The journey from Denver sommeliers to Western Colorado farmers and winemakers.
The famed frontier spirit of the men and women who helped settle the country we now call the United States required courage and conviction and the willingness to leave the familiar behind for worlds unknown – possible riches or possible ruin. It’s the same spirit that drives so many American winemakers today, men and women who often risk all in the hope of producing a world-class wine. Jayme Henderson and Steve Steese are two such 21st-century pioneers.– Lettie Teague, The Wall Street Journal, Off Duty Cover Feature, 11.16.19
The Storm Cellar is a collaborative vision between Steve Steese and Jayme Henderson. During our many years in the restaurant industry, whether for business, study, or pleasure, we spent most of our time away from work in wine country. And we fell in love with it. We traveled the world’s wine regions in search of our next home and adventure for years, only to finally realize that it was just over four hours west of our former home in Denver, on Colorado’s western slope. The Storm Cellar is a project founded upon a love of Colorado, a desire to make great wine in this great state, and a goal of helping to put a relatively unknown, yet up-and-coming region, on the national map.
We began our journey in February of 2017 by purchasing a stunning vineyard property that had both huge potential and the need for a lot of rehabilitation. The property boasts a breathtaking, sweeping view that encompasses the fertile valley, farmland, pastures, and orchards of the region, culminating in the snow-crested peaks of Landsend and Mount Lamborn. The elevated site sits atop Sunshine Mesa, between the towns of Paonia and Hotchkiss, in Delta County, Colorado, well above the valley floor, virtually alone atop the mesa.
The wine industry within the area is still relatively young, but the region is already showing incredible potential from what are the highest elevation commercial vineyards anywhere in the northern hemisphere. The region is one of two nationally recognized grape-growing regions (American Viticultural Areas or “AVAs”) in Colorado and is known as the West Elks AVA. Both the state of Colorado and this particular wine region are ripe with promise and perfectly timed for growth. Colorado’s meteoric growth has prompted a need and desire for two things: unique, high-quality, local products and more destination hot spots away from the city.
Our goal is to fill both of those niches.
The two of us left our lives in the Denver culinary scene, where for many years we shared the roles of wine director, sommelier, mixologist, restaurant manager, and beverage director. Between the two of us, we worked at such legendary Denver establishments as Shanahan’s Steakhouse, Barolo Grill, Ya Ya’s Euro Bistro, Coohills, and Cru Wine Bar. In 2017, we set aside our suits and our late-night hours and happily traded them for overalls, heavy boots, and early mornings.
We both live, manage, and share every aspect of life and work here on the vineyard property. We are the vineyard and property managers, the project planners and coordinators, the winemakers, and the marketing and social media directors. We have one faithful employee, Keelan Smith, who volunteered for multiple years before becoming an official and integral part of our team. We have also contracted small crews and asked for volunteers for brief help during pruning, suckering, and harvest. Otherwise, every single aspect of this project is crafted by the two of us.
Back to Our Roots in the Colorado Culinary Scene
The start of 2019 began with an email from Leigh Sullivan, founder of the Colorado FIVE, letting us know that we had been selected as a duo to represent the beverage portion of the 2019 Colorado FIVE team. FIVE is a concept that sprung from a deep admiration for the city of Denver and its ever-evolving and ever-expanding culinary tradition. On behalf of each deserving Colorado honoree, FIVE hopes to assert Colorado’s rightful place in the national culinary spotlight.
In 2020, we were selected again as alumni members of the Colorado FIVE team. The honor is incredible, but the timing has been challenging due to the current pandemic. We are hoping to resume our roles within the next few months with this year’s talented Colorado FIVE team, shown in the photo above. We are so missing the dinners and pairings we get to share with you.
A graduate of Florida Southern College, Jayme Henderson is co-founder, farmer, and winemaker for the winery, The Storm Cellar, based in Hotchkiss. Before she and her husband, Steve Steese, moved from Denver to Colorado’s Western Slope two years ago, she worked for fifteen years in the Denver restaurant scene, from event planner and manager to sommelier and mixologist. She is the sole creator of the acclaimed blog, holly & flora, which won Saveur magazine’s readers’ choice award for “Best Drinks Blog” in 2016. Jayme is also a freelance recipe developer, writer, and photographer, contributing pieces for many publications, including Grand Junction’s Spoke+Blossom magazine and the cooking website, The Kitchn, where she has written nearly 100 articles on wine, cocktails, and gardening. Before taking the plunge into farm life, Jayme studied and interned in wineries, within Oregon, California, and Spain, and on organic farms, most notably at Findhorn in Forres, Scotland.
Prior to 2017, Steve had been in the hospitality industry all of his adult life. During his seven-year tenure at Shanahan’s Steakhouse, he transformed its wine list into one of the most respected in Denver, winning the “Best Of” Award of Excellence from Wine Spectator every year that he was involved within the program. He was selected two years in a row as one of fifteen international “Sommelier Stars” to host the Sonoma County Wine Weekend, and he has traveled, interned, and studied in many of the great wine regions of the world. Steve has lived a life based around the pursuit of sensory experience, extensively exploring the visual arts, music, dance, cooking, and gardening. His degrees from the University of Georgia in both sculpture and ceramics led to a teaching position in Tuscany, which was the birthplace of his love for wine and fine cuisine, and the lifestyle that he experienced there still resonates through him today.
Wine is greater than the sum of its parts, and so is our community. We’d love to hear from you! Please reach out via the contact form below, and we will get back to you as soon as the vineyard allows.