The area around Grand Junction, Colorado, has been blessed with climate and soil conditions perfect for growing quality wine grapes. The federal government has even designated one area of the Grand Valley as an American Viticultural Area (AVA) in recognition of the quality wine grapes produced by local growers. Add to that the drop-dead-gorgeous scenery, friendly locals, cultural events, and year-round outdoor activities, and you have the makings for a memorable Colorado Wine Country getaway.
Whether exploring on your own by car or bicycle or in style with one of the local limousine services, you'll find a warm welcome and a variety of offerings from local Colorado wineries:
* Named for its location at the mouth of the DeBeque Canyon, Canyon Wind Cellars produces Chardonnay, Merlot, and Cabernet Sauvignon.
* Carlson Vineyards produces a wide range of wines including Chardonnay, Shiraz/Cabernet, Merlot/Shiraz, plum, cherry, and Pino Gris, with fun names like Tyrannosaurus Red, Prairie Dog Blush, and Pearadactyl.
* One of Colorado's oldest wineries, Colorado Cellars, started in 1978 under the name Colorado Mountain Vineyards. Today, they produce quality whites and reds like White Zinfandel, Pino Gris, Zinfandel, Merlot, Riesling, and even Port.
* Confre Cellars specializes in mead and hard ciders, as well as fruit and grape wines. It shares a tasting room with St. Kathryn Cellars.
* At DeBeque Canyon Winery, you can relax and enjoy the view from their large deck while tasting Syrah, Merlot, Pinot Noir, Cabernet Sauvignon, Viognier, Chardonnay, Claret, and Gewurztraminer.
* Located in the property's 100-year-old barn, the Garfield Estates Winery produces Syrah, Viognier, Sauvignon Blanc, Semillon, and Muscat Ottonel in their state-of-the-art operation. Tastings are by appointment only.
* The Grande River Vineyards produces more grapes than any other vineyard operation in Colorado, supplying more than half of all the grapes used by the state's wineries. From their own winery, they offer a wide range of reds and whites, including Merlot, Chardonnay, Syrah, Viognier, Late Harvest Semillon, Sauvignon Blanc, and Cabernet Sauvignon.
* One of the newer wineries in the Grand Valley region, Graystone Winery, is named for neighboring rocky bluffs that are still home to bands of wild horses. The winery produces Pinot Gris, Pinot Blanc, Port, and a late harvest Ice Wine; tours and tastings are by appointment only.
* Plum Creek Winery offers tours into its vineyards during the winter and early spring, with tastings of its Chardonnay, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon, Riesling, Pinot Noir, Palisade Red, Riesling Ice Wine, Sangiovese, and Palisade Rose available year 'round in its tasting room.
* Reeder Mesa Vineyards is another new addition to the area. At nearly 1,000 feet above Grand Junction, the vineyard specializes in hardier varietals like Riesling and Merlot grapes.
* If you're looking for a unique wine experience, be sure to check out the Meadery of the Rockies. This winery makes the ancient honey wine often referred to as "Nectar of the Gods." In addition to traditional mead, visitors can taste fruit-blended honey wines and fortified wines.
* St. Kathryn Cellars is the "sister winery" to the Meadery of the Rockies and produces excellent Reserve Merlot, Chardonnay, Port, White Merlot, Blends, and Colorado Country Fruit Wines.
* Two Rivers Winery is located at the foot of the majestic Colorado National Monument, near the confluence of the Colorado and Gunnison Rivers, and specializes in Chardonnay, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and Riesling.
* Whitewater Hill Vineyards & Winery grows grapes for many of Colorado's wineries. Many of these wines, as well as wines of their own production are available for free tasting at their facility.
Fall is a great time to visit Colorado Wine Country, especially when the grape harvest reaches its peak with the Annual Colorado Mountain Winefest, held the third weekend in September. The festivities begin on Thursday evening with the Grand Harvest Celebration and Winemakers' Dinners at several Grand Junction restaurants. Friday's activities include seminars and another evening of Winemakers' Dinners. On Saturday, the action moves outside for the Festival in the Park at Riverbend Park in Palisade, with chef demonstrations, wine and food pairings, an amateur winemaker's competition, and live music. Bicyclists are invited to participate in Saturday's leisurely tour of vineyards in the Palisade area. On Sunday, wineries from the Grand Junction area and throughout Colorado invite the public for tours and tastings. Information and tickets are available at www.tworiverswinery.com.
Also watch for the Annual Barrel Tastings in Spring (usually April or May) when the wine is ready for its first tastings. Hosted by the Grand Valley Winery Association, a limited number of tickets are available for this passport tour and food pairing through the Western Colorado wine country. Information and tickets are available at www.eventsattworiverswinery.com.
And when you're through touring and tasting, there's plenty more to do! Take in the 20,000 acres of natural wonder that make up the Colorado National Monument, explore the area's prehistoric past at Dinosaur Hill, or get in a few rounds of golf on one of five public courses.