Founder Ben Parsons is getting back to the basics of growing grapes and making wine.
The Ordinary Fellow took its name from a now-shuttered pub in Kent, England.
Parsons, who founded Infinite Monkey Theorem Urban Winery in Denver in 2008 stepped down in 2019, wanted to take a different tact.
“I thought that I had taken IMT as far as I could, and I thought after 11 years, it was time to move on and get back into the vineyard, which was always my passion,” he says. “Rather than working with growers and just buying your fruit, being in charge of your own destiny and farming it and really being able to make decisions that really affect the quality of the fruit and therefore ultimately the final product.”
“We all have this romantic idea of owning a vineyard. It’s really hard work, but it just allows you more control than buying grapes from another.”
Bringing New Life to an Old Site
The winery and tasting room are in the renovated United Fruit Growers Co-op packing shed, opened in late 2021. The building, subsequent to a stint as a Sara Lee warehouse, had been dormant for several years before The Ordinary Fellow arrived.
“That site dates back to the early 20th century when they were loading fruit onto railcars. That’s why there’s an extra railway line outside that building,” says Parsons. “Before there was tourist traffic in Palisade, all the peach growers would co-op their peaches to the railway tracks and send them off. But then agritourism started, and every peach grower was like, ‘I should just sell this direct-to-consumer on a stand on the corner of the road.'”
The winery sources riesling, cabernet sauvignon, chardonnay, and pinot noir grapes from southwestern Colorado. Parsons leases a 13-acre vineyard near Cortez and buys grapes from a grower near Dolores. The winery also sources grapes from a grower in Washington state.
The Ordinary Fellow’s packaging, designed by Moxie Sozo and made by Eurostampa, is unique: As you spin a scrolling outer label around the bottle, a cut-out silhouette reveals colorful artwork underneath.
“The whole idea was to create a kaleidoscope-like way to look into the mind of an ordinary fellow,” says Parsons. “The customer is encouraged to peel a sticker off that allows the label to rotate and reveal different parts of the artwork that really tells the story of my journey as a winemaker over the last 25 to 30 years.”
He points to images from pub life, a pint of Guinness on a forklift, and his dog. “There’s all sorts of cool imagery related to travel, wine and family.”
A rotating label “has never been done before on any alcohol packaging,” he adds. “There’s so much engineering. It’s one thing designing it, but then you have to take it to the label company.”
Expansion Retains Company Roots
After launching with a single riesling in 2020, production hit 2,000 cases in 2022. “Ultimately, I’d like to get it to about 10,000 cases made from almost exclusively Colorado-grown grapes,” says Parsons. “In 2023, hopefully, we continue to grow and we don’t have to sell grapes — we turn those grapes into wine.”
And, if all goes to plan, that wine will be anything but ordinary. “The goal is to make the best wine in Colorado from the best vineyard sites,” says Parsons. “I’m really trying to make a world-class wine in Colorado that all the farm-to-table restaurants here can be proud to serve.”
He adds, “Colorado wine is more Colorado than Colorado beer or Colorado liquor, where the ingredients of those are not made in Colorado.”
Challenges: Beyond the challenges of growing grapes at altitude, there’s an ebb and flow of visitors coming to the winery. “It’s feast or famine,” says Parsons. “Palisade is a tourist town, so it’s busy only six months out of the year.”
The secondary issue is balancing retail and wholesale. “The challenge there is: Do I go sell that wine to a restaurant at a lower price and lower margin knowing I need income and cash flow, or do I wait and hold onto that wine, knowing I can sell for five times the amount?”
“It’s a real struggle. How much should I be selling at wholesale? Should I hold back for the summer?”
Opportunities: “There’s definitely an opportunity to grow Palisade into a world-class agritourism destination,” says Parsons. “There’s enough wineries out there to make a few days’ road trip, not just from the Front Range but Utah and beyond. There’s world-class access to the outdoors, mountain biking, kayaking, and skiing. You’re an hour and a half from Aspen and an hour and a half from Moab.”
Parsons also sees plenty of room for growth at restaurants and bars. “There’s definitely an opportunity to place your wines at the best restaurants throughout the state and drive awareness. There’s nothing better than the support of an electrified sommelier and his waitstaff.”
As it relaunches a wine club in mid-2023, The Ordinary Fellow will expand its line with syrah, chenin blanc, charbono, and other varietals. “I think the customer wants to have a good selection of different varietals rather than us making 10,000 cases of cabernet sauvignon,” says Parsons.
Needs: “Experienced people,” says Parsons.
More awareness wouldn’t hurt, either. “People who have moved to Denver recently . . . are like, ‘What? There’s Colorado wine? I didn’t even know there was Colorado wine,'” he says. “There’s just constant stories to be told that I’ve been telling for 23 years. You kind of feel like you’re repeating yourself.”