Jim and Jean Wootton may not have the most sophisticated or biggest winery in Colorado, or even Montezuma County for that matter, but they may have the funnest.
The couple, operating as Yellow Car Country Wines, specializes in making fruit wines with some creative ventures to keep things interesting, including making a few fruit meads, wine gummies and even a wine sorbet.
“I’m not going to be in a suit when you come in to visit. Jean’s not going to be in a formal dress. We wear jeans and flip-flops, but we’re going to have a lot fun. We always want to keep it fun,” Jim Wootton said at the winery they operate out of their Cortez house at 1345 S. Broadway. (Look for the yellow roof, Jim tells folks.)
The Woottons don’t have acres of tended vines; they mainly rely on fruit given to them by farmers and regional landowners, but in keeping with the Woottons’ theme of having fun, they are not above buying a bushel of fruit from Walmart when the bug to experiment hits Jim, the vintner in the pair.
Yellow Car made an orange-berry wine that started life as a failed experiment by Jim to make an orange wine, a failure that was saved, at least in Jim’s estimation, by mixing it with his berry wine.
“Nope, I don’t do an orange wine. It can’t be done. It was horrible. I don’t believe anyone can make a good orange wine,” Jim said of his experiment, which he thought he was going to have to pour down the drain.
But before taking the irrecoverable step of sending his orange wine into the Cortez wastewater stream, he decided to mix it with the nearest batch of wine he had at hand, a berry wine.
“I had a gallon of berry wine. I just mixed them, stuck my finger in and mixed them. Took a taste, and said, ‘Hey, Jean, I think I just fixed the orange wine.’”
The experimentation is part of the fun for Jim, whose creations also include a peach-jalapeño wine he makes with jars of Cowboy Caviar, a canned jalapeño salsa made by Savanna Clutter under the state Cottage Foods Act in Cahone from jalapeños on her farm.
“We’re young. We just started out. I got my official state license in September. I’m not stuck having to make 1,000 gallons of cabernet sauvignon. We have people leave fruit next to the driveway, and I’ll make wine. That’s the fun part of being small. Who else would make a wine gummy?” Jim said.
Besides the peach wine gummies, the Woottons are looking at making a strawberry wine sorbet and perhaps a few other wine sorbet flavors.
Yellow Car is still waiting on federal approval for labels for their orange-berry and peach-jalepeño wine, along with several other fruity concoctions.
They are selling a long list of other fruit wines, including strawberry, the biggest seller so far, which the Woottons attribute to people’s familiarity with Boone’s Farm Strawberry Hill wine.
They also are selling apricot, cherry, berry, plum, choke cherry, peach, peach-pineapple, tooti-fruiti (a blend of peach, mango, strawberry and pineapple wines), apple-cinnamon, white peach, white strawberry and pumpkin wines.
They are also selling a cherry mead, a bubbly plum mead and a flat (without bubbles) plum mead.
Besides the peach-jalapeño and the orange-berry wines, Yellow Car is also waiting on label approvals for apricot-choke cherry and peach-plum wines.
Yellow Car makes all its wines in 5-gallon carboys and ages its fruit wines four months, which the Woottons say is all that’s needed for fruit wines
“Fruit wines don’t want to sit,” Jean said.
The fruit wines will be sweet, but if you insist on being a traditionalist, Yellow Car has plans for a Cortez red and a Cortez white made with grapes from a neighbor’s property down the road.
But most of the product is fruit wine; some fruit the Woottons pick, some is given to them and some of it is bought to satisfy Jim’s experimental nature.
“I just want to make good wine. I don’t worry too much about where the fruit comes from. If I don’t like it, I don’t bottle it,” Jim said.
The Woottons’ fascination with wine began when Jim was stationed as a military pastor in the Rhine-Moselle region of Germany from 1998 to 2006, and a parishioner was a German vintner who made a sweet and a dry Riesling.
In 2016, a boom apple harvest in Southwest Colorado, Jim began thinking of making apple schnapps, but found distilling too involved. Making wine by adding some yeast and sugar without all the cooking proved to be the path the couple followed.
The experiment with apples was followed by one with cherries.
Soon, neighbors heard about his wine-making experiments and began dropping off surplus fruit from their yards and orchards.
Mancos Mayor Queenie Barz played a role in giving them the confidence to pursue a business.
“She told us, ‘Hey, this is really good. You should sell it,” Jean said.
By the end of December, Yellow Car had sold 165 bottles of wine. Jim’s goal is to have 1,000 bottles of wines ready to sell by the summer tourist season.
Yellow Car is selling its wine for $20 a bottle. It is open from 3 to 7 p.m. Monday through Friday and from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. on Saturdays.
The Woottons created a small sale room at the front of their house, and they plan to have their patio ready for outdoor sampling by summer. Finishing business touches like a website will be coming as well, Jim said.
The timing of the business-end functions of the winery will come in due time, guided by a motto written on a white board in the Woottons’ dining room/wine laboratory: “God’s Will, God’s Way, God’s Timing.”