Amidst the commercial and industrial lots that give Commerce City its name, sits a contemporary structure made of fine wood and glass.
The conspicuous building stands out, not only in appearance, but in function as well. Surrounded by wholesale warehouses and construction scrap operations, Balistreri Winery has been producing some of Colorado’s best wines since 1998.
The winery is family-owned and operated with John Balistreri acting as head wine-maker with help from his wife, Birdie, and daughter, Julie.
Julie Balistreri, “ the wine maker’s daughter,” as she refers to herself, greeted the crowd of Metro Hospitality, Tourism and Events students April 7, and gave some background on the history of the vineyard before starting the tour.
While filling glasses with some of the vineyard’s less recognized wines — Muscat and Viognier — Julie Balistreri told the history of the family business, stressing her father’s love of the land.
“My father loves this place and we’re not going anywhere,” Julie Balistreri said.
The land has been in the Balistreri family since the early 1900’s when it was originally used as a farm, until 1965 when they began focusing on selling flowers.
When the flower market dried up in the mid 80’s, John Balistreri began to focus on something he had been doing all his life — making wine in the traditional Italian way, which was passed down to him by his Sicilian born father.
What stands today is a testament of the Balistreri family’s perseverance and dream that has grown alongside with Metro’s HTE department.
Dr. Michael Wray, professor in the HTE department, was pleased with the large turnout of students and their guests. The first year he took a class on the tour of the winery, only seven students attended. This year, 40 students went on the tour.
Following the reception, Julie Balisteri led the group down to the cellar. She stressed the importance the winery places on outsourcing as few grapes as possible while keeping the entire process organic adding little to no preservatives.
Compared to the size and equipment used at other commercial wineries, the Balistreris’ equipment is minimal, consisting of a single press and no steel holding tanks.
Julie Balistreri talked about the obstacles they face in producing wine in Colorado’s dry climate.
“Colorado wine angels are more thirsty than California wine angels,” Julie Balistreri said, explaining that they lose 6-7 barrels of wine yearly to evaporation, or, as she calls it, “wine angels.”
Thanks to what they have learned in class, students of Wray’s Wine Fundamentals section, in addition to other sections, seemed to have a better understanding of what was being discussed.
“It’s a lot more interesting when you actually are familiar with some of the terminology that is being used,” said student Sarah Buchanan, touching on the skills and vocabulary that she had picked up in class.
John Balistreri stressed the importance of the mutually beneficial relationship between Metro’s HTE department and his winery.
“It’s good to have any kind of connections you can,” John Balistreri said. “These guys from Metro have always come out to see what we are doing. We are close enough to give the students an opportunity to come out and see what they have been learning about and hopefully they will return with family and friends.”
After the tour of the cellar, the group made it’s way back upstairs into the massive tasting room to sample some of their more popular varietals — Cabernets and Merlots — which were accompanied by different types of salami, cheese and bread.
Making the rounds while pouring, Wray was excited about how much his students were enjoying the experience.
“Anytime you get the public into a situation where we are able to use private resources, it becomes more relevant and real to the students,” Wray said. “I can talk all day about theory and show them something or demonstrate something, but until they see things in the real world it doesn’t provide much of a context. I can’t replicate this in the classroom.”
The Balistreri Winery is open seven days a week from 12 p.m. to 5 p.m. and is located on the outskirts of Commerce City at 1946 E. 66th Avenue, Denver, CO 80229.