing about beer is that there’s little room for creativity when it comes to batches. In wine, you get one chance to make a good wine, and there are so many terroir aspects that can shift each vintage. Year to year, the wines are going to be different — and that’s a good thing.
3. What makes Colorado sparkling wines so unique?
One of the cool things about Colorado is the microclimates. Here, we don’t get as much ripeness as in California but we have great diurnal shifts that help the grapes retain acidity while maintaining a ripe fruit flavor. For our Sparklet, I let the fruit get a little riper than average just to make it approachable and fun for all palates. The name is a nod to the wine’s texture. It has just a little sparkle in comparison to other sparkling wines like Champagne, which is aggressively bubbly. The Sparklets are all about the fruit and we really want to let that shine, so we aim to put it to market a little bit quicker. I think that’s what makes it unique — that and the blend. The full list of grapes is still a secret, but I will say that it’s a healthy mixture of Vitis vinifera and the cold hardy American hybrids that Colorado is known for.
4. With respect to the wines you’re making, how do those hybrid grapes compare to Vitis vinifera?
The cold hardy grapes retain their acidity much more than your typical Vitis vinifera. That was kind of the aha moment years ago when Kaibab [Sauvage, wine grower and Sauvage co-founder] started. Realizing that these highly acidic grapes also have amazing ripe fruit flavors like apricot and green apple, we knew they would be perfect for the type of fresh sparkling wine we wanted to create.
5. How did you come up with the ideas for some of your more innovative products, such as hop-infused pét-nat and canned piquette?
I pull a lot of inspiration from things I’ve researched. In France, pétillant naturel is the oldest style of sparkling wine. It’s rustic, hazy, and bottle-fermented. I wanted to play around with that style, taking it one step further with my love for beer. For our Pét-Nat Hops, I decided to dry-hop our original pét-nat with my favorite hop, Citra, to really bridge the gap between the wine and beer drinker. We have quite a bit of customers that come in with beer lovers and instead of letting them walk out, we get to offer them something different. The same goes with piquette; it’s also one of the oldest types of fermented beverages. I look at our canned version as an alternative to seltzer that’s actually handcrafted.
6. What inspires your label designs?
I’m totally enamored by the culture behind breweries and decided to apply the same thought process to our wine labels as they do. Most breweries have an assortment of labels, so why can’t we? I wanted to move away from the traditional one-label-for-20-years motto and lean into something more artistic and creative. Inspiration for them can range from an inside joke to nature, but we also partner with local artists. When it comes to the labels, we just like to have and do whatever we want, and that’s really freeing.