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Karen and Brent Helleckson built Stone Cottage Cellars from the ground up. —Courtesy of Terri Cook and Lon Abbott

Behind the Vines: Stone Cottage Cellars

High above the North Fork Valley, this picturesque Paonia winery uses only Colorado-grown grapes to create its distinctive wine.

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The Winery: Stone Cottage Cellars

Opened: 2003

The People: Both Brent Helleckson—a Boulder-based aerospace engineer—and his wife Karen grew up on farms. They always knew they wanted to own their own piece of land one day, and since acreage around Boulder was prohibitively expensive, they widened their search across the state. The pair discovered—and became smitten with—the town of Paonia during a raft trip. So when a gorgeous parcel seeded by a few grapes came up for sale, the longtime hobbyist winemakers jumped at the chance to buy it.

The Space: The Hellecksons literally built Stone Cottage Cellars from the ground up. Stone by stone, the couple laid the foundation of the original cottage, where their family lived, with rocks cleared from the fields. Just steps from the vines, their quaint tasting room is built from the same stone and locally harvested wood in a spectacular setting overlooking the gorgeous North Fork Valley.

The Grapes: Stone Cottage Cellars’ grapes are all sourced from western Colorado, including several varietals grown organically on their own land. Thanks to their 6,200-foot-plus elevation, the winery produces some of the world’s highest grapes, which have particularly crisp and intense flavors. This signature is especially evident in the Chardonnay, which has strong hints of lemon and lime and a pleasantly tart acidity.

The Wine: Karen and Brent’s philosophy is that wine is meant to complement delicious food, so they often experiment with new pairings in their kitchen. Their website features a number of recipes like Acorn Squash Ravioli with Rosemary Cream Sauce, whose rich flavors pair well with the smoky taste of their 2012 Pinot Noir Trio, a blend of grapes grown at three locations that were fermented separately before being blended together.

Buzzed Trivia: Stone Cottage Cellars is the highest-elevation commercial Merlot vineyard in the world. The dry climate and rich volcanic soil here foster Merlot grapes, creating a flavor thats is more reminiscent of a Tuscan Chianti or Sangiovese than a California-style Merlot. Its bold, fruity taste has a hint of cherry and a silky-smooth texture that beautifully accompanies garlic-laced Italian dishes and wild game.

Taste it: Open 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. daily from late May through the end of October, Stone Cottage offers free tastings and cellar-door sales. When you hop out of your car, Gibbs, the Helleckson family’s friendly “wine dog,” is often there to escort you to the tasting room door. Once inside, be sure to try the Gewurztraminer, harvested from the original vines planted 34 years ago. With a floral nose followed by an exotic hint of rose and lychee fruit, this wine is best served chilled and with spicy food.

Take Home: Instead of just dropping by the vineyard, consider lingering on the premises in the original stone cottage, which Karen and Brent recently converted to a 2-bed, 1-bath guesthouse with a full kitchen. While there, you’re welcome to pick your own vegetables from the family’s garden to create a dinner worthy of one of Stone Cottage Cellar’s delicious wines.

Visit: Stone Cottage Cellars is located at 41716 Reds Rd., Paonia; 970-527-3444

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