Colorado is synonymous with mountains. So much so that the mountains are the economic driver in the state. People come year round to see, walk, ride, run and just be in them and communities survive or thrive based on them. In addition to the biking trails, the ski runs, the scenic byways and the numerous beautiful towns nestled among their peaks, the mountains give Colorado something else - #wine. And not just any wine, but good wine, award winning even.
Colorado’s vineyards range in elevation from 4,000 to 7,000 feet making them some of the highest in the world. In conjunction with around 300 days of sunshine every year, Colorado has ideal growing conditions for many grape varieties. Then there is the soil. It is generally more alkaline which makes it more similar to Europe than the more acidic soils of California. This means that Colorado merlot tastes more like it does in Bordeaux than in California.
Similarly, syrahs are more like Rhone Valley reds than Australian shiraz. The relative lack of humidity is another factor as the dry climate keeps problems like pests and diseases to a minimum which in turn means pesticides and other chemicals are used much less frequently.
That isn’t to say that wine grapes can be grown everywhere, far from it. In fact, the perfect storm of conditions come together in two main areas, both of which have been designated American Viticulture Areas (AVAs) by the US government - The Grand Valley and the West Elks. Together, these two AVAs produce upwards of 90 percent of the wine grapes grown in Colorado. The rest are grown in several pockets that have their own unique climates and conditions.
Designated an AVA in 1991, Grand Valley is where the Colorado wine industry
can trace its origins - all the way back to the 1880s. With weather similar to Napa Valley, Tuscany and Bordeaux, it is no surprise that this area produces some great wines.
Home to almost two dozen wineries, the eastern point of the AVA begins where the Colorado River flows out of DeBeque Canyon and into the lush valley floor at Palisade. The river flows west in the formidable shadow of Grand Mesa, the largest flattop mountain
in the world, and the AVA follows, up onto East Orchard Mesa and Orchard Mesa, along the south bank of the river, and right to the foot of Colorado National Monument west of Grand Junction.
The elevation varies between 4,000 and 4,500 feet. Breezes from the canyon and the river cool the valley in summer and warm it in winter, while the beautiful south-facing Bookcliff Mountains radiate heat to the valley floor, culminating in ideal growing conditions, particularly for syrah, viognier and other Rhone varietals. Cabernet franc and others do well on the slightly higher and cooler Orchard Mesa. Due to the similarity of climate with the foothills of the Pyrenees Mountains in Spain, tempranillo also is proving to be well suited to this region.
The annual Colorado Mountain Winefest is held every September and is one of the best wine events in the state, and, according to some, the nation. Tickets are sold out for this year’s event, but keep your eyes peeled for the 2019 celebration when tickets go on sale in November. coloradowinefest.com
WHERE TO GO
MESA PARK VINEYARDS
Mesa Park sits on just 10 acres with a 7.5 acre #vineyard which was planted in 1995. Varietals on offer include cabernet sauvignon, cabernet franc, merlot, riesling, sauvignon blanc, viognier and a merlot rosè. Mesa Park’s best seller is their Barn Owl Red, a blend of petit verdot, merlot and cabernet sauvignon. The cabernet sauvignon, cabernet franc and merlot have won numerous awards including the Best of Wine Fest and awards at the Mesa County Fair. The tasting room, located in the big red barn onsite, is definitely worth a visit. Bringing your own picnic is encouraged and well-behaved pets on leashes are also invited to enjoy the outdoor patio.
WHITEWATER HILL VINEYARDS
Whitewater Hill Vineyards produces 11 different grape varieties on 23 acres, grown both for other wineries and for their own small lot production. They produce 19 different wines ranging from full-bodied and elegant dry wines to fun and fruity semi-sweet and dessert wines including riesling, chardonnay, viognier, merlot, cabernet sauvignon, cabernet franc, gewurztraminer, moscato, and a riesling icewine. Whitewater Hill has also won a lot of awards including several at the Governor’s Cup.
TWO RIVERS WINERY AND CHATEAU
Established in 1999, the family-owned and -operated #winery is on 15 acres of land five miles from the magnificent Colorado National Monument. Producing up to 14,000 cases per year of chardonnay, merlot, syrah, cabernet sauvignon, riesling as well as a vintner’s blend, a rosé, and a ruby-style port, Two Rivers has won over 60 international awards from East and West Coast competitions, and the Colorado Governor’s Cup.
MEADERY OF THE ROCKIES
Colorado is also home to several meaderies that take advantage of the natural splendour of the region to produce fantastic meads. Meadery of the Rockies was established in 1995 and currently produces a range of traditional honey wines and melomels (a wine made with honey and fruit) made with apricot, blackberry, cherry, peach, raspberry and strawberry. They also produce a range of dessert wines made with chocolate. The wines have won numerous awards and for the last two years the strawberry honey wine has been included in the Governor’s Case - a selection of 12 wines that represent the Colorado wine industry throughout the world. Meadery of the Rockies is part of a three winery group that includes Talon Winery and St. Kathryn Cellars, owned by Talon Wine Brands.