If Not Peaches, Pairs: Barrel into Spring in Palisade

In Palisade, Colorado’s premier fruit and wine country in the Grand Valley out west, high season is harvest season. The buzz begins in late June, starting with sweet cherries, followed by sour cherries in late July. Apricots are up next, and finally Palisade’s famous tree-ripened peaches appear on the scene in early August. Plums and pluots join in, then the pears in early august.  Grapes are the grand finale, with their mid-September harvest.

The fruit growers and wine makers don’t plan on celebrating the late summer bounty alone.  Each year, two major festivals draw big crowds: the Peach Festival falls around the third week of August, and the Colorado Mountain Winefest marks the beginning of grape season in September. Good food, wine and live music are free-flowing, but they are better in the shade, since August temperatures in Palisade hover in the nineties.

Barrel tasting at Plum Creek Winery

A Barrel Tasting and Food Pairing Event

In May, Palisade plays on the more subdued thrills of spring.  Ski season traffic has come to a halt, easing the trans-Rockies drive from Denver.  Tee-shirt and sandal weather has finally arrived; that is, if you’re willing to expose untanned skin and carry a sweater for the cool Grand Valley wind.  Fruit trees take turns blossoming in their fleeting displays of white and pastel.  Best of all for wine lovers: it’s time to open the barrels and have a taste of the past years’ labors.

A wine sample from the barrel will be a little younger, a little fruitier, and a little less mature than the final bottled product. An air of behind-the-scenes exclusivity reigns in a craft winemaking atmosphere like that surrounding the cluster of wineries in Palisade that host the “Barrel into Spring” barrel tasting event. The top wineries give tastings of limited releases that may never reach commercial distribution.  They’ll open up barrels of new experiments and pet projects. Competition runs deep as to whose pairing of wine and gourmet-prepared foods will stimulate the sensibilities of a cult audience that knows its viticulture.

Passports and Pairings

Steel barrels at Two Rivers Winery

In April-May 2012, the Grand Valley Winery Association will hold its ninth annual “Barrel into Spring” event.  Every spring, visitors can choose one of two weekends to make their way along a circuit of the eight wineries in the Association. Each winery will stamp the visitors’ “passport” and pour samples of wine into their official “Barrel into Spring” memento wineglass.

An essential stamp for the passport is Two Rivers winery. Here, the tasting room and barrel room are set inside a beautiful stone chateau.  Last year, they laid out an impressive spread of wine and cuisine.  Brittany Crowell, events coordinator at Two Rivers, shared some thoughts. “If I were to give one pairing suggestion, it would be to match the weight of the food you’re serving to the weight of the wine.”

Two Rivers provides visitors with print-outs of the food recipes they sample.  Crowell noted especially positive feedback on the Merlot with the Bolognese meatballs. “The Merlot makes a great table wine and works especially well with red sauce. We were trying to create the feel of a coursed Italian meal in small bites, and that combination was the exclamation point.” The Chardonnay with the goat cheese and pesto crostini was also popular.  “The Chardonnay works so well with the goat cheese because of its natural acidity. The acidity slices through the fattiness of the cheese, working like a windshield wiper on your palate and clearing it so you can pick up on other flavors.”

Chocolate and cherry wine pairing at Carlson Vineyard

Theresa High, a peach grower in Palisade, cultivates the grapes that Two Rivers uses to make Colterris, a Cabernet Savingnon that gets hailed as a darling of Colorado wines. Theresa’s favorite food pairings with her vineyard’s signature Colterris wine are red meats; namely filet mignon, lamb, or duck. “Because this wine is deep with cabernet fruit flavors and sensations of mint and cocoa, it really has a broad range for food pairings.” When pairing, Theresa looks for balance. “The idea is to balance the sugar and acid in the wine with the sugar and acid levels in the sauces.”

Follow Two Rivers with a stop at Carlson Vineyards.  The winery’s tasting room is a country house.  In the backyard, Italian caterers grill lamb sirloin to complement their Shiraz. Back inside the house awaits the perfect way to end a day of fine food and wine – a sip of cherry wine from a fondue chocolate-rimmed glass.

Night Out in Palisade: A Pair of Places

Palisade is making a place for itself on the destination map of Colorado.  Each summer, the secret spreads a little farther about its wine, fruit, bike routes, events, and fun.  Even with all the visitors, at heart, it’s still a small town that gets sleepy after dark.  But for those who catch a second wind after an afternoon of barrel tasting and maybe a nap, there are a pair of nightlife options that will not disappoint a pampered palette.

Start with dinner at the Palisade Cafe. Its eclectic menu is what happens when the fresh, local ingredients of the area meet the regional and national influences of everywhere else. The long list of options could pass itself off as the menu urban downtown eatery, but the prices are more hometown cafe. So is the schedule – doors close at 9pm, so get there before 8pm.  Chances are there will be some local talent on the one-man stage to serenade you.

Pair the restaurant with Palisade’s most famous drinking spot and you’ve got yourself a good night out. By day, you can tour the Peach Street Distillery and sample the various liquors that it produces, the most famous being its Goat Premium Vodka. Like the winemaking in Palisade, it’s an artisans’ operation. By night, craftsmen and enthusiasts who mingle at the bar or on the front porch are sipping nothing but top-shelf spirits. For the last food and drink pairing of the day, order a Bloody Mary.  A perfect pickle floats in this marvelous vodka tomato mixture.

If You Go

To register for “Barrel Into Spring”, or to find out more about the upcoming event, contact the Grand Valley Wine Association, by phone at (970) 464-5867 or (303) 399-7586 or by email at: [email protected].

You can also contact the Two Rivers Winery for information about the event. Reach them by phone at (970) 255-1471, or if you want to stop by in person, they are located at 2087 Broadway, Grand Junction, CO 81503.

The Carlson Vineyards are located at 461 35 Road, Palisade, CO 81526. Contact them by phone at  (888) 464-5554 or (970) 464-5554.

The Palisade Cafe is at 113 W. 3rd  Palisade, CO 81526. Call (970) 464-0657 for more information. www.palisadecafe.com

The Peach Street Distillery can be found at 144 Kluge Ave # 2  Palisade, CO 81526-9758. Call (970) 464-1128 email at [email protected] for more information. www.peachstreetdistillers.com

Cynthia Ord is a freelance writer based in her hometown of Denver CO, a contributing editor at The Travel Word (http://www.thetravelword.com/), and a Latin America addict.