No need to wander into the vineyards to find out what Colorado’s wine country has to offer. Although the Western Slope has long since been home to the state’s richest wine-growing region—27 wineries to be exact—tasting the goods has historically involved a bit of exploring. Now you can taste a variety of wines from the area’s most popular vineyards right in the heart of downtown Grand Junction. These two tasting rooms would be right at home in Sonoma or Napa, and a visit to Grand Junction similarly offers a fun afternoon of strolling and sampling. A visit to either (or both) is a wonderful way to experience Colorado’s tastiest wines.
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Among Colorado’s first commercial winemakers, Parker and Mary Carlson have been growing grapes and fruit since 1981 after studying the art of winemaking in California wine country. Carlson Vineyards initially opened in an old fruit-packing shed on their Orchard Mesa property above Palisade in 1988. It wasn’t long before local wine lovers discovered what Carlson had and they quickly outgrew the space. The property and its offerings expanded, and today, Carlson’s time-tested, tasty varieties of red, white, fruit, and dessert wines stem from a broad mix of locally grown grapes, including Merlot, Chardonnay, Gewürztraminer, Lemberger, and Orange Muscat.
Carlson’s labels, notably the Laughing Cat series (born from the Carlsons’ love of felines) and T-Red (a nod to the area’s prehistoric residents) have become some of the most iconic and symbolic representations of Colorado wine. The Laughing Cat Riesling has won international competitions, the Gewürztraminers have won multiple “best of the fest” awards at the Colorado Mountain Winefest, and the Palisade Peach wine has been named Best Fruit Wine at numerous events. Renowned winemaker Garrett Portra has taken over operations for the last several years, and he’s worked with iconic local chef/restaurateur Josh Niernberg (Bin 707) to create blends of both Riesling and Lemberger/Cabernet Franc that pair with Niernberg’s culinary creations.
While the now-sprawling Palisade winery is a small slice of Western Slope paradise with the green vineyards framed by the towering red Grand Mesa, the downtown space is quickly becoming one of Grand Junction’s most popular meeting places. With its elegant red-brick design and spacious lounge area, Carlson’s new tasting room at 545 Main Street has become a hub for social stops, business gatherings, and sampling a full gamut of Carlson’s one-of-a-kind offerings.
Shira's Winery and Wine Bar
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You might assume that “Shira” is some offshoot of a popular grape variety. Guess again. It’s actually a type of moose. That’s not to say that Shiras Winery and Wine Bar, located in downtown Grand Junction’s Zesty Moose Marketplace, doesn’t serve amazing wine. In fact, Shira’s is your one-stop-shop to sample some of the tastiest small-batch wines from all over Colorado. Zesty Moose opened its downtown location in 2017, and Shira’s became Grand Junction’s first tasting room. The complex is a wonderland for foodies, with locally and regionally produced spices, sauces, seasonings, oils, and vinegars. You can sample from the olive oil bar and even take cooking classes.
Today, Shira’s showcases and serves 25 carefully selected wines from all over Colorado and, as of summer 2019, began crafting and bottling its own trio of blends made from local grapes. If you’re hungry, you’ve come to the right place. Shira’s pairs its wines with mouth-watering charcuterie boards featuring artisan cheeses, crackers, olives, locally cured meats, jams and sauces made in-house.
Written by Shauna Farnell for Matcha in partnership with Visit Grand Junction.
Learn more about local wineries on page 46 Grand Junction Adventure Guide.