Growing up in Fruita, I hated summer. It was hot and miserable. There was no air- conditioning in my father's old Ford truck, and I'd either stick to the vinyl seats or itch for days if we put on the covers. My mother liked to call the area the "lunar landscape" because it was so dry and barren.
But when the Grand Valley's fruit orchards came into season, all was forgiven — even by a fair-skinned bookworm like me. We would drive out to Palisade to buy bushels and bushels of peaches and apricots, turning them into jams and jellies and pies and all manner of goodness. A simple bowl of ice cream and sliced fruit was fit for the gods.
Sometime after we moved to the Front Range, the area went from depressed and run-down to a tourist destination for mountain bikers looking for the new Moab and empty-nesters looking for a place to retire. Many of the fruit orchards were also replaced with grapevines, because those same hot days and crisp nights that were so perfect for peaches are also ideal for growing grapes. In fact, before Prohibition, most of the area had been planted with vines. But now the area bills itself as a mini Napa Valley.
"Colorado is probably known for merlot and the reds, but that's changed in the past five or six years, when they've gotten better in more styles," says Jed Rulon-Miller from Wines Off Wynkoop. "Sutcliffe makes fantastic wine, but it can be a bit expensive. We just got in some wines from Verso, and they do a cabernet that's really good and is under $20. Like anywhere else, there's some good and some not so good."
Take an adventure of both road and palate this summer and head over the pass for a tasting tour of Colorado wine country. Go west on I-70 to Glenwood Springs, where it becomes a choose-your-own adventure. If you're short on time, continue on through the stark, winding DeBeque Canyon to Palisade, where the bulk of the wineries reside. If you have time to meander a bit, take a side trip down CO-133 toward Paonia and through some of the most spectacular scenery Colorado has to offer. At the end of the seventy-mile drive, you'll find three wineries open to the public: Black Bridge Winery, Terror Creek Winery and Stone Cottage Cellars.
Grab a room in town, and in the morning head toward Hotchkiss along 133 and hop CO-92 to CO-65 north toward I-70, cutting across the south slope of the Grand Mesa. As you complete this portion of the wine-country loop, you'll find several more open vineyards, including Red Mountain Ranches, which offers wines from Stoney Mesa Winery and perfect Colorado apples; Stoney Mesa Winery itself; and Surface Creek Winery and Gallery.
The highway dumps you onto I-70 right near Palisade and the start of the Grand Valley tour and two dozen vineyards. Don't miss Plum Creek Winery, the most famous purveyor of Colorado grapes; Greystone Vineyards, which specializes in port; the ever-popular Carlson Vineyards; and the beautiful grounds of Colorado Cellars Winery, the state's oldest.
Before turning toward Denver, head just a bit farther west into Fruita, the home of Mike the Headless Chicken (decades ago, this bird lived for eighteen months without his head), and a quick drive out to Colorado National Monument and the desert. Pack a picnic and enjoy the lunar landscape.
Where to Go
Visit www.coloradowine.com for a complete list of vineyards and their contact information.
To have someone else plan your getaway, visit www.coloradowinecountrytours.com.
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Where to Stay
Have a two-bedroom cottage all to yourself at Hubert's Place Bed and Breakfast.
$175 a night
Where to Stay With Pets
Your critters are welcome at the Orchard House Bed & Breakfast Inn.
$85 to $160 a night
Events Not to Miss
Palisade Peach Festival
August 16-19, 2007
Colorado Mountain Wine Fest
September 13-16, 2007