I’m going to let you in on a little secret; there is a wine revolution happening in Colorado.
Until last week, it had been about ten years since I drank any Colorado wines. I remember them being just fine but nothing to write home about. In the last decade, Infinite Monkey Theorem helped put Colorado wine on the map by building a small empire in Denver based on affordable Colorado made wine in a can. The concept is super cool but the wine itself, while affordable, tasty, and very drinkable, isn’t all that thought provoking.
Well, a lot has changed in ten years. Bold, juicy reds made from Petit Verdot and Malbec, high acid Cabernet Franc and Merlot wines, and some interesting blends made with Portuguese, Spanish, and Italian grapes.
Colorado wine is about to arrive. Let’s break it down.
The Grand Valley Wine Region
Almost all of the grapes are grown in the Grand Valley AVA in Palisades, Colorado just next to Grand Junction. This is on the Western Slope of the Rocky Mountains about 200 miles southwest of Denver but only a few miles from the Utah border.
This is a high desert sitting about 4,500 ft (1,300 m) above sea level. It’s super dry with limited rainfall but the Colorado River, the same river that dug out the Grand Canyon, runs right through town, so there is water for irrigation.
While wine grapes have been grown in this region since 1890 there has only been about 40 years of modern winemaking, with the bulk of the growth in the last ten years.
Today, Colorado has over 100 bonded wineries with about 25 operating tasting rooms around the small town of Palisades.
The region is absolutely stunning with grapes being grown in the valley and on top of the mesas surrounding the town. It looks like parts of Spain, Portugal, and even Argentina with the town being dwarfed by the mountains and mesas surrounding town.
Fun fact: the Colorado River was originally called the Grand River, so that’s why everything around here starts with “Grand,” like Grand Junction, Grand Valley, Grand Mesa, etc.
The Grapes and Blends
The grapes that are currently grown are mostly Bordeaux grapes. Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot tend to take top billing at the tasting rooms but the lesser known grapes, in my opinion, really shine. Wines made from Malbec, Petit Verdot, and even Cabernet Franc were quite impressive.
For white wines, they were playing the hits with mostly Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc, which all were solid wines. I came across some dry Rieslings with good flavor as well.
While I feel like it’s a good idea for an unknown region to start with grapes that average wine consumers know and understand, like Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot, I want to believe this region can really spread its wings when it embraces lesser known grapes that are grown in similar climates in Europe.
For example, Bookcliff Winery is growing Tempranillo and Souzão, a Portuguese grape that is often used to make Port wine. Storm Cellars makes a Muscat and Malvasia Bianca blend in the West Elks AVA about 50 miles east of Palisades. You can also find Rhone Valley grapes like Viognier and Roussanne.
While more difficult to sell to the general public, I’m betting on these lesser known grapes to slowly become the underdogs of the Colorado wine scene.
Tips for Visiting Grand Junction
OMG please visit. I had such a great time in the two days I stayed.
Denver people know what’s up, Grand Junction is only a 4-hour drive. The weather is warm in the spring and fall and hot in the summer. You can even fly right to Grand Junction. Yes, visiting Napa is fun but it’s expensive AF with bottles of red wine starting at $50 and dinner running about $100 per person. Instead, go a bit off the beaten path, dip your toes in the icy cold Colorado River and stock up on really great wines ranging from $15 — $40, only $10 tastings, and super affordable eats. The scenery is also incredible.
Maverick Hotel is on the Colorado Mesa University canvas and offers a great, super creative restaurant, Devil’s Kitchen. Comfy rooms and a wonderful staff.
Bin 707 Food Bar utilizes local ingredients to make a really fantastic, ever rotating menu of small plates and entrees. Their sister restaurants Taco Party and Bin Burgers are outstanding. I had the local trout tacos (yes, you heard that right) and I will drive all the way back for this meal.
Colorado National Monument is an absolutely awe inspiring National Park with views that will take your breath away.
Dinosaur Hill is where Elmer Riggs and his crew discovered and excavated the bones of a 70-foot long Apatosaurus in 1901. The dinosaur has been in the Field Museum in Chicago ever since.
These are just a few things you can do in Grand Junction.
Wineries You Need to Check Out
Colterris Winery — Growing Bordeaux grapes, I was really impressed by both their Malbec and Petit Verdot wines, along with the blends.
Bookcliff Vineyards — Merlot and Rosé were very tasty and their Bordeaux blend with the Portuguese Souzão grape was an impressive wine.
Restoration Vineyards — On top of a mesa overlooking town, the Barbera was a really interesting wine.
Plum Creek Winery — Super drinkable reds that are well distributed across the state of Colorado, I bought one of these in Denver.
Two Rivers Winery — Primarily a wedding venue this winery makes very drinkable and affordable wine between $13 — $18 per bottle.
Sauvage Spectrum — Colorado grown sparkling wines including a Pet-Nat. These folks are growing and experimenting with 26 different grapes and they make some really great wines.
Maison La Belle Winery — While I did not have time to visit everyone told me to hit this place up. I’ll get them on the next visit.
Western Colorado has a climate very conducive to growing wine grapes. The industry and the grape vines are still very young but they are moving quickly. More talent is coming in and folks are discovering what they can do with new grapes and the land.
Grand Junction is a really fun town to visit. I can not stress this enough, in the two days I spent running around town, even in a pandemic, there were pleasant surprises around every corner.
Go find some Colorado wine. Order it online or ask your local wine store what they can access. Please support these small businesses so they can continue to grow.
Just in case it needs to be said, I’m not affiliated with nor am I paid by any winery. I paid for my own trip, bought my own wine, and paid for every tasting. These are my own thoughts and research.
Now go get some Colorado wine and support some small businesses!