There's seriously good wine among Colorado's red rocks: 9 best wineries you've never heard of
By Eugenia Bone
I didn’t even know wine existed in Colorado in 1998, when I moved from New York City to a run-down ranch near Grand Junction. But it took all of about one week to discover that I had relocated to the fringes of an extraordinary wine scene.
I quickly became hooked on the adventure of following funky little signs down dusty roads and finding gems, the realms of winemakers who had a dream to plant green vineyards among the red rocks.
Try one or all of our Colorado wine tours, and you’ll be hooked too.
TRIP 1: THE GRAND VALLEY
For power tasters and spirit seekers
I was standing in the cup of a cliff formation at Colorado National Monument, looking out over the Grand Valley, when I heard, suddenly and dramatically, the sound of a huge bird ― eagle? pterodactyl? ― swooping over my head. I ducked and looked over the cliff edge to see where the bird had gone. There was no bird, but below me was a verdant vineyard, green and rich with vines.
Later that day, as I sipped a muscular Cabernet Sauvignon at Two Rivers Winery (one of 21 wineries in this most established of Colorado’s appellations), I resisted telling the kind pourer that a winged spirit led me there. You just never know how that kind of story is going to come off. But I do feel there is a holy connection between the high drama of the Grand Valley’s scenery and the region’s many fine wines. Goût du terroir, indeed.
Carlson is an irreverent outfit, as evidenced by the kooky names of its wines (Prairie Dog Blush?). But that doesn’t mean winemaking isn’t taken seriously. Carlson regularly wins competitions ― the Riesling category in particular. INFO: Free tastings; 461 35 Rd., Palisade; 970/464-5554.
Backed up against the stunning Bookcliffs, Grande River, which has been making wine in this valley for 20 years, really shines with its Viognier. Persnickety and prone to disease, the grape thrives in the Grand Valley. INFO: Three free tastings, $3.50 total for more; 787 N. Elberta Ave., Palisade; 800/264-7696.
The vineyard and tasting room are beautifully located at the base of Colorado National Monument. The Cab is the real winner. INFO: Free tastings; 2087 Broadway, Grand Junction; 970/255-1471.
Next: Trip 2
TRIP 2: THE NORTH FORK VALLEY/WEST ELKS
For foodies and foragers
Part of what keeps me coming back to the North Fork Valley, about 70 miles southeast of the Grand Valley, is the food. I love the produce and meat from small family farms. And the Cherry Days Celebration (Jul 3–5 in Paonia) is reason enough to visit. Most of all, I love the wild-crafted edibles ― especially the mycological kind.
Which is why I find myself begging Yvon Gros, who owns the Leroux Creek Inn & Vineyards with his wife, Joanna Gilbert, to divulge his favorite foraging spots. Walk into the inn during the last weeks of August, and you’ll encounter a King Solomon’s mine of golden chanterelles piled high on the counters, Gros busily processing them for future use.
Even after I tried to loosen his tongue one night by plying him with wine, the secret of the mushrooms remains elusive to me because Gros can hold his tongue and his liquor. Luckily, though, he’ll gladly tell visitors about the local wineries.
Alfred Eames is the North Fork Valley’s mix master, blending exuberant cuvées that are popular with locals. INFO: Free tastings by appointment; 11931 4050 Rd., Paonia; or 970/527-3269.
Lance and Anna Hanson produce spirits from the valley’s abundant tree-ripened, organic fruits. Try the Peak Pear Aperitif. INFO: Free tastings by appointment; 26567 North Rd., Hotchkiss; 970/835-4916.
Brent and Karen Helleckson produce an excellent sweet wine, Alpine Dessert. INFO: Through Oct 31; free tastings; 41716 Reds Rd., Paonia; 970/527-3444.
Terror Creek Winery
On a mesa overlooking the valley is the nation’s highest-altitude winery, where Joan Mathewson produces wines of finesse. INFO: Through Sep 30; free tastings; 17445 Garvin Mesa Rd., Paonia; 970/527-3484.
TRIP 3: FOUR CORNERS
For true explorers
My obsession with the Four Corners area’s tiny but burgeoning wine industry started last spring at a fancy French restaurant in Telluride, where the waitress talked my table into ordering a bottle of Pinot Gris from Sutcliffe Vineyards.
And ― a bonus ― the winery’s owner, an Englishman named John Sutcliffe, happened to be there. He walked over and regaled us with tales of his odd new venture, a small vineyard that was producing world-class wines. I started out a skeptic, but the proof was in our empty bottle.
After a little research, I discovered that McElmo, a 21-mile canyon southwest of Telluride, was such a grape-growing zone that it now supported two wineries. Never one to shy away from wine and a good road trip, I lit out, finding a valley filled with a new generation of frontier people ― transplanted chefs, winemakers, innkeepers, and artists, all lured to southern Colorado by its open spaces, Ansel Adams moonrises, and, now, sublime wine. –Stephanie Pearson
Guy and Ruth Drew are always open to visitors and will set you up in their straw-bale kitchen with ample tasting options, from a Riesling to a Chardonnay to an off-dry Gewürztraminer. But save room for their signature 2004 Metate, a blend of Cab, Cab Franc, Syrah, and Petit Verdot. INFO: Free tastings; 20057 Rd. G, Cortez; 970/565-4958.
John Sutcliffe’s magical ranch with a hay farm and 12-acre vineyard is buried deep in McElmo Canyon. INFO: Free tastings Fri–Sun; 12202 Rd. G, 15 miles west of Cortez; 970/565-0825.
Next: What to take home, where to eat and stay
Many of these bottles are available only in Colorado ― all the more reason to visit
WHAT TO TAKE HOME
- Alfred Eames at Puesta Del Sol
Ménage red blend: full bodied and a little brambly, with jammy berry flavors. $16.
Laughing Cat Riesling: off-dry but balanced with refreshing acidity. Pleasant floral aromas and fresh fruit flavors. $12.
- Grande River
Viognier: juicy peach flavors and sweet-seeming floral aromas. Intense but delicate. $17.
- Guy Drew
Syrah: a rustic wine, full of dark plums and briary blackberries, edged with sweet pipe tobacco smoke. $18.
- Peak Spirits
Peak Pear Aperitif: a fresh-tasting, honeyed blend of the distillery’s own organic pear eau-de-vie and local organic pear juice. $20.
- Stone Cottage
- Alpine Dessert: rich mouth-feel, spicy with good acidity. Drink it with carrot cake and weep. $18.
Sauvignon Blanc/Semillon: bright Meyer lemon, softer pear, and intriguing tropical notes, with earthier herbal underpinnings. $20.
- Terror Creek
Pinot Noir: medium-bodied, with a raspberry nose, gravelly mineral flavors, and a long finish. $29.
- Two Rivers
Cabernet Sauvignon: a well-structured wine with cherry character and hints of cedar. $15. –E.B.
WHERE TO EAT AND STAY IN COLORADO WINE COUNTRY
To get to the Grand Valley and West Elks AVAs, you can fly into Grand Junction, then drive 40 miles southeast to Delta; or fly into Montrose and drive 21 miles north to Delta. To get to the Four Corners area, depending on where you’re coming from, it’s generally easiest to fly into Durango (from there, drive 46 miles west on U.S. 160). It takes a little more than an hour to drive from the Grand Valley to the North Fork Valley, and another four hours to get to Cortez.
The Grand Valley:
Il Bistro Italiano
Chef-owner Brunella Gualerzi hails from Emilia Romagna and serves many classics from that region. The wine list features Grand Valley wines. INFO: $$; closed Sun–Mon; 400 Main St., Grand Junction; 970/243-8622.
It’s all about the view. Seven rooms in a contemporary Victorian, and breakfasts with home-baked goodies. INFO: From $119, including breakfast; in Grand Junction; 888/774-0982.
The North Fork Valley/West Elks:
The inn is set in the vineyards, with views facing the Black Canyon of the Gunnison. Dine on classic French cuisine made with local ingredients. INFO: From $165, including breakfast; in Hotchkiss; 970/872-4746.
The area’s most elegant retreat with a serious wine cellar and white-tablecloth dining. INFO: From $5,990 per week for two, including meals and activities; in Crawford, southeast of the North Fork Valley; 970/921-3454.
Three fully outfitted cabins on 60 acres surrounded by gardens. There’s a small lake nearby, and views to the La Plata Mountains. INFO: From $229, including breakfast; near Mancos; 800/698-0603.
A hot spot for locals and travelers alike, with a wide-ranging menu. $$$; closed Mon; 4 County Rd. 124, Hesperus; 970/247-5674.