The Beatles’ “She Loves You” and an assortment of chocolates by Rocky Mountain Chocolate Factory are the fuel for Richard and Linda Parry and their team of three as they bottle 200 gallons of Cabernet Sauvignon for Fox Fire Farms’ 2019 season.
The tasting room opens today, with an official grand opening on Memorial Day weekend. The relaxed environment reflects the Parrys’ low-pressure business style.
“We want to keep it fun,” Linda said. “When you get too big, it becomes this massive burden, and at our age, we don’t want that.”
Richard said they are at retirement age, but they are not retired. There is plenty to do on the farm. Fox Fire Farms at 5513 Co Rd 321 is named after the Foxfire books on Appalachian living. They named it that in the 1970s, but the farm has been in Richard’s family for more than 102 years. Family history creates the essence of the place. A historically designated schoolhouse is on the property. Two of their children still live on the property within a short walk of each other.
Around 1912, Fox Fire Farms raised sheep and cattle, which they still do today. The venerable sheep are honored on the black and gold wine labels. The farm employs seven part-time workers that help out with pruning, working the tasting room, raising the baby lambs and other duties. They lost some hired hands this year and most of the positions were filled by women.
“I am going to call this the year of the woman on Fox Fire Farms,” Linda said. “We have some really awesome women in place.”
Out of the entire 910 acres, only 8.5 acres are designated for the vineyards, where they harvest 12 tons of grapes per year and purchase another four. The Cabernet Sauvignon, one of the few varietals Fox Fire purchases from the Grand Junction-Palisade area, is processed on site. It’s the last to go in bottles.
On May 14, the final bottling day, the winery is full of the sweet-smelling aroma, and even the most disciplined would crave a glass at 10 a.m. Richard mans the rinsing, gassing and filling stations. Argon gas displaces the oxygen before it’s filled with the ruby wine. Linda then corks the bottles before they are passed on to be labeled and capsuled with foil wrapping. Their pace is around 400 bottles per hour. In total, they bottle around 12,000 bottles a year.
The reason for purchasing the Cabernet grapes is because the region is too cold for the vinifera vines to survive. Vinifera are the most common grapes found in wine and are grown in places like California, Europe and the Mediterranean. Ignacio’s climate is unlike the mild wet winters of the Mediterranean. The high elevations that cause the cold temperatures demanded something different. It forced Fox Fire Farms to create its niche.
The Parrys experimented for four years before they opened up shop. The first year, they planted a mix of vinifera grapes, but almost all of their harvest died.
“The only vinifera we found that can take the cold, but still struggles, is Riesling,” Richard said.
Fox Fire grows a North American native/vinifera grape hybrid that has a pleasant flavor and is resilient enough to withstand the below-zero temps at 6,479 feet. As an added benefit, the cold, dry weather negates disease. The result is varieties that most people have never heard of, including dry reds similar to Pinot Noir such as Marquette and Corot Noir, and white wines such as Traminette, Brianna and Vignoles. They say most customers have positive reactions to the new tasting experience.
“When you go to a wine tasting, that is the time to get out of your comfort zone because it is just a tasting,” Linda said. “At least you are educating your palate.”
The Marquette and the Brianna are the two most popular varieties at the winery. The Marquette has won multiple gold medal awards. The grapes for each were developed in Minnesota. Richard said The University of Minnesota is leading the research in these grapes.
“The grapevines come through the winter just fine, totally unaffected by the below-zero temperatures,” Richard said.
A new dry red will be released this year, Chloe Petite Pearl 2017, an earthy wine named after the Parrys’ granddaughter. They recommend it to people who enjoy Merlot. Their other two grandkids already have varieties named after them – Richard’s Ruby port and Juliet’s Rosé.
After Chloe, the Parrys say they’re probably at their peak when it comes to developing varieties (they may try blends). Their goal isn’t to grow anyway.
“We don’t have a distributor. We don’t ship out of state. We want people to come here,” Richard said.
Fox Fire Farms wants people to experience the serene environment first-hand. To get people out to the vineyard, Fox Fire Farms hosts events throughout the summer. The major kickoff is the Taste of Spring from 1 to 6 p.m. on May 25-26. It includes live music, vendors, barbecue, farm tours and baby animals.
Then from June 6 to Sept. 27, the winery hosts Friday Nights at Fox Fire Farms from 6 to 9 p.m. There is food, live music, wine, of course, and it’s free. The events are family-friendly and dogs are welcome.
This year, they built a new deck to create more space.
“When we decided to open the winery and the tasting room, people thought we were crazy,” Linda said. “It was just on a whim. That is kind of how we’ve done things all our married life.“
Fox Fire Farms is open from 1 to 6 p.m. Thursday through Sunday through October.