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Unpretentious Wine: A Chat with Garrett Portra from Carlson Vineyards Winery

Unpretentious Wine: A Chat with Garrett Portra from Carlson Vineyards Winery

Take a trip to Palisade, Colorado, and you'll find yourself in gorgeous wine country. More than 25 local wineries call Palisade home. 

One of those wineries is Carlson Vineyards—winner of Governor’s Cup double golds, the international World Cup Riesling Award and Winery of the Year at the 2021 Colorado Manufacturing Awards. 

Carlson Vineyards is owned and operated by Garrett and Cailin Portra, whose taste for adventure led them to a family-owned vineyard. 

Parker and Mary Carlson established the winery in 1988. Their goal was to make friendly, unpretentious wines for the everyday wine drinker. The Portras have followed in their footsteps, continuing to make Carlson wines with all tastes in mind. 

Williamsburg Sammies to Palisade Wine 

Garrett grew up in Fulton, Missouri, and his family has been shopping at Crane's Country Store for decades. He got his first pair of rubber boots from Bill Crane when he was 10 years old. 

While attending Westminster College, Garrett worked at Crane's and became known for reciting our list of meats and cheeses like an auctioneer. (There wasn't a sign back then. He had to know that list by heart!) 

Garrett saw the store through the addition of the museum in 2004. He recalls carrying numerous items from the store to the museum. Then from the museum to the store. And back again. 

Joe and David Crane were in a bit of a competition at the time. One didn't want anything to leave the store for the museum. The other thought the museum could use much of the store's historic decor. Garrett spent a lot of time that year moving items between the store and museum, depending on which Crane was there that day. 

When Garrett and Cailin graduated from Westminster, they moved to St. Louis, where Cailin attended graduate school at Washington University. As an occupational therapist, Cailin needed to intern for six months before she could start working. The two took a leap and moved to Colorado for the internship. 

That six-month adventure never ended. 

A Connection to Agriculture 

Both Garrett and Cailin were around agriculture growing up. Garrett’s uncles own a Century Farm in Callaway County. At the time, Cailin’s parents had a half-acre vineyard in Southeast Missouri. 

After helping with the first harvest, Garrett discovered the connection between wine and agriculture. Beer reflects the process used to make it. Wine reflects the land and climate the year the grapes were grown.

“If you get your favorite IPA, you want it to taste exactly like it did the time before. Same thing with spirits. What’s cool about wine is you can pick the same grapes from the same rows from the same vineyard every year, and that wine will change because it reflects the agriculture of the year it was grown,” says Garrett. 

Stepping into the Wine Business

After moving to Colorado, the Portras realized that they wanted to start their own winery one day. More specifically, a winery in Missouri. 

Fate had other plans for them. 

When the cellar assistant at Carlson Vineyards put in his two-week notice, Garrett took the job. Carlson Vineyards was one of Garrett and Cailin's favorite wineries. While visiting for a tasting, they fell in love with the founders' focus on simplicity and authenticity. 

Several years later, the Carlsons asked if the Portras wanted to buy the business. Garrett and Cailin agreed that it was an offer too good to refuse.

Wine for Every Taste 

Fun, unpretentious wine drew the Portras to Carlson Vineyards. It's what they continue to strive for today. 

"We want to make authentic and approachable wines for everyone, not just for a certain palate or a certain type of wine drinker. Our goal is to make the best possible wines we can," says Garrett. 

The winery has been successful, serving up both beloved high-end reds and spectacular sweet or semi-sweet wines.

Case in point, Carlson Vineyards had two very different wines selected for the 2021 Colorado Governor’s Cup: a red Lemberger (David’s favorite!) and a cherry wine

At Carlson Vineyards, wine isn't complicated. You drink what you like. 

The Wren Quinn Project 

Garrett and Cailin were making great wine, but they also wanted to make a difference. When their daughters, Josephine Wren and Madeline Quinn, were three and one, they established the Wren Quinn Project

When you purchase a bottle from the Wren Quinn series, you contribute to a fund that donates to a different recipient or organization each month.

“We had both grown up in service-oriented households without realizing that it was something special,” says Garrett. “We grew up and found out that it wasn’t normal. We wanted our daughters to grow up understanding the importance of the community that surrounds them and how a successful business needs a successful community to thrive.”

Enjoying Life in the Moment 

Owning a winery was one of the couple's long-term goals. Their plan was to move back to Missouri, make all dry reds and produce 1,000 cases a year. 

Looking back, they never imagined they'd stay in Colorado, making 12,000 cases of wine a year. Yet, they would tell you that they are exactly where they need to be. 

Try Carlson Vineyards Wine

Order Carlson Vineyards wine online, or sign up for their wine club to get a first look at new releases and member-only wines. Customize your wine club order and get your favorite wines delivered to your door. 

Pair award-winning wine with adventure. OtterBox insulated wine tumblers keep your wine at the perfect temperature. Take a little celebration with you. Wine mugs are for wherever you go.

Just remember: Trust your tastes, and always drink what you like. 

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