Grape Varieties Grown By Whitewater Hill Vineyards


One of our more recent plantings. It was planted for its excellent aromatic muscat wine characteristics and cold hardiness. However, on our soil, it is not very vigorous and only time will tell if it will produce an acceptable crop.

Cabernet Franc

Cabernet Franc appears similar to Cabernet Sauvignon but is different in many respects. The leaf indentation is not as pronounced. It breaks bud and ripens about a week earlier. It does not develop deep skin color. At harvest clusters often appear immature because of light skin color, however fruit compositions achieve excellent balances. Surprisingly, wine color can be fairly dark but a shade lighter than Cabernet Sauvignon. It has a fruitier taste with significant tannin primarily in the front of the palate. Barrel aging in new american oak seems to create a more integrated wine than with other barrel programs.

Cabernet Sauvignon

Cabernet Sauvignon production in Colorado has risen swiftly to become second only to Merlot (2002). Mesa County has a sufficient growing season exists to fully ripen this late-season ripening variety. It produces outstanding color with an excellent balance of sugar, acid and pH.

Cabernet Sauvignon responds well to a fully open canopy. Because of its vigorous growth habit, it can easily produce too much shade on the fruit clusters. Sun exposed clusters are protected by the thick skin from sunburn damage and respond with deeper coloring and slight raisining. This seems to produce higher aromatics and softer tannins in the wine as well as deeper color. An open canopy also aids in powdery mildew control, a disease to which this variety is particularly susceptible.


Chambourcin is one of our recent plantings and started producing a significant crop in 2015. Chambourcin is somewhat more cold hardy and resistant to powdery mildew than many of our other varieties and we hope that it will be a reliable producer. It is deep in color, low in tannin and has a cherry flavor. Acids are higher than other varieties, so we have been harvesting it late in the season then diluting the must with water to reduce acidity. The wine is put through malolactic fermentation and then cold stabilized. The final acidity of the finished wine is usually around 6 g/L.


Colorado Chardonnay is best when sunlight exposed and picked ripe. Our experience is that vertically dividing the canopy on the north side of vine row produces good sunlight exposure while providing cover on the south side of the canopy to protect the fruit from sunburn injury. If the canopy is allowed to continue to expand after canopy division, laterals will fill in on the north side that must be removed to retain the sunlight exposure. If Chardonnay is not sunlight exposed the wine will invariably have an undesirable herbaceous note. An open canopy also aids in powdery mildew control, a disease to which this variety is particularly susceptible.


Merlot is the most widely planted variety in Colorado and accounts for 32% of the total production of wine grapes in the state (2000 Grower Survey). The Colorado State University Cooperative Extension has evaluated Merlot at its Orchard Mesa Research Center in Mesa County and states:

The Merlot grape produces one of the best wines from Colorado. [...] In most years, Colorado Merlots are deep colored, very fruity and full bodied. (Richard A. Hamman Jr, et al, Colorado Grape Growers' Guide, 1996).

Our experience with the variety indicates that the variety does well in heavy clay and stoney soils and forms winter hardy fruiting wood for the next year easily even with heavy irrigation. When spur-pruned, it less fruitful in its basal buds. It is also susceptible to alkali and salt leading to poor yields or vine death. Because of its floppy growth habit, it is difficult to shoot position upwards and catch wire clips aid in maintenance of a vertical shoot positioned canopy. The variety is very fruitful and cluster thinning may be necessary to keep the clusters open to sunlight and air.

Muscat Blanc á Petits Grains

Muscat Blanc á Petits Grains (the official name for the variety, a.k.a. Muscat Blanc, Muscat Canelli, and many other names; note that the Orange Muscat of California is the Moscato Fior d'Arancio of Italy and is not Muscat Blanc) is a versatile white table grape that is usually made into a sweet dessert wine but can also be fermented dry or used as a blending wine to increase aromatic complexity; this is the "secret" ingredient in many highly regarded wines.

Muscat Blanc is generally regarded as the highest quality grape for winemaking in the Muscat family (e.g., Robinson, Jancis, "Vines Grapes & Wines", 1992, p. 182).

The modern treatment of Muscat is low temperature fermentation, minimal skin contact and early consumption. (Robinson, Jancis, "Vines Grapes & Wines", 1992, p. 184).

The Colorado State University Cooperative Extension has evaluated Muscat Blanc at its Orchard Mesa Research Center in Mesa County and states:

This aromatic, early ripening variety has potential to do well in Colorado although it is less winter hardy than [Chardonnay, Riesling, Pinot Blanc and Gewurztraminer]. As with Gewurztraminer, careful monitoring can allow harvest with sufficient sugar and desirable acid levels. Muscat blanc is a medium to high vigor vine with medium sized clusters (.40 - 1.00 lb.) and medium-large berries. (Richard A. Hamman Jr, et al, Colorado Grape Growers' Guide, 1996).

Our experience with the variety indicates that grape does well in Colorado (Mesa County). The grape plant is fruitful (5.5 T/A) and forms large clusters early in the season. It is highly susceptible to powdery mildew. The grape is extremely attractive to birds and must be netted before the 1st of August. It breaks bud even earlier than Chardonnay. The grape ripens in early September and should be picked while Brix is relatively low (21.5). While an open canopy can help to reduce the incidence of disease and sour rot, excessive exposure can lead to sunburn. The clusters on the west side of the canopy are highly susceptible to sulfur burn and must not be sprayed during the evening after a hot day when the plants do not have adequate time to recover from stress. Early morning sprays (before 8AM) are preferred. Burned or damaged grapes (such as from birds) induce sour rot on some clusters which can be selected out during picking. Wine made from the grapes has a golden color and the characteristic Muscat aroma. The flavors are ripe with no evidence of herbaceous notes.


Riesling tends to have a few degrees more tolerance for colder temperatures than other vinifera varieties. In a marginal climate such as Colorado, these few degrees make enough difference to usually survive the winter without damage. Even in a severe year such as the 1989 freeze of -22 degrees F, several vines survived at OMRC with moderate trunk damage. We have been planting more and more Riesling, replacing the easily damaged Cabernet Sauvignon vines in cold areas to create more planting area for Riesling.

Colorado Riesling is characterized by its ability to develop the floral boquets like those found in German Rieslings. It ripens late and harvests between late September and mid October. In wet weather, botrytis can be a concern. We like to harvest at above 23 degrees brix in order to create a wine with at least 3% residual sugar and 12% alcohol. Acidity is higher and pH is lower than other varieties. We like the wine to finish with around 8 g/l and a pH of 3.15.

St. Vincent

St. Vincent is one of our recent plantings and we expect it to produce a significant crop in 2016. St. Vincent is somewhat more cold hardy and resistant to powdery mildew than many of our other varieties and we hope that it will be a reliable producer. In this respect, it is similar to Chambourcin and wine handling is same. It produces beautiful red leaf color in the fall and the canes themselves are reddish.


Syrah (aka Shiraz, but not Petite Sirah) is conveniently productive, disease-resistant, late budding and early ripening. It produces dark skinned and flavorful fruit. The vine is easy to grow, but requires a well drained low-fertility soil; even then, it requires a divided canopy to spread out its shoots. It does not put a lot of energy into laterals unless constrained to too small a space, so once the canopy is opened, it stays open. It raisins about 10% before harvest, which concentrates the flavor and skin color. However, it can lose aroma and acidity if left on the vine for too long; it is therefore not recommended for port styles of wine. Wine color is an intense inky purple. Tannins are significant but soft. Therefore the wine ages well but also can be bottled for early consumption.