Sure, Denver is the Napa Valley of beers, but a town can only handle so many suds. Why not take a break from brews and explore the world of urban wine this Labor Day weekend? Although Colorado isn't the wine capital of the U.S., quite a few decent bottles have been gracing local shelves. From cabernet to riesling to chardonnay, you can find most of your favorite grapes plucked, crushed, aged and bottled right in the city. Here are seven wineries you can visit over a couple of days — all within Denver city limits.
7. Balistreri Vineyards
1946 East 66th Avenue
This family-owned winery has taken home numerous prizes for its wines since opening in 1998. One could say the history of the winery dates back to when John Balistreri's family moved to the United States from Sicily in the early 1900s. Eventually family members made their way to Colorado, keeping alive their tradition of homemade wine, the perfect beverage both for family gatherings and for serving guests. Because they already had a foundation of loving and creating wine, it seemed only natural that the Balistreris would start to commercially produce their vintages right in Denver. Most of the grapes used hail from Colorado, with a select few coming from California. You can taste the Centennial State magic in the riesling, chardonnay, sangiovese, syrah and more. Visitors can come tour the facility and taste the wines seven days a week from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Expect to meet John, Birdie or their daughter Julie as soon as you walk through the doors.
6. Bonacquisti Wine Company
4640 Pecos Street
In Sunnyside, winemaker and executive sommelier Paul Bonacquisti has been churning out bottles of red and white since 2006. Bonacquisti learned all about the business from his Italian-American father, who in turn learned to make wine from his father. One of the standards the Bonacquisti family has maintained is to keep the wine approachable for everyone. That way, whether you know a little or a lot about the stuff, staff members are there to help. Altogether, Bonacquisti makes ten wines, some from imported grapes and others using local fruit. The Colorado specialties include a malbec, a cabernet franc and a blend called Sunnyside Red, which pays homage to the neighborhood and has a fun label depicting the area. If it's available, be sure to try Vinny No Neck and Bella Risa, two bottles named for Bonacquisti's children. Stop by Tuesday, Wednesday and Saturday from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m., Thursday from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m., and Friday from 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. (don't miss the live music at 6:30 p.m.) for free tours, $10 tastings and even growler fills (take that, breweries!) of your favorite flavor.
5. Infinite Monkey Theorem
3200 Larimer Street
In the wild world of the Infinite Monkey Theorem, wine pours from a series of taps while DJs spin, musicians play live, bachelorette parties go crazy, food trucks line up, and vino-loving folk sit back for a not-so-quiet glass at happy hour. It's fun, to say the least, and unlike the other urban wineries on this list, this RiNo venue doubles as a lively bar. Hence the party vibe, the large, open back yard and the comfortable and roomy interior. The original Infinite Monkey Theorem (the second is located in Austin) opened in 2008 with winemaker Ben Parsons at the helm. He uses an array of Colorado grapes interspersed with fruit from other regions. IMT makes a handful of varieties, from syrah to petit verdot to a sparkling wine called Bubble Universe. You can buy the goods by the bottle, on tap and, in some cases, in a can (check out the canned-wine dispenser in the tasting room), the perfect package for taking on your next camping trip. All of the wine is made on site, so even if you don't get in on a tour, you can rest assured you are cozying up to the source. Open Monday through Friday from 4 to 10 p.m., Saturday from 2 to 10 p.m., and Sunday 2 to 8 p.m.
4. Kingman Estates Winery
800 East 64th Avenue
We recently got acquainted with Doug and Karen Kingman's winery after two of their vintages won awards at the annual Governor's Cup Colorado Wine Competition this past July. The wine at this small facility proves excellent, and considering that most of the grapes are sourced right from Palisade, it's one of the most Colorado of Colorado beverages. The husband-and-wife team didn't start in the wine business until 2011, a project they took on after retiring. Good thing they did, because that means you can head to the mainly industrial Mapleton neighborhood and try all of the red and white wines when you visit the winery on Saturday or Sunday from noon to 5 p.m. (or by appointment, by calling 720-560-7270).
3. Ryker's Cellars
4640 Pecos Street
With one glance at the label on a bottle of 2013 Doggles at this Sunnyside winery (located right next door to Bonacquisti), it's pretty obvious that Ryker Brandt loves his dog. It's also apparent that he loves wine, a taste influenced by the first sip of Châteauneuf-du-Pape he had while working in Kansas. After that, Brandt knew he wanted to learn more about the stuff. So, he moved to Santa Cruz, California in order to work the harvest by crushing grapes, cleaning the many machines and punching down the skin caps. He left the central coast for Colorado in 2010 and decided it was time to open his own venture, right in the heart of Denver. Now he produces six red wines and one white, and continues to explore one of his favorite things every single day. Meet the dog and the winemaker by stopping in Thursday through Saturday from noon to 7 p.m., and try one or all of Ryker's vintages.
2. Spero Winery
3316 West 64th Avenue
Clyde and June Spero's venture into making wine started with a plot of land June inherited on the corner of 66th Avenue and Washington Street in 1996. The couple planted grape vines and even harvested some fruit for their wine until they gave up the plot years later. Luckily for consumers, they didn't stop making wine. In fact, Clyde has been working with grapes since he was a boy, a skill taught to him by his father, Gaetano Spero, an Italian immigrant who came to America when he was thirteen. Since 1999, the Speros have kept the family wine-making tradition alive, sourcing grapes from Colorado and California. The tasting room is open for free sips of wine on Saturdays from 1 to 5 p.m., and by appointment.
1. Wild Women Wine
1660 Champa Street
Though the grapes aren't sourced from Colorado, this quaint winery downtown does ferment, blend and bottle its wine in-house. Opened by Ross and Charlene Meriwether in 2008, Wild Women Wine procures pressed grape juice from the Central Valley in California to create over a dozen vintages, as well as fruit wine, dessert wine and port. As a bonus, the husband-and-wife team will guide interested guests in making their own wines; you can do it solo, share with a friend, or make a whole party out of the experience. Visit the winery for a giant glass of vino or one of the tasting flights, available Tuesday to Thursday from noon to 8 p.m.; Friday and Saturday from noon to 10 p.m.; and Sunday from noon to 6 p.m. The Meriwethers also sell cupcakes from Dessert Stand, Chocolate Lab truffles, and meat and cheese plates to go with the vino.
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