Winemakers in the Grand Valley, just past the Utah-Colorado border, are more than just ready to have you taste their wines; they’ll also teach you about their vineyards and let you get your I Love Lucy on by stomping grapes at the 21st-annual Colorado Mountain Winefest in Palisade. Events run Sept. 13 to 16, with the main focus being on Saturday, Sept. 15, where buying a ticket ($43) gets you a glass, wine tote, free classes and demonstrations and unlimited wine samples. You read that right: unlimited.
Whether it’s Winefest weekend or not, the Grand Junction/Palisade area is an easy escape to the Colorado wine country, since it’s less than a five-hour drive from Salt Lake City. Or you can hop on Amtrak in Salt Lake City, catch some Zs and wake up to find yourself surrounded by vineyards. The Winefest will feature 50 Colorado wineries—more than 20 of them from the Grand Valley—with many of those being family-operated ventures. Jacob Harkins of C.A.V.E. (Colorado Association for Viticulture & Enology), which puts on Winefest, says, “What makes the Colorado wine scene unique is that you can walk into a winery to do a tasting and, 9 times out of 10, you’re talking to the winemaker themselves. They all have unique stories to tell.”
We visited Whitewater Hill Vineyards (220 32 Road, Grand Junction, 970-434-6868, WhitewaterHill.com) right after Nancy Janes—who goes by the title “owner/winemaker”—had just snipped some wine grapes to be tested and had us try some. As we tasted the petite grapes’ sweet and robust flavor, we were interested to learn about how she and her husband left behind jobs as computer programmers 15 years ago to try growing grapes on Colorado’s Front Range, which is about the time many other vintners were coming to the area.
“We’re involved in every aspect of the process of winemaking,” Janes explains. “When we’re done, we love to see our grapes find a good home.” She says that while the Grand Valley altitude means “it’s hard getting the grapes through the winter,” the air up there also contributes to the “aromatic flavors of our grapes.”
Besides the flavors associated with grapes, many of the Palisade winemakers are experts at fruit wines, owing to the town’s history of being a top producer of peaches and other stone fruits. (Visit the Travel Tramps blog for more information.)
Palisade is also home to Meadery of the Rockies (3701 G Road, 877-858-6330, MeaderyOfTheRockies.com), producing tasty honey-based wines; Peach Street Distillers (144 S. Kluge Ave., 970-464-1128, PeachStreetDistillers.com), putting out vodka, gin, bourbon and brandy sweetened with local fruits; and Palisade Brewing Company (200 Peach Ave., 970-464-1462, PalisadeBrewingCompany.com), providing several different beers.
The Winefest will feature the Tour de Vineyards, a 25-mile bike trek taking riders by many of the area’s wineries, and a Sommelier Shootout, where winemakers, experts and even audience participants will go head to head in blind tastings. There will also be an “aroma wheel” on hand filled with various products that can commonly show up in the aromas of wines. “Most people aren’t wine experts,” Harkins says. “When you tell them there is an aroma in a wine, they’ll say, ‘I don’t smell that.’ But if they can go sniff that aroma first, they can then find it in the wine.”
For those who visit on one of the 51 weekends other than Winefest, it’s easy to tour the wineries one by one since they are close together in the same valley. Popular ways to get around include by bike, taking a horse-drawn carriage with Absolute Prestige Limousine (970-858-8500, APLimo.com), or car service and a guided tour with A Touch With Class Limousine (970-245-5466, Colorado-Limo.com).
Enjoying a wine weekend is made even better by having local food to pair the wines with and a good place to stay. For hotels, Colorado Wine Country Inn (888-855-8330, ColoradoWineCountryInn.com) has vineyards on the property and even produces its own wine. A DiVine Thyme B&B (404 W. First St., 970-464-9144, ADiVineThymeBandB.com) is set in a traditional Victorian house located near the Palisade town center.
You can find fresh, local flavors at Inari’s Bistro (336 Main, 970-464-4911, InarisBistro.com) in the heart of Palisade. Le Rouge French Restaurant & Piano Bar (317 Main, 970-257-1777, LeRougeRestaurant.com) in downtown Grand Junction serves traditional French entrees along with wines from Frenchman John Barbier’s Maison la Belle Vie vineyards (3575 G Road, 970-464-4959, MaisonLaBelleVie.com).
Before there were wineries in Grand Valley, the place was known for its outdoor offerings, with the local joke being that you can do just about anything ending in “-ing” in a place surrounded by the Colorado National Monument, the Book Cliffs mountains and Grand Mesa, a 500-square-mile area that sits at 11,000 feet overlooking the valley.
Whether your tasting, learning, talking, biking, hiking or stomping, Harkins says, “Wine is a great excuse to come visit the Grand Valley.”
COLORADO MOUNTAIN WINEFEST