Kaibab Sauvage isn’t afraid to take risks and think outside the box — it’s basically in his DNA. His first name was inspired by his dad’s adventurous whitewater rafting trips near the Kaibab Plateau in Arizona, and his last name means “wild” in French.
Sauvage’s experimental nature extends to his grape-growing business, which spans 60 acres in Colorado’s Grand Valley. Six years ago, he decided to take a chance and plant a hardy, new-to-Colorado red grape varietal from northern Italy: teroldego.
Now, that risk is paying off. Teroldego is quickly catching on among Colorado winemakers, who say this inky-purple fruit makes flavorful, complex wine that doesn’t break the bank.
Colorado wine-drinkers, say hello to your new favorite homegrown wine. If you typically enjoy a glass of syrah or cabernet sauvignon, consider giving teroldego a try next time.
“To me, it’s kind of like a syrah, but maybe a syrah and a zinfandel combined, with a little more acidity,” said 41-year-old Sauvage, who supplies wine grapes to 26 wineries in Colorado and opened his own winery, Sauvage Spectrum, in November. “It’s a great food wine. It’s just super dark and inky. It makes beautiful wine.”
Experimenting with lesser-known grape varietals like teroldego is part of a broader shift in the U.S. wine industry, which is grappling with how to attract the newest generation of wine-drinkers. As baby boomers retire and become more frugal, the industry is trying to reach more millennials and Gen Z-ers, many of whom aren’t willing to spend $80 on a bottle of wine that their parents or grandparents would like to drink. They want something fresh and different.
“A lot of people are really into new experiences,” Sauvage said. “The older generations of wine-drinkers really like merlot, cabernet sauvignon and chardonnay. Those were the staples. But the younger generations are more adventurous and they want to try all these different varieties.”
When Sauvage read that growers in New York were experimenting with teroldego, he started poking around and learned that this red grape varietal can handle colder climates.
“The biggest thing I always look at is cold-hardiness,” said Sauvage, who also grows 20 acres of fruit trees. “We’re looking at our wintertime lows — what’s the coldest it gets? Just like with the plants in your yard, you don’t want them to die.”
Another pro for teroldego? It ripens early, which is good because Colorado has a relatively short growing season compared to other wine regions. Since it’s so hardy, teroldego can also withstand Colorado’s hot summers.
It seemed like a fit for Colorado, so he planted a small, two-row test plot in 2014.
When winemaker Scott Hamilton heard about Sauvage’s teroldego experiment, he was immediately intrigued. His Palisade winery, Red Fox Cellars, specializes in Italian wines, so teroldego fit right in. The first year the young teroldego vines produced fruit (in 2016), Hamilton bought every last grape.
With that first crop, Hamilton produced an award-winning wine that earned national accolades. Wine aficionados were surprised that such an incredible teroldego came out of Colorado, Hamilton said.
“Yeah, it’s really taken off,” said Hamilton. “It makes a really nice wine — it’s kind of wild. It’s got a lot of wild berry flavors going, dark fruits. It’s really, really good.”
Sauvage has since planted more teroldego, and he’s in talks with four wineries who are interested in his 2020 grapes. He’s also seriously considering making his own teroldego, which he would likely sell exclusively to members of Sauvage Spectrum’s wine club.
The Red Fox Cellars wine “made that grape even more popular,” Sauvage said. “Everybody wanted to try it.”
Another early adopter was Carboy Winery, which made its first teroldego in 2019 and will be making it again this year.
Carboy’s Kevin Webber said he believes this grape has staying power. Case in point: People were buying entire cases of the winery’s 2019 teroldego.
“It’s something different, and we’re in a market where fun and different is what Colorado was built on,” he said.
In fact, Colorado is the perfect place to experiment. Thanks to the state’s boundary-pushing craft beer and spirits industries, Colorado drinkers are accustomed to constantly trying new beverages.
“Because we’re in a state that really is built upon innovation in every industry, we don’t have an establishment of wine-makers here who are pushing cabernet or chardonnay,” Webber said. “You’re able to lead with a more obscure, esoteric varietal like teroldego and talk about how this is potentially one of the red grape varietals of the future, not just for Colorado, but for the U.S. in general.”
For his part, Webber said he hopes more growers will begin planting teroldego after seeing its recent successes. And, at an even higher level, he hopes this grape will help elevate the Colorado wine industry even further.
“I would like to see teroldego be one of those varieties that does put Colorado on the map,” he said. “I certainly think it has an opportunity to.”
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