If you’re planning a wine country trip this summer, consider Colorado’s burgeoning Grand Valley wine region. There are more than 170 boutique wineries in Colorado, but together they only produce around 200,000 cases – compared to 242 million cases of wine produced in California. It’s not easy to grow grapes in the high alpine desert, but winemakers here are experimenting with hearty hybrids along with vinifera, yielding delicious results that you won’t find in grocery stores back home.
Grand Valley’s pioneering winemakers used to rely on visitors stumbling across their tasting rooms while driving on I-70 on the way to national parks, but in the last five or six years, Palisade and Grand Junction have become wine destinations worth taking a detour for. With the number of visitors to California wine country sure to be crazy crowded this summer, a trip to Colorado wine country offers a chance to try something new. Plus, if you visit during summer, it’s the perfect time to taste legendary Palisade peaches and cherries too.
Where to Stay
Check into the newly renovated Spoke & Vine Motel in Palisade, where owners Jeff Snook and Jody Corey are just a text away if you need anything. The pet-friendly motel doesn’t have a full service restaurant, but there are several restaurants within walking distance and the motel bar has local wines and beers on tap. Rooms are clean, simple and feature art from local artists. Guests receive a simple breakfast of fruit, yogurt, granola and locally roasted coffee delivered to your door each morning. The central location means you can walk or bike into town and even bike to nearby wineries for tastings.
Where to Sip
Carboy Winery is one of the largest in Colorado, with tasting rooms in Denver, Breckenridge and Littleton, but their newest Palisade winery and tasting room is the only one that overlooks vineyards with panoramic views of Grand Mesa and the Book Cliffs. Their diverse lineup of wines ranges from Albariño and Viognier to Cabernet Franc and Teroldego, with some great sparkling wines too. They’ve even started making canned wine seltzers last year, in flavors like watermelon, lemon, peach and black cherry, for 5% ABV crushable summer sips.
Plum Creek was one of the first wineries in Colorado in 1984, and winemakers Corey Norsworthy and Joe Flynn are currently replanting many of their vineyards with hybrid grapes, which are more sustainable and reliable in harsher weather conditions. Notably their Aromella grape, descended from aromatic Muscat, makes a delightful pét–nat, and a blend of St. Vincent, Chambourcin and Villard Blanc produce a luscious, hearty rosé that is great with grilled meats. “I’m a firm believer that five to 10 years from now, you’ll go to the store and find just as many hybrids as vinifera,” Flynn says.
At BookCliff Vineyards, owners John Garlich and Ulla Merz have been growing grapes and making wine for 26 years but only opened their Palisade tasting room in 2019. They grow 14 different varietals, making textbook Bordeaux blends, along with Chardonnay, Malbec, Syrah and more. Garlich’s vineyards are located at the eastern edge of Grand Valley, at the mouth of the DeBeque Canyon, and the canyon wind tempers the extreme heat in summer and cold in winter. Plus, vineyards here tend to see fewer frosts, and do not have to rely as heavily on cold-tolerant hybrid grape varieties.
Colterris Winery is another outstanding producer of traditional, Old World wines. You can bike here from Spoke & Vine; it’s a beautiful ride with mountain views the entire way. You can even take a horseback ride through the vineyards when you arrive before touring the cellars. Colterris is the largest estate grown winery in Colorado and the second generation of Gen Z kids is heavily involved in operations. The barrel program is an integral part of their winemaking process, including just a touch of French oak on their Chardonnay to add a kiss of vanilla and rounder body without overwhelming the fruit. The Malbec is excellent, which is no surprise considering the vineyards are at a similar altitude and terroir as Mendoza. Try the Coloradeaux, a cheeky Bordeaux blend with a nice acidity structure and tannins that will age well for more than a decade.
The Storm Cellar is a little further afield in Hotchkiss, specializing in high-elevation white and rosé wines from estate-grown fruit in the smaller West Elks AVA. (Colorado only has two established wine regions, or American Viticultural Areas – Grand Valley and West Elks) Their Riesling and Grüner Veltliner complement a wide array of food and the rosé of St. Vincent, a lesser known hybrid varietal well-suited for Colorado’s colder climate, is a sleeper hit. “If you can get water to the desert, it’s an amazing place to grow grapes,” says co-owner and winemaker Steve Steese, who worked as a sommelier in Denver along with his wife Jayme Henderson before the two started making wine just a few years ago.
Where to Dine
Slice O Life Bakery has delicious scones and bread pudding muffins to fuel your morning and after a day of wine tasting, enjoy an unexpectedly elegant dinner at Pêche. restaurant. Husband-and-wife team Matthew and Ashley Chasseur met while working at Alinea in Chicago and their menu is driven by the Grand Valley’s abundant produce, accented with tableside flourishes like roasting your own marshmallows for s’mores. Each main course comprises several components, like tender Moroccan lamb with sides of green chickpea hummus, couscous, batbout pita and zaalouk eggplant salad, and they are certainly large enough to share. Plus, the fresh baked sourdough is so good, you’ll want to buy a loaf to take home.
Another great dinner choice is Bin 707 Foodbar in Grand Junction, where chef and owner Josh Niernberg has been recognized as a James Beard Award semifinalist for Best Chef: Mountain. Sunchoke hushpuppies and bison ribeye with cheddar fondue are favorites here, and the tacos at sister restaurant Taco Party a block away are phenomenal as well.
More from Better:
- A Guide to the Art of Wine and Cheese Pairing, With Tips From Cheese Expert Laura Werlin
- 7 Women Winemakers in California Forging a Better, Brighter Future With Sustainable Viticulture
- The Bay Area’s Best Beer Gardens: Where to Get the Tasty Brews Along With Great Food
Amber Gibson spends 340 nights a year in hotels searching for the latest and greatest in the travel industry. She graduated as valedictorian from Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism and received a fellowship to attend the 2017 Wine Writers Symposium at Meadowood Napa Valley.