Blending Wine, Family, and Community

Fort Collins' newest wine entrepreneurs and their foothills vineyard

Fort Collins has no shortage of excellent options for adult beverages. We are the “Napa Valley of beer,” after all. There’s certainly more to it than a seemingly endless supply of breweries, however. Not to be dismissed or ignored are the excellent distilleries and wineries. Among those, possibly the most unique in the area, you’ll be glad to know Blendings Winery.

“Grapes like a view,” Jonathan Sautter, Blendings’ Head Winemaker tells us, an old industry adage.

These grapes certainly have that. Blendings is nestled into the hillsides along Bingham Hill Road, toeing the line between Laporte and Fort Collins, just outside of city limits. Surrounded by trees and gorgeous views of the almost touchably close foothills, if Sautters’ statement is to be held as truth, it might explain the taste of their wine.

While Blendings does serve up all of the wine staples you’re sure to love alongside wonderfully crafted wine slushies, the real star of the show might be the small blue-purple berries growing in rows beside the grapes. Aronia berries are often used in landscaping and when consumed raw, are not all that palatable. When prepared as jam or in baked goods, however, they bring an incredible flavor, as wine, a distinct and delicious drinking experience that you’re not likely to find anywhere else. They’re a bit more difficult to work with than grapes, largely because they are so much smaller, and they’ve got lower sugar content and higher acidity than grapes, which may explain why there are only a small number of wineries producing the product globally, less than a handful in the United States. Given it’s culinary rarity, the crew at Blendings are eager to share in it’s bounty and educate visitors about their wonderful little superfruit.

Michael Wamsganz and his wife, Tiffany Weber first considered buying the property for the event center to expand their business hosting weddings along with Weber’s sister Lindsey Francel. When they discovered the property was also home to a winery, they couldn’t resist the opportunity. They officially acquired the property in November of 2020 and have absolutely plunged headfirst into the wine world and with Sautter’s help they’re already on a roll.

“We have a passion for wine,” Wamsganz says, “and pairing the weddings with the wine was a natural fit.”

They’ve learned a lot, of course, since beginning on this new adventure, but with both families living on site at the vineyard they’re fully immersed. Now with their first harvest, tended and watched from bud, to barrel, to bottle, completely themselves, the blendings team couldn’t be more thrilled at their decision and are ready for more. Now planning to expand the vineyard to produce more grapes and berries and expand their operations to utilize it for more wine, it’s clear that passion was well worth following. The winery is taking on a life of its own and the team is falling in love with the agricultural process.

“We’re able to use the land and we’re taking a product from start to finish,” Wamsganz tells us of his newly gained experience, which has clearly made an impression on him.

Another of the unique experiences offered at Blendings Winery is right there in the name. Visitors can participate in wine blending experiences, creating their own custom blend with a little guidance from Sautter and the team, and even purchase their personal creation by the bottle afterwards. Whether it’s for a date night or your company's team outing, it’s a novel experience to take home your own wine blend. What’s more is they offer this service along with custom branded labels to any business who’d like to have their own signature blend to serve in restaurants or share in gift baskets.

“You get to have a hands-on and practical experience working with wine,” Sautter says of the offering, highlighting it as a rare educational opportunity that any wine lover will enjoy.

There’s much more than wine and weddings involved in running this business, however. The team know they’re the new kids in town, so to speak, and are working hard to settle themselves and their new business into the community. For starters, they welcome people to come visit and pick some of their abundant aronia berries to take home with recipe cards to make tarts and pies with their haul. The recipes were developed by Weber’s parents, deepening the family involvement in this delicious endeavor.

“I bet we’ve had fifty folks from the community out here this last week,” Wamsganz says of the unique berry-picking experience. “We’re educating people on an agricultural product that I think a lot of people don’t understand is here, it’s exciting!”

Upping the level of deliciousness available in the winery is also on their list of endeavors, partnering with local restaurants to keep high quality snacks on board. Me Oh My Pie has been harvesting aronia berries to make the incredible aronia lemon bars available in the tasting room alongside charcuterie boards made by The Welsh Rabbit and a variety of other eats.

“Small business is the lifeblood of the community,” Wamsganz says of the collaborative efforts, noting it as an important way they can work to support the larger communities of Fort Collins and Larimer County.

Let’s not forget the reason they first looked at the property. Hillside Vineyard, the attached wedding and events venue is a gorgeous section of the 10 acre property featuring an event hall, beach and pond, flower gardens, gazebos and last but far from least, the vineyard and views that make all of that delicious wine. With nearly a decades’ experience in weddings and events, the team is quickly filling up their calendars with folks looking to utilize this one-of-a-kind and idyllic Rocky Mountain setting.

Like any good local business owner, they also see the value in supporting good causes in the community. Supporting local non-profit organizations like Realities for Children and Habitat for Humanity allows them to work on benefiting the community at large and they’re always looking for more ways to do that.

“We’re definitely open to helping any other non-profits,” Weber says of their intention to expand their community involvement.

With three generations participating in operations in the vineyard it’s clear that this family is fully invested in the task at hand. Whether it’s making delicious aronia berry recipes that everyone can enjoy, serving up cool wine slushies to visitors on a hot day, or helping a happy couple bring their dream wedding to life, the family at Blendings Winery is here to stay and grow together with their new community. Just like the berries and grapes slowly transforming into delicious wines, the right ingredients have been added and the work is being done, this is something that will only get better with time.

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