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Balanced, Bright, and Beautiful: Boutique Winery Gains Recognition in International Competitions

woman walking in wine vineyard

Pictured above: Winemaker Kathleen Ward at her Colorado vineyard

By Alicia Wanek

When winemaker Kathleen Ward chose the name Libelle (pronounced lee-bell), which means “dragonfly” in Dutch, for her wine label, she harkened back to fond memories watching the brightly colored creatures dart around her yard with her beloved grandmother “Oma.”  She wanted her wines to reflect the same balance and precision of these winged beauties.  Talking to Kathleen, you realize how fitting the name is.  So many of the qualities that describe the dragonfly and good wine can also describe this millennial winemaker.  She is equally bright, beautiful, and balanced.

After just three harvests, Libelle is well on its way to defining itself as a premier boutique winery.  In 2020, the label was awarded six medals in three international wine competitions.  Kathleen’s hard work is certainly paying off.  When she was a student at Texas A&M University, Kathleen was studying Animal Science with her mindset on Vet School, but in her junior year, she learned the university would be offering courses in winemaking.  She was certainly no stranger to the industry—her mom Yvonne Ward Hughes already owned a small vineyard in the Texas Hill Country. Though it required her to graduate a year late, Kathleen took that 5th year to complete the coursework in enology (the study of wine).  She was hooked, and her destiny changed from working with animals to working with grapes.

After just three harvests, Libelle is well on its way to defining itself as a premier boutique winery. In 2020, the label was awarded six medals in three international wine competitions.

A trip the summer after graduation in 2012 continued to shape the course of her future when her family traveled to Colorado.  As they drove into the town of Palisade, she saw the beautiful valley with the Colorado River running through it, filled with peach orchards, fresh produce, and vineyards.  She soon learned how winemaking is a growing industry in the area, and it wasn’t long before Yvonne purchased an older property on the outskirts of town with the dream of starting another vineyard.  Plus, now her daughter had a background in enology and a dream of becoming a winemaker.  It was the perfect setup.   Kathleen believes in the Colorado vineyards wholeheartedly.   “I’m sold,” she says. “Grand Valley AVA produces remarkable fruit. Because the region has a similar climate and elevation to various growing regions in Europe, we are finding that cold-hardy, old world varietals are thriving in our vineyard. My hope is that Colorado will soon gain the recognition it deserves as an exceptional wine region in the United States.”

One of the first decisions was determining what kind of grapes to grow.  Knowing she needed “cold-hardy” varietals that could survive the Colorado winters, Yvonne’s first choice was Riesling. They planted the first couple of acres even though Kathleen had never made a Riesling before.  The next selection came about in 2016 when Yvonne was in Los Angeles awaiting the birth of her first grandchild.  One evening at a restaurant she asked for a recommendation for a dry white wine from the bartender.  He suggested a Grüner Veltliner, and Yvonne loved it.  This lesser-known white wine from Austria is often considered an exotic alternative to Sauvignon Blanc.  Not long after granddaughter Claire was born, “Claire’s Block” of Grüner grapes were planted at the vineyard.  Someday Kathleen may consider making yet another varietal, but at this point she’s focusing on these two.  “I want to perfect our Riesling and Grüner first.  Then in a few years, I would like to make a red,” Kathleen says.

“Grand Valley AVA produces remarkable fruit. Because the region has a similar climate and elevation to various growing regions in Europe, we are finding that cold-hardy, old world varietals are thriving in our vineyard.

Though the vineyard is in Colorado, Kathleen makes the wine in Napa, where she has been living and working for years.  This year marks her ninth harvest in Napa.  Libelle’s Marketing Director (and Kathleen’s sister) Sarah Christensen says, “What sets us apart is that for a young winemaker in Napa, the price of Napa grapes is extremely high.  Kathleen has found a different way to make an outstanding wine.” Kathleen believes it’s a characteristic of her generation of millennials that they’re not afraid to try something new.  She credits the wonderful mentors she’s met along the way who have spurred her interest, enhanced her knowledge, and driven her passion.  For her, winemaking is the perfect balance between science and art.  Each year the growing season is different, and the winemaker must adapt.  Sarah says, “Kathleen takes each vintage and makes it the best it can be.”  As Kathleen describes it, “Every vintage is different, and each bottle of wine is like it’s own small time capsule.  That’s what I love about it.”

Using her intuition and experience, Kathleen knew the wines Libelle was making were good, so when Sarah suggested they were ready to enter competitions, she agreed.  Thus far in 2020, their 2018 Riesling has won three silver medals and the 2018 Grüner Veltliner two silver and one bronze in international competitions (see list below).  Though she admits winning meant a lot, and it was so rewarding to gain the recognition, this is just the beginning for Libelle.  Her mission is to strive for perfection every year, focus on small production, and “slowly and surely” grow.

The artist Aimee Stewart has a very popular painting of a dragonfly with the caption, “I’m the dragonfly rising on the wings of unlocked dreams on the verge of magical things.”  The sentiment captures the undeniably bright future of Libelle and the potential of this dynamic young winemaker.  There’s little doubt more recognition is in store.

Kathleen with her “Oma” Rie Spronk-Hughes who was the inspiration for the name Libelle. 
Winemaker Kathleen Ward, on right, with her sister Sarah Christensen who oversees marketing for Libelle.

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LIBELLE AWARDS:

2020 International Women’s Wine Competition:

  • 2018 Riesling: Silver Medal
  • 2018 Grüner Veltliner: Bronze Medal

2020 Sunset International Wine Competition:

  • 2018 Riesling: Silver Medal
  • 2018 Grüner Veltliner: Silver Medal

2020 Denver International Wine Competition:

  • 2018 Riesling: Silver Medal
  • 2018 Grüner Veltliner: Silver Medal

ABOUT LIBELLE:
Libelle (pronounced lee-bell) was born out of a passion for great wine and desire to disrupt the status quo. Kathleen Ward makes wine in Napa Valley from grapes sourced from a small grape-growing region in Western Colorado. It’s a place where cold weather vines thrive because they grow in a microclimate. While the rest of Western Colorado is frozen in the winter, Grand Valley is safe from extreme cold, and grape varietals like Riesling and Grüner Veltliner flourish. For more information or to order wine, go to www.libellewines.com.

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