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Winemaker John Balistreri enjoys a glass of his handcrafted, Sicilian-style wine at the award-winning vineyard that three generations of his family help operate.

Behind the Vines: Balistreri Vineyards

This is part of a monthly series introducing you to Colorado wineries.

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The Winery: Balistreri Vineyards

Opened: 2000

The People: Balistreri Vineyards is a family affair. Although founder John Balistreri, whose grandparents emigrated to the U.S. from a small village in Sicily, grew up making wine, he originally operated a cut-flower business from property he’d purchased in northeast Denver in the 1960s. While focusing his career on flowers, John still helped his uncle make a barrel of traditional Orange Muscat each year to keep their family’s wine-making custom alive. After cut-flower production moved to South America in the 1990s, John decided to capitalize upon his hobby. He now runs the vineyard with the help of his wife, Birdie; his daughter, Julie; and his granddaughter, Angelina; with occasional assistance from his other nine grandchildren, whose names are all inscribed in the cement sidewalk along the side of the building.

The Space: Balistreri’s winery and tasting room are located near Commerce City in an established neighborhood that, back in the ’60s, was home to mostly Italian immigrants, many of whom were farmers. The front of the modern brick building hosts the tasting room, which is dominated by an enormous wooden bar. If you prefer to sit, there are also half a dozen square tables with chairs where you can sip your wine and enjoy a freshly prepared lunch. The back of the building features a spacious room and adjoining garden for weddings, parties, and other private events.

The Grapes: More than 90 percent of the grapes used by the Balistreris are grown in Palisade, Colorado. To emphasize his wines’ handcrafted nature, John labels each bottle with the name of the vineyard that produced those grapes, as well as the number of the American-oak barrel in which they were aged.

(Read about the peach-growing families of Palisade)

The Wine: All Balistreri wines are completely natural and fermented on the skins in their own yeast, without the addition of sulfites, to create wines with deep, rich colors and “fruit-forward” flavors. Because they’re unfiltered, it’s normal to find a small amount of sediment at the bottom of each bottle. Balistreri offers a large selection of red wines, as well as several varieties of white and dessert wines.

Buzzed Trivia: Winemakers measure grapes’ sugar content in units of “brix.” Whereas most winemakers use sugar contents of 23 or 24 brix, John’s are no less than 26, resulting in products with a higher-than-average alcohol content (up to 17.5 percent) that have garnered numerous awards. These include a prestigious gold medal for his 2008 Merlot in the 2010 San Francisco International Wine Competition, and five “Best of Show” awards at the Colorado Mountain WineFest over the years.

Taste It: Balistreri offers complimentary tastings and tours of their wine cellar seven days a week, from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Leave plenty of time to try their long list of offerings, which begins with the white wines, whose deep, golden colors are due to the in-skin fermentation. I especially liked the 2013 Colorado Riesling, which has aromas of honeysuckle and chamomile, hints of apricot, and an unexpectedly dry finish. Next come a parade of delicious reds, including the 2013 Colorado Syrah, which has a distinctively spicy peppercorn finish, as well as many other varietals, including sangiovese, cabernet sauvignon, merlot, and tempranillo.

Take Home: Since Balistreri sells out of nearly all its wines each year and most of their sales are direct from their tasting room, you may want to stock up on a few bottles. For a bubbly, warm-weather option, John’s grandson, Ray, recommends mixing 2/3 of their award-winning Colorado Cherry dessert wine with 1/3 soda water or Sprite to create the perfect summertime spritzer.

Visit: Balistreri Vineyard’s tasting room is located at 1946 E. 66th Ave.; 303-287-5156

(Read about more Colorado wineries in 5280‘s Behind the Vines series)

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