Jonesing for an inspiring wine getaway?
I recently returned from a short trip to a wine country that has great juices, fabulous restaurants, fun places to stay, and interesting wine-centric stories. And it’s only a two-hour drive from downtown Aspen.
The heart of Colorado’s wine industry beats in the spring sunshine just west of here in the Grand Valley AVA where the Colorado River flows into the fertile orchards surrounding the town of Palisade and Grand Junction. Beneath the iconic rocky outcrop that is Garfield Mesa, lies a befitting wine destination that is reinventing itself in myriad ways, as it offers visitors the opportunity to explore not just wines, but an emerging tourism region.
The modern history of Colorado wine began in the 1970s when Gerald Ivancie, a Denver periodontal surgeon who made wines in his basement in Denver using juice from California grapes, was persuaded by a young winemaker appointed Warren Winiarski (who rose to fame in Napa with his Stag Leap’s Cellars) to plant vines in the Great Valley. Since then, the industry here has strived to make great wines and develop a unique and memorable identity.
The first generations of winegrowers in the Grande Vallée chose to plant the most popular grape varieties, including Bordeaux, Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc and Merlot, as well as white varieties such as Chardonnay and Riesling. These vitis vinifera grapes which are traditionally grown in major wine regions around the world have served Colorado well as producers like Colterris, Bookcliff Vineyards, Plum Creek and Carlson Vineyards have all created excellent wine programs around their varietal production. traditional.
But there is also a new wine scene emerging in the Grand Valley, with young producers trying their hand at making wines in new styles from non-traditional grape varieties that have been planted in the hope that they will be better. adapted to the region. Grapes like Chambourcin – a relatively new Franco-American hybrid varietal that makes delicious fruity red wines – and the northern Italian red variety Teroldego from the mountains of Trentino with cherished Austrian sommelier Grüner Veltliner are all planted.
Producers like Sauvage Spectrum, Carboy Winery and the recently opened “The Ordinary Fellow” (founded by Ben Parsons whose “Wine at the Mine” parties at previous Food & Wine Classics were legendary) are creating a new model, not just for their style of wines but for the vibrant, non-traditional tasting room vibe they bring to the region. Younger and a little more laid back, this could be the next iteration of how people come to see Colorado’s wine scene in the future.
All of these wineries, both traditional and new, are worth visiting and each offers individual and unique tasting experiences.
For traditionalists, Colterris is the most “Napa” vineyard. Owned and operated by the Scott and Theresa High family and their daughters and sons, this winery with its gleaming steel fermentation tanks, a cellar full of French oak barrels and a patio surrounded by vines, offers the most enjoyable tasting environment. “vinicole” of the state.
This fits with the Colterris philosophy of producing the finest classic varieties of wine from 100% estate grown fruit. “We’re committed to the idea that Colorado can produce world-class wines that can rival California, or Washington, or anywhere else,” Scott High says of Colterris wines. The winery also has a second tasting location on a hill overlooking the valley, aptly called “Colterris at the Overlook”, which offers stunning views of the entire region.
“On a summer Saturday, we will have over 200 people here to taste wines and have a good time,” says Kaibab Sauvage with his toothy smile of the crowds descending on the Spectrum Sauvage property to taste their wines. eclectic. Winemaker Kaibab Sauvage, who is a vineyard manager and consultant for a slew of local wineries, formed a partnership in 2019 with winemaker Patric Matysiewski who previously worked at Denver’s Infinite Monkey Therom to produce fresh, innovative wines. which are pleasant to drink.
Their sparkling wine program, under the Sparklet label, has been a resounding success and the winery was recently named by the Colorado Association for Viticulture and Enology (CAVE) as its Winery of the Year. “We’re just trying to represent Colorado wine as best we can by doing new things,” winemaker Matysiewski told the Grand Junction Sentinel of the honor. “Being recognized as the pioneer of sparkling wine in Colorado is really exciting.”
Of course, any epic wine destination must also provide comfort and sustenance for visitors if it hopes to recover them, and Palisade has a few new options for that as well.
Jeff Shook and Jody Corey, husband and wife transplanted from the hospitality industry in Steamboat Springs, discovered a diamond in the rough when Jody came to Palisade for a “girls weekend” to ride bikes in 2017. While in a past-her motel of choice, she had a wine-infused “ah-ha” moment and decided she could do something with it with a little TLC. “He had good bones, we thought with a little work we could make him great,” she said of the inspiration.
With dogs in tow, they moved to Palisade in 2018 and began renovating what is now the aptly named Spoke & Vine Motel. Retaining its funky vibe but dressed in a sleek modernist design, the clean and cozy abode for bikers and wine lovers features blond wood floors, impossibly comfy beds and a must-have patio for hanging out with a post-ride cocktail during as the food trucks pass. It has become a sort of clubhouse for visitors to the region. On my trip, every available room was taken up by another group on a girls bike trip from Aspen.
Another option for a slightly more upscale stay is the newly renovated, open country TWP Farm and Winery just down the road from Spoke & Vine. Here you will find luxury accommodation in a house inspired by the South African wine region which is a collaboration between another husband and wife team, Shari, a world renowned interior designer and Edwin raised in South Africa. Views of Mount Garfield across the pond are spectacular from the patio behind the adobe-style property. It screams romance and is a perfect stage for weddings.
And meals are not neglected. Spoke & Vine owners recently opened Fidel’s Cocina (named after their dog Fidel, naturally), a taco and tequila bar in downtown Palisade that maintains their motel’s laid-back spirit and serves Savauge Spectrum wines. Sparklet by the glass.
Also downtown, and a must-book, is the excellent farm-to-table restaurant Peche, run by CIA-trained chef and owner Mathew Chasseur and his wife Ashley Fees Chasseur, who met at mid-2000s at the famous Alinea in Chicago. The meal I had was spectacular with a perfect steak grilled on a Hibachi table, the best sourdough bread I’ve had in the past two years, and the most creative desserts in the state. Also the atmosphere and service was great in a big city. Peche alone is worth a trip to Palisade.
The meaning is that the Grande Vallée is in a positive position as an emerging wine region. It has footholds in terms of supporting wineries and businesses that may have been lacking in the past.
It’s time to plan a trip to this important and inspiring wine region.