Three juicy reasons to spend your weekend at Colorado Mountain WineFest

The Colorado wine industry is having a kick-ass year.

In fact, we might even say that 2012 will go down as the one in which our state's wine biz officially blew up. Let's rewind: In April, our fair city hosted the fourth annual Drink Local Wine conference, a national affair that lured a clique of the country's most influential wine media to Colorado and got them buzzing about how far our local juice has come in recent years. Just a couple of months later we toasted a barrelful of Colorado wine-soaked activities that made up the first of the two annual fêtes conceived of, organized and executed by the Colorado Association of Viticulture and Enology (CAVE) - the Colorado Urban WineFest. But the party was just getting started back in June -- it continues this weekend at the 21st annual Colorado Mountain WineFest on the Western Slope, also known as "where the magic happens" for the roughly 100 wineries doing work out there.

Turn the page for all the encouragement you'll need to jump in your car and head west.

Winning wine (and food) events: Clearly any event dubbed a "WineFest" is going to involve wine. This year's festival has upped the ante though, mirroring this summer's Colorado Urban WineFest approach by scheduling a superb array of wine and food pairing events in and around Palisade. Attend a multi-course dinner at Grand Junction's Le Rouge Restaurant & Piano Bar featuring pours from Maison Le Belle Vie Winery and live jazz, or enjoy your vino straight from the source: BookCliff Vineyards is cooking up a "Feast in the Vineyards" on Friday, followed by a barbecue on Sunday; Two Rivers Winery will offer a winemaker dinner Friday evening and a tapas and wine pairing on Sunday afternoon. And those are just a few of our faves -- even more wine and food-based fun can be found at a slew of other venues in the area throughout the weekend.

Drink your heart out: The mack-daddy event of the weekend clearly is Saturday's grand tasting at Riverbend Park, where festival-goers will enjoy unlimited - aka, all-you-can-drink - wine pours from 50 participating wineries (our short list of must-taste producers include Colterris, Graystone, Canyon Wind, Whitewater Hill, Alfred Eames and Garfield Estates). As if the chance to guzzle all that vino isn't motivation enough, your unbelievably cheap $43 general admission ticket also includes good, clean non-alcoholic fun like live music, a grape stomp, chef demonstrations and hands-on educational seminars. Feelin' like a baller? Upgrade to VIP status for $185 and score rock-star parking, plus a swag-stuffed bag of goodies and access to the shaded, concierge-staffed pavilion reserved especially for you and your crew to relax in whenever you need a break from the festival action.

Get your learn on -- for free: We've said it before, and we'll say it again, wine always tastes better when you actually know why you're loving whatever's in your glass. Continue your mastery of the basics this weekend, then, by attending these three, included-in-your-ticket-price events. Stop by the interactive Wine 101 seminar (offered throughout the day) then work on honing your olfactory skills using the Wine Aroma Wheel. Possibly the most educational (and usually hilarious) affair of them all? Watching wine pros do their worst at the Sommelier Shoot-Out, where winemakers and chefs will go head to head in a winner-takes-all blind tasting challenge for the ages. If you think you can hang, volunteer to participate -- they're including audience members, too.

Here's where you can get the low-down on everything in store at this weekend's Colorado Mountain WineFest.

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Kendra Anderson