Holy Cross Abbey: Old Habits, New Wines

Alcohol and churches may not seem the most natural pair, but the Winery at Holy Cross Abbey in Cañon City continues the tradition of the Catholic Church’s long history with grape-growing and wine production.

The drive from Denver isn’t exactly a short one, but the two hours my wife, Becca, and I spent in the car were well worth it. The Winery at Holy Cross Abbey is one of the most unusual wineries in Colorado, and is rightfully proud of its monastic heritage.

The Benedictine Chronicles, February, 1924, discusses “Father Justin, Father Coleman, and Father Francis bottle wine made last fall.” The Benedictine monks at Holy Cross Abbey returned to their heritage when they planted a vineyard on the abbey grounds in 2000, just off U.S. 50. Winemaker and viticulturist Matt Cookson has been making the wine since 2001.

Holy Cross Abbey, founded by Benedictine monks,rises above one of the winery’s vineyards.

The winery offers an intimate setting for tasting, with views of the vineyards, the abbey and the nearby Rocky Mountains. The winery itself is east of the abbey and has the look of a French cottage, with timber-framed walls and an arched roof covering the front entrance where ivy crawls up the columns.

The tasting counter occupies one corner of the single, large interior room, which is mostly filled with shelves holding bottles of wine and plenty of wine-related goods. The employees are friendly, helpful and knowledgeable about nearly every aspect of the winery and the abbey.

Though we’ve both served (and drunk) fine wines for several years, neither Becca nor I had ever been to a tasting and were a bit nervous about all the sniffing and swirling — is my palate refined enough? — but my fears proved unfounded as the employees made us comfortable with the process.

We started with the Artist’s Series Sauvignon Blanc (my favorite of the whites), which sells for $16 a bottle. The artwork on the label is by artist Edward J. Adamic, who painted a series called “Seasons of the Abbey” specifically for the winery. My favorite reds were the Merlot Reserve (I bought a bottle for $26) and the Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve. Becca, who likes lighter, fruitier wines, especially liked the blush, Vineyard Sunset, and the Riesling.

The Winery at Holy Cross Abbey, which has won a number of regional and international awards, also offers Apple Blossom, a wine made from apples, and Wild Cañon Harvest, a red wine made exclusively from grapes grown by more than 100 local growers and the Colorado viniculture community. Most of the grapes used in other wines are grown in the Grand Junction and Palisade area of Colorado’s Western Slope, though some grapes, particularly the Chardonnay, are from out of state.

The tasting of most wines is complimentary, although the reserves cost $1 for a two-ounce pour, so bring a couple bucks — you won’t want to miss these wines.

Bottles of Sauvignon Blanc, Vineyard Sunset and Merlot line the winery walls.

After the tasting, Becca and I strolled through the vineyards and walked around the beautiful grounds of the neighboring abbey. The monks have been gone for about a year now (they’ve moved on to other abbeys), but the building and the lawns still retain some of the peace and serenity usually associated with life in a monastery. The abbey also offers tours and a gift shop.

If You Go

The Winery at Holy Cross Abbey, 3011 E. Highway 50, Cañon City, Colo. 81212; (719) 276-5191, toll free 877-422-9463; www.abbeywinery.com.

Getting there: From Denver, take Interstate 25 south to Colorado Springs, then Colorado 115 southwest to Penrose and U.S. 50 west to Cañon City . The winery is 12 miles east of the Royal Gorge.

Josh Bishop is a graduate from Metropolitan State College of Denver’s journalism program. He is a native of Michigan.

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.