It's the rosé that won't make it to Colorado shelves in time for its season kick-off. And the hard-to-get French wines that were suddenly available to American importers — thanks to Brexit complications — but now stand as missed opportunities. Or the Longmont-crafted "winter gin," packed with Colorado-only botanicals — possibly the first of its kind — that won't grace shelves until the summer.
The government shutdown hit BoCo boozy businesses hard, as the Camera's reporter Mitchell Byars revealed a few weeks ago. The closure of the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB) prevented employees in Washington, D.C., from approving labels that get slapped on new alcoholic products.
With the government open again, it's time to pop Champagne and celebrate, yes? Not a chance. The label-approving backlog will be immense — a job that should have taken anywhere from one to two weeks now might take months. And President Trump threatens yet another shutdown in three weeks.
Here at Drinking With Doug, we enthrone a pair of principles: honor readers first with research, honesty and, we hope, a few dollops of editorial pleasure; and remain fixed on local products. The more Boulder County, the better.
So I visited Craig Lewis in his North Boulder home office, aka world headquarters for Stelvio Selections, a wine distributor that works with importers of wines from around the world. Importers bring bottles to the U.S.; they need distributors like Stelvio to get the bottles onto liquor store shelves and restaurant lists in individual states.
Lewis, a former pro-cyclist (making him one of 6,578 former pro-cyclists to move to Boulder, according to my sweeping analysis of Boulder residential data), got the wine bug while competing and living in Girona, Spain, for a decade. When it was time to return to the U.S., he, like 6,578 other former pro-cyclists, chose Boulder and began looking for work.
Frasca Food & Wine co-owner Bobby Stuckey, another former pro cyclist (proud to be No. 4,213), encouraged Lewis to gain a wine distributing license; Stuckey needed wines from Friuli, Italy, brought into Colorado. Nobody else was doing it, and he thought Lewis could triumph as a distributor.
Lewis went for it in 2014, and now works with 15 importers, representing as many as 200 wineries across Europe.
Lewis' business, a dicey entrepreneurial gambit just five years ago, is thriving. At least seven people receive paychecks from Stelvio, most of them sales reps — the people who toil to persuade liquor stores and restaurants to carry the wines.
And then the government stopped approving labels. For Lewis, that meant bottles he needed to continue to grow his list — he is a relatively small, niche distributor and constant variety is a key advantage — were stuck in Washington. Or they were just on hold, in Burgundy or Rioja. And there they remain. Who knows when TTB officials will get to Stelvio's wines.
The biggest immediate concern for Lewis? Rosé.
Rosé has become a big deal in the United States; the category experienced growth of 64 percent between May of 2017 and May 2018, according to Nielsen data. Sales of Lewis' rosé have quadrupled since he started.
Liquor stores and restaurants place orders with distributors for rosé during January and February, which is somewhat unusual in wine world. With rosé, retailers desire the most recent vintage, and an awful lot of the wine gets ordered far in advance. This year, during the key rosé-ordering window, it looks like Stelvio's sales reps won't have samples of 2018 rosé imports to present to customers for consideration.
"My business remains small," said Lewis, a laid-back South Carolinian. "Losing out on rosé matters."
It's not just wine distributors that have been hit. The spirits conjurers at Dry Land Distillers in Longmont, for example, spent the fall legally harvesting wild Colorado botanicals for what they thought would be their first seasonal gin, one marking winter.
But now the label application sits under a pile on a desk somewhere in D.C., and co-founder Nels Wroe fears that by the time they gain approval the "winter" part of the equation of this batch will be lost.
"There is cost, and frustration," said Wroe. "We had some very disappointed customers, and we won't have the bump in revenue in February, which makes a big difference."
Wanna help Lewis and Wroe, Boulderites? I thought so.
Pick up a bottle. I communicated with distillers across the county, and all of them reported problems. Among them: Spirit Hounds in Lyons; Longtucky Spirits in Longmont; Elwood Distilling Co. in Boulder; Deviant Spirits in Boulder; and Anvil Distillery in Longmont. I'm sure most county distillers were affected, and you can find their magic on many BoCo store shelves.
As far as Lewis' wines, Cured carries a lot of them (and naturally the owner of Cured, Will Frischkorn, is one of the city's 6,578 former pro-cyclists), and so does Boulder Wine Merchant. But you can find his bottles in most shops across the county. Many of them will have a Stelvio Selections label slapped on the back. Look for it, or ask an employee about their Stelvio portfolio.
I'm drinking one of Lewis' bottles as I write, a spectacular 2017 Garnacha from outside of Madrid, made by a pair of fancy-pants Spanish winemakers who decided to craft something more affordable (around $18, give or take). They came up with what they call Granito del Cadalso.
It radiates aromas and flavors of bright red fruit, a touch of orange, some Mediterranean herbs. I may have to lend Lewis a hand with a second bottle of this ambrosia.
Longtime journalist and Boulderite Doug Brown writes about adult beverages for the Camera. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Instagram and Twitter @drinkingwithdoug.