What does one think of when they think of Colorado? Mountains, adventure, skiing? Whatever it is, you probably do not think of wine.
Many might think that the wine industry of Colorado only just begun a few years ago, but miners of southern Colorado began cultivating wines in the 19th century. The first large plot of vineyards was planted by Governor George A. Crawford in Grand Junction. He planted sixty acres of vine in Palisade. With the onset of Prohibition, however, the growth of the wine industry in Colorado came to a halt, as in most of the country and new plantings did not happen until the 1960s.
Fast forward over half a century later and Colorado has more than established its wine industry. The very first site of vineyards in Palisades now has over twenty wineries and five other official American Viticultural Areas (AVAs) have popped up since.
In the area of Colorado Springs is the region of Pikes Peak & Arkansas Valley and Front Range AVA of the Denver/Boulder area. In Delta County near Hotchkiss you can find another handful of wineries in the West Elk AVA and another neighboring AVA for Delta & Montrose Counties.
What is so special about wine country in Colorado? If you happen to visit Denver, be sure to have a quiet weekend in the AVA of Grand Valley in Palisade. Rent or bring your bike and tour around as you ride from winery to winery on open roads views of the Colorado River that winds through town located in the Western Slopes of the Rocky Mountains where mountains are not so distant and red earth piles up in grand plateaus around you.
Colorado can boast a decent altitude pretty much anywhere in the state and just as European winemakers are proud to speak about their ‘terroir’, so are the winemaking residents of Colorado. Whether you visit Palisades, West Elk, Front Range or any other wine region of Colorado, you are going to hear about how special the vines are growing in elevation. The vines here grow in an elevation between 4,000 and 7,000 feet above sea level and are in the company of some of the highest vineyards in the world.
Grapes have an amazing ability to adapt and mutate in harsh conditions in order to ensure its survival. At these high altitudes in dry desert, not only is water scarce, but the sun is intense, the days are hot and the nights can be very cool. But the grapes, they’re kind of like the honeybadger. They don’t care. To protect themselves from the harsh sun and intense heat, the skins of the grape will thicken and with proper canopy management, a little shade from their leaves can help as well. Thick skins make for more concentrated wines with complex aromatics and flavors. The hot days are key to the production of sugar in the grapes (potential alcohol) and the cool nights allow the vine to relax and consume the foods it has produced in the sun. This retains a balance of acidity and makes for more well-rounded grapes, for wine with layers of aromas, flavors and textures thanks to those hearty skins.
What wines will you find from Colorado?
If you’re big on California Cabernet, then try a Cabernet from Colorado. For Cabernet, Colorado is becoming a serious competitor (and the price is a little easier on the wallet). Try the Cabernet Sauvignon from Canyon Wind Cellars in Grand Valley.
Other varietals you will find in Colorado are Syrah, Cabernet Franc, Merlot, Malbec, Chardonnay, Gewurztraminer, Petit Verdot, Pinot Gris, Pinot Noir, Sangiovese, Viognier, Zinfandel, etc. If you want to try some of the high-altitude wines of Colorado, here’s a small list for you.
- 2013 Anemoi ‘Lips’ Syrah, Canyon Wind
- 2013 Turquoise Mesa Winery Syrah
- 2014 Bookcliff Vineyards Viognier
- 2012 Creekside Cellars Cabernet Sauvignon
- 2012 Boulder Creek Winery Syrah
- 2012 Guy Drew Vineyards Sweet Riesling
There are many others to try and if you are a little adventurous try wines of their famous orchard fruits like peach wine, or the classic and even world-renowned and internationally awarded, perhaps original wine of Colorado, honey wine, aka Mead. Tour the Rockies, see their beauty, take a real staycation out of the way in your own state (if you happen to live in Colorado) or come visit in wine country, Rockies style.
Christie Kiley, International Sommelier and Chef, has over a decade of experience in both restaurants and wineries. She began working kitchens under talented chefs. Nights off from the kitchen, she would work at the same restaurant as a server. Her passion for food grew into the wine industry. She has worked wine harvests in Napa, learning the nature of the product from soil to bottling. Working the back- and front-of-the-house in restaurants and wineries in sales, and as a food and wine educator, has given Christie an in-depth knowledge in both food and wine throughout many aspects. She currently lives in Buenos Aires, where she has just received her International Sommelier Certificate from the Escuela de Argentina Sommeliers (EAS) after two years of study. She works as a wine and food writer and Sommelier at a boutique hotel in Palermo where you can catch her most nights of the week entertaining guests with her unique wine tastings.