Best sparkling wines in Colorado, from pét-nats to traditional method

Construction is underway at Carboy Winery in Palisade, where crews are laying the foundation for the next phase of the business and what CEO Kevin Webber believes is the next big thing in Colorado wine: bubbles.

The newly opened Western Slope tasting room and winery will soon boast a new facility to house four to six steel Charmat tanks, popularly used by Italian winemakers in creating prosecco, which will enable Carboy to dramatically scale up its production of sparkling wines and satisfy visitors who are increasingly reaching for them.

It helps that the grapes that grow well in Colorado lend themselves to sparkling wines, Webber said. Many of the white varietals that Carboy grows at its two vineyards in the Grand Valley appellation are high in acidity and minerality, and are able to be harvested early so they don’t succumb to autumn freezes, he said.

“I was quoted back in 2017, 2018 for saying I think cab franc is what puts Colorado on the map,” Webber said. “With sparkling wine becoming an everyday drinking option, now I’m saying the future of Colorado wine might be in sparkling wine. So we went all in on that.”

Carboy is hardly the only winery in the Centennial State to notice this trendy style bubbling to the surface. Here’s more on how the company and three local winemakers do sparkling.

Carboy Winery

Carboy Winery has four locations throughout Colorado, but the one in Denver is currently the hub for its sparkling wine operations. The company’s so-called “bubble barn” onsite houses two of the aforementioned Chamant tanks where the wine undergoes secondary fermentation and subsequently becomes carbonated.

Webber said the winery has largely been experimenting with small-batch sparkling releases, such as the Native Fizz Rosé, a strawberry-colored libation made from verona, vignoles and aromella grapes.

The company is also working on a sparkling wine made via a traditional method, in which sugar and yeast are added to each bottle for secondary fermentation to occur. The bottles sit on riddling racks that turn slowly to agitate the yeast, which then eat the sugar and produce carbonation. After about 18 months, Carboy will freeze the bottles and remove the sediment that’s collected in the neck of the bottle, a process known as disgorgement. The result is a brilliantly clear and bubbly beverage.

Carboy is doing a 2020 chenin blanc this way that is expected to be released in spring 2023, Webber said. He promised several exciting releases before then, too, including a sparkling white made entirely from grüner veltliner, out in December, and others utilizing new varietals like la crescent and brianna.

“Here in the states you can make sparkling wine out of anything,” Webber said. “Especially a year like this year where we’re working with a lot of varieties we’ve never worked with before, it’s a fun R&D year to kinda see where all these shake out.”

If the recipes resonate with drinkers, Webber expects Carboy will start producing 8,000 to 10,000 cases of sparkling wine annually.

“Whether that happens in the next year or two depends on the harvest,” he said. “Who knows where it grows from there?”

  • Andy Cross, The Denver Post

    Carboy Winery in Denver is experimenting with creating sparkling wine in a traditional method, like Champagne. These bottles are in the tirage cage, where they undergo secondary fermentation before being disgorged.

  • Andy Cross, The Denver Post

    Carboy has a couple of Chamat tanks at its Denver winery for making sparkling wine. The Charmat method is popular in Italy as the method for creating prosecco.

  • Andy Cross, The Denver Post

    Carboy Winery in Denver is experimenting with creating sparkling wine in a traditional method, like Champagne. These bottles are in the tirage cage, where they undergo secondary fermentation before being disgorged.

  • Andy Cross, The Denver Post

    Carboy Winery's Native Fizz rosé is a strawberry-colored libation made from verona, vignoles and aromella grapes.

  • Andy Cross, The Denver Post

    Carboy Winery's lineup for sparkling wines includes Native Fizz Sparkling Rosé, left and Native Fizz Blanc, among others.

  • Tiney Ricciardi, The Denver Post

    Construction is underway at Carboy Winery in Palisade to add four to six Chamant tanks, commonly used by Italian wine-makers to create prosecco, to scale up its sparkling wine production.

Buckel Family Wine

Buckel Family Wine is known for what co-founder Shamai Buckel calls “dry, old style” wines made from grapes sourced primarily in Colorado. But the Gunnison-based business also experiments with a style of sparkling wine known as pétillant naturel, which gets its bubbles thanks to naturally occurring yeast in the bottle or atmosphere that eat sugar from the fruit — a process known as spontaneous fermentation.

“Pétillant naturel is the ancestral method of making sparkling wine. It predates Champagne-style wine and it’s done without adding sugar to the secondary fermentation,” Buckel said. “Once it’s progressing along, we chill the wine way down and we basically then bottle the wine while it’s still in fermentation process. Once it’s finished fermentation in bottle, it’s ready to sell.”

One of Buckel’s styles is sold “dirty,” meaning sediment remains in the bottom of the bottle and the wine pours cloudy as the bubbles stir it around, Buckel said. That recipe has a modest sparkle, she said, while others that the winery disgorges are much fizzier.

Like other local wineries, Buckel Family Wine often changes the grape profile of its pétillant naturel, colloquially called pét-nats. And because the fermentation method is less “prescribed,” the flavors tend to vary from traditional sparkling wines, Buckel said.

“Pét-nat on its own is just a more natural style of fermentation and it can create unique flavors that people might think are similar to cider or sour beers,” she said. “If you don’t like sparkling you might try pét-nat as well. The effervescence is different from Champagne.”

Sauvage Spectrum

Kaibab Sauvage and Patric Matysiewski, co-founders of Sauvage Spectrum winery in Palisade, began making sparkling wines for a simple reason: They love drinking them.

“We realized early on that this could become an everyday beverage if we can source correct grapes and make it in a manner where labor and overhead wasn’t so high,” said Matysiewski. “We wanted to have estate-grown Colorado wine that was affordable.”

Drinkers have a wide variety of sparkling choices from Sauvage Spectrum. Matysiewski described its Sparklet line, which includes a red, white and rosé, as a more “refined product” that’s aged and then carbonated with carbon dioxide. That’s compared to the company’s pét-nats, which come in white, red and magenta varieties. (The latter is like a rosé, but much richer in pink color.)

Sauvage Spectrum isn’t afraid to have fun with bubbles either. Those who stop by the winery can enjoy a sparkling wine cocktail such as the Mimosa Bomb, which is a glass of the Sparklet white poured over a frozen ball of orange juice. And its latest wine in the fermenter is what Sauvage calls a pink pear-y pét-nat, a blend of pears and grape must.

“We’re excited to do R&D,” Matysiewski said. “It might seem like we’re crazy that we have six (sparkling wine varieties), but are we?”

Jack Rabbit Hill Farm

Jack Rabbit Hill Farm is the latest on this list to jump into the sparkling game. In November, the winery expects to release its first sparkling beverages under a brand called Naturally Petulant. They were created in collaboration with Noble Riot in Denver, a destination for pét-nats.

The Naturally Petulant line includes a white featuring vignoles and riesling grapes, and a rosé made from chardonnay, pinot noir and pinot meunier grapes. According to founder and grower Lance Hanson, the winery is likely to do some more limited releases in the future, but because Jack Rabbit Hill is a biodynamic operation (akin to an organic certification for winemaking) there is only so much fruit available each year.

Still, Hanson said the fun in drinking pét-nats is what’s likely to make them a popular choice for drinkers in the future.

“The French came up with the ‘glou-glou’ movement. It refers to gulping wine,” he said. “The idea behind this is to make something that’s very accessible and drinkable, and to drink and enjoy it young. They’re not designed to be real heady wines. They’re fun, they’re light, they’re not as expensive as a great Champagne. They’re not going to have layers of complexity great Champagne will have. On the other hand, you might not want that … it’s just having fun.”

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