Following the North Fork of the Gunnison River from the old mining town of Bowie, the West Elks AVA continues on through #Paonia and #Hotchkiss until it reaches the Abode Badlands Wilderness Study Area, an otherworldly place of sloping hills dissected by rugged, serpentine canyons as well as small isolated mesas surrounded by a maze of deeply-carved canyons, washes, and ravines, just outside of #Delta. As the elevation here ranges from about 5400 up to 7000 feet above sea level, the growing season starts about two weeks later and has 30 percent fewer days between the last spring frost and the first fall frost than the Grand Valley. As a result, riesling, pinot gris and pinot noir grow quite well here.
With some of the highest #vineyards in North America, the area is considered to be a somewhat unusual place to grow wine grapes, however, the payoff is fantastic wine that is roundly considered to be some of the best in the state. The high elevation and low humidity works in conjunction with cool nights to retain a high degree of acidity as the grapes ripen which is particularly good for riesling and gewurztraminer. Pinot gris and chardonnay also grow well here. As for red #wines, pinot noir has turned out to be quite at home in the West Elks.
WHERE TO GO
A boutique winery, Azura was established in 2007 by artists Ty and Helen Gillespie, so it should come as no surprise that the tasting room doubles as their gallery. With fantastic views overlooking the North Fork Valley, Azura also boasts 2016’s Colorado Winemaker of the year, Brett Neal, as their winemaker. As a boutique winery, Azura only sells from their tasting room where tastings are complimentary.
Offerings change every year, and this year they have a pinot gris and a riesling as well as their Yacht Club Red (the 2016 vintage is a blend of Grand Valley merlot and is so named to celebrate their love of sailing) as well as pinot noir, malbec, merlot and a sweet wine appropriately named "Sweetie Pie."
Open from every day from May 1st through the first week in November
A small winery run by Frenchman Yvon Gros and his wife Joanna, LeRoux Creek produces two grape varieties - a French hybrid red chambourcin and American cayuga across four acres of their 54 acre farm. Originally from the French Alps and NYC respectively, the pair have been in Colorado for 30 years where they love to share this passion and love for wine and winemaking with their guests.
LeRoux Creek has won many accolades in Colorado but they have also received recognition from competitions in Sonoma and in the Finger Lakes.
Open daily from May and August and weekends in September and October
BLACK BRIDGE WINERY
Taking its name from the century-old bridge that spans the North Fork of the Gunnison River that borders the farm, when Lee and Kathy Bradley first planted their wine grapes in 1997 at this Paonia winery, they thrived and the Bradleys were hooked.
Situated at 5,800 feet, with 13 inches of precipitation annually, 150 frost-free days, a three percent slope and Agua Fria stony loam, Black Bridge is ideally located to grow several of the classic varieties including chardonnay, riesling, merlot, and they also grow the notoriously fickle pinot noir which they have won awards for in the past. The pinot along with chardonnay and riesling have also received awards at the Colorado Governor’s Cup Awards.
Producing a limited quantity of classic reds and whites as well as blends and a pinot noir rosé, they sell out quickly and according to the winery are difficult to find elsewhere. They also have fruit wines made from fruit grown on their own orchards, Orchard Valley Farms.
Open from Memorial Day weekend to Halloween
MESA WINDS FARM & WINERY
Mesa Winds is another small #winery in the West Elks with just six acres of certified organic vines (as well as 14 acres of peaches and apples) all of which are monitored and kept trimmed by a flock of Babydoll Southdown sheep. The estate’s first vintage was back in 2011 and on average they turn out around 400 cases a year of pinot gris, pinot meunier, pinot noir, rose, chambourcin, and peach wine.
Every autumn volunteers are invited to share in the “Glory Work” of picking grapes. Pickers are rewarded with dinner and #wine.
Open Memorial Day weekend through October
Want to read about Colorado's other AVA? Click here