During Prohibition, the wine industry pretty much died in Colorado. In 1978, Colorado Mountain Vineyards (now Colorado Cellars) opened for business. Others followed, but slowly. By 1990, Colorado had nine wineries and by 2000 there were about 30. Then came the explosion.
“In the past five or six years, that figure has doubled,” says Doug Caskey, executive director of the Colorado Wine Industry Development Board. Now there are more than 60, mostly family owned, each producing a handful of decent vintages. In the past decade, Colorado wines “have hit a new level of maturity,” he adds. “And I think we’re on the verge of hitting yet a higher level.”
All this is evident in the numbers and status of the wine awards being won by Colorado vintners. Wine is now, more than ever, cause for celebration.
And the celebrations abound. Festivals featuring Colorado wines began in early June in Manitou Springs, then moved to Lafayette later that month. In July, there’s one in Castle Rock, followed by Cortez in August.
The granddaddy of Colorado wine fests happens in September.
Western oenophiles mark their calendars for Sept. 13-16, when the Colorado Mountain Winefest fills Riverbend Park in Palisade, just east of Grand Junction. Last year, nearly 6,000 people attended the annual celebration, where more than 40 Colorado wineries poured their best vintages for tasting and purchase.
There’s a grape-stomping contest, dueling chefs, gourmet foods, artisan booths, winemaker dinners and a bicycletour of wineries.
Or, if you’re feeling lazy, or don’t want to drink and drive, consider a limousine tour of the vineyards.
There are wineries and vineyards all over the state, from the Four Corners to the Front Range. But the largest enclave of vineyards and wineries is in the Grand Junction area on Colorado’s Western Slope.
Like Napa Valley, the Grand Valley has developed dining, lodging and attractions to complement the wine theme, as well as offering its own natural Colorado twist on things.
You can take a self-guided wine tour any time, stopping at local wineries’ tasting rooms to sample their wares. Some offer visitors tours of the wine-making operation. Some have food or gift shops on site. You can find out all the details online at www.coloradowinetrails.com.
If you really want to immerse yourself in the wine-country experience, consider spending a night at Two Rivers Winery, near Grand Junction. It is in a lovely spot with great views of both the Bookcliff Mountains and the Colorado National Monument. The winery is secluded and quiet, with two tasting rooms and a conference center for events.
Upstairs, in the Wine Country Inn, there are a handful of charming guest rooms that make you feel pampered the moment you walk in the door. Each has access to a rooftop terrace, where guests can eat a gourmet breakfast while overlooking the vineyard.
“We opened in 1999 and we’ve done pretty well in just a few years,” says Bob Witham, who owns the winery with wife Billie. “Our first year, we produced 1,200 cases of wine. This past year, we produced 14,000.”
Two Rivers also hosts events — including 60 weddings last year — complete with catering, and many locals enjoy its Wine Club, through which they receive two bottles of wine each season, delivered to their home or office.
Two Rivers wines won 26 medals in 2006 competitions, including five golds for its cabernet sauvignon, chardonnay and riesling.
On the other side of Grand Junction, near the town of Palisade (also famous for its plump, perfect peaches), be sure to stop at such accessible wineries as Canyon Wind, Plum Creek, Colorado Cellars and Garfield Estates. All have tasting rooms and have won awards.
Established in 1978, Colorado Cellars is one of the state’s oldest and largest wineries and features a gazebo and picnic area in its outdoor venue for events. It produces everything from fruit wines (plum, peach, cherry) and port to riesling, gewurztraminer and merlots. On the side, it also produces grapeseed oil, salad dressings and some killer fudge.
Carlson Vineyards prides itself on using all Colorado-grown grapes and fruits in its wines. Try its award-winning Prairie Dog blush or sample the hot peach wine (they call it “cobbler in a cup”), or go with the Cougar Run shiraz or chardonnay or Fat Cat muscat for a treat.
Plum Creek Cellars also prides itself on using all Colorado-grown grapes. One of the state pioneers in the wine business, Plum Creek began by making 400 cases of wine a year; now it makes 13,000. Its cabernets and rieslings are double-gold award winners and its sauvignon blanc won an international gold medal last year.
Canyon Wind Cellars credits the area’s loose, cobbly soil, sunny days, cool nights and, yes, the wind that comes down the canyon for its superb vintages. The award-winning cabernet sauvignon and merlot are aged in Colorado’s only underground barrel cellar. You’ll also find some unusual wines here — a dark, rich petite verdot and a spicy-fruity cabernet franc.
Garfield Estates Winery, established in 2000 and a relative newcomer, already has become a premier producer of wines, using only Colorado grapes to produce its syrahs and fumé blancs. Sample its delicate S2 (a blend of semillon and viognier). Also check out its unusual vin de glace, or ice wine.
Whatever you do, be sure to pick up a couple of bottles of your favorite wine while you’re in the area. Every time you open a bottle, it will take you back to one of the most interesting, relaxing long weekends you’ve ever spent.
Who needs Napa Valley?
If You Go
For information on Colorado wineries, contact the Colorado Wine Industry Development Board, (720) 304-3406 or log on to www.coloradowine.com.
For information on visiting the Grand Junction area, contact the Grand Junction Visitor & Convention Bureau at (800) 962-2547 or log on to www.visitgrandjunction.com.
To reach specific wineries mentioned here:
Canyon Wind Cellars, Palisade, (970) 464-0888 or www.canyonwindcellars.com
Carlson Vineyards, Palisade, (970) 464-5554, 888-464-5554 or www.carlsonvineyards.com
Colorado Cellars, Palisade, (970) 464-7921 or www.coloradocellars.com
Garfield Estates, Palisade, (970) 464-0941 or www.garfieldestates.com
Plum Creek Cellars, Palisade, (970) 464-7586 or www.plumcreekwinery.com
Two Rivers Winery and Chateau, Grand Junction, (970) 255-1471 or www.tworiverswinery.com
For a complete list of Colorado wineries, log on to www.Coloradowine.com.
Front Range Wineries
If you don’t want to cross the Rockies to get your fill of great Colorado wines, there are a dozen Front Range wineries offering the same tasty pleasures for day-trippers, including:
Balistreri Vineyards, Denver: Yes, there’s a vineyard in the middle of the Mile-High City. Oak-aged, all-natural wines (no sulfites) include merlot, cabernet, zinfandel, syrah, muscat, semillon, chardonnay, sangiovese, petite sirah and port. Also check out its wine gift baskets. (303) 287-5156 or www.balistreriwine.com
Boulder Creek Winery, Boulder: Take a self-guided tour of the winery and taste from barrels and tanks of hand-crafted merlots, cabernet sauvignons or syrahs — and especially the award-winning chardonnays and white merlots. (303) 516-9031 or www.bouldercreekwine.com
Creekside Cellars, Evergreen: Plan to hit this winery at lunch-time and sample the antipasto platter at the Italian cafe. Then taste an award-winning chardonnay, or a viognier, riesling, cabernet franc or sauvignon, merlot or syrah. Also check out the vintage port and the black muscat port. (303) 674-5460 or www.creeksidecellars.net
Pikes Peak Vineyards, Colorado Springs: Besides tasting some respectable chardonnays, rieslings, cabernets and merlots, you also can sample a few blends, such as Zeb’s Red. Bring your clubs and play nine holes of golf, too. (719) 576-0075 or www.coloradowine.com
Winery at Holy Cross Abbey, Canon City: These newcomers to Colorado’s wine scene have already shown they can compete with the best — witness the many awards for its chardonnays, merlots and rieslings. Call ahead for a guided tour and visit the gift shop for European crystal and crafts. (719)-276-5191 or www.abbeywinery.com
In lieu of a winery visit, next time you drive past the entrance to the Pikes Peak Highway, stop at Wines of Colorado in Cascade. Dine by the creek or just belly up to the wine bar to taste some of the state’s best beverages. (719) 684-0900 or www.winesofcolorado.com
For a complete list of Colorado wineries, log on to www.coloradowine.com.
Linda DuVal is a freelance writer in Colorado Springs.
From the Editors: We spent a heap of time making sure this story was accurate when it was published, but of course, things can change. Please confirm the details before setting out in our great Centennial State