Train Your Taste Buds on Grand Valley Wines

Explore Colorado wines and breathtaking landscapes aboard the California Zephyr

The Tour

In 2005, AAA and Visit Grand Junction teamed up to offer a unique experience you can't find anywhere else in Colorado. From June to October, the Colorado Wine Country Tour makes up to four trips to the Grand Valley wine region. Beginning in Denver, the train travels through Winter Park and Glenwood Springs, arriving in the heart of Colorado's wine country. During the journey, lucky ticket-holders sample local wines, learn about wine making and pairing from local experts, tour vineyards, taste with wine makers, and enjoy Colorado's stunning scenery in stylish comfort. Once you arrive, you'll be escorted to Main Street in downtown Grand Junction, where you can put your feet up at your hotel and rest-up for 2 full days of winery tours or go out and explore local restaurants with extensive wine lists, such as Le Rouge and The Winery Restaurant.

The Train

The California Zephyr is the second longest Amtrak route at 2438 miles. It travels from Chicago to San Francisco, with numerous local stops to explore between. The train has a rich history that began in 1949, experienced a boom in the 1950s, changed hands, names and routes many times. It survived failing passenger travel in the 1960s, cancellation in the 1970s, and came out on top through public outcry and reengagement in luxury passenger travel during the 1980s. To thoroughly enjoy your trip, train-travel enthusiasts will advise you to enjoy stops along the way or take a interest-focused trip, making the Colorado Wine Country Tour a memorable, two-fold expedition. 

The Wines & Wineries

While onboard, you'll sample wines from Grand Junction's top vineyards. Featured wines and wineries are subject to change, but Two Rivers Winery, Carlson Vineyards, Plum Creek Winery, Whitewater Hill Vineyards and Colterris Winery are frequent supporters. Any wine featured on the train becomes part of the winery tour in Grand Valley, so you won't miss meeting the makers and seeing origin of your labor-intensive libation. Once at your destination, experts in viticultural will guide you through the process of winemaking, allow you to tour their facilities and educate you about your palate. Make sure to learn more about Grand Junction varietals and wine-tasting before you go to make the most of your tour!

 

The Tour Through the Eyes of a Local Writer

As the storied California Zephyr moves out of Denver toward the Continental Divide and a day of glorious scenery-gazing and wine-sipping on its way to Grand Junction, an old Hank Williams ditty plays in the back of my mind.

While she's circlin' through the canyons
Can't you see that mountain stream
It's the California Zephyr
The Union Pacific Queen 

A zephyr is a west wind - at its most poetic interpretation, any soft and gentle breeze. For most of an eight-hour journey from Denver to Grand Junction, it lives up to its moniker for 54 participants of this AAA-sponsored weekend train excursion. We're spread out in our own car at the rear of the Zephyr's regular service, that familiar, gentle train rock lulling away pent-up tensions by the mile. Not far removed from the urban landscape, we pop out onto the openness of the High Plains as we settle in for a primer on wine tasting and Colorado wines.

That Colorado is producing good wines is no longer a revelation, although its industry is still very young. California didn't emerge as one of the world's best wine-growing regions until 30 years after the end of Prohibition. Colorado's seminal efforts are about 20 years old. Merlot is the most widely planted varietal, accounting for 22 percent of the state's acreage. In total, Grand Junction produces 80 percent of the state's grapes.

The Zephyr enters the South Boulder Canyon and begins its 4,000-foot climb to the Moffat Tunnel's east entrance, blinking through the first of 29 tunnels it will navigate today. Some are as short as 78 feet; the Moffat is more than six miles long. The train darkens as we navigate the Moffat Tunnel and cross through the Continental Divide. When we emerge, the surrounding canyons become deeper and grander. Glenwood Canyon, a 6,000-foot-deep slash in the western slope, ends at Glenwood Springs, where the train stops briefly and a couple of local vintners join us.

As the train rocks back and forth, the wine starts to flow. We taste a local chardonnay; its markings are distinct. A Meritage Red - a blend of cabernet sauvignon, cabernet franc, merlot and petit verdot - drinks like an aged Bordeaux, with a very high complexity. Another vineyard's Riesling is a sprinkling of floral grapes, smelling of apricots and jasmine, and lingering on the tongue with splashes of orange, nectarine and peach. A Port sports a big blackberry nose. It's all downhill from here, literally, and before too long we pull into the Grand Junction station and load into a shuttle to our hotels. Saturday is a big winery visit day, with five on the schedule. None of them disappoints: At each stop, treats augment great Colorado wines. The day is full of learning and camaraderie. Sunday calls for an early breakfast and one last winery visit, to the Grande River Vineyards. Sitting behind an array of opened bottles, Grande River owner Stephen Smith spreads his hands and says "When I started, I was only going to make six wines. Look at me now. I have 16 you're tasting now, and I've got a few more up my sleeve."

All too soon, we load onto a bus for transport back to Denver, with many cases of wine in its luggage hold.