September marks harvest season for wineries across the world, and Colorado is no exception. Although Colorado is largely known for beer, the local wine here is not to be missed.
“Colorado is quickly becoming a world-class wine destination for wine tourism, production and education,” said Doug Caskey, Executive Director of the Colorado Wine Industry Development Board. “People from across the country are starting to take notice and thanks to all this state has to offer, Colorado is able to attract some of the most brilliant young minds in the wine industry.”
After a freeze between 2013 and 2014 left the state with only 50 percent of its anticipated grapes, the local wine industry has banned together to rebuild and elevate Colorado as a state that has boast-worthy beverages of all kinds — not just beer. In fact, the Colorado wineries’ economic contribution to the state has grown to $144 million — with tourism and sales more than tripling since 2005.
“The 424,000 gallons or 178,000 cases of wine reported by our wineries may be a drop in the ocean of wine by California standards, but it represents a steady increase in production here in Colorado and is a 44 percent jump from five years ago,” Caskey noted.
Colorado has been producing wine since 1890. The dry weather and ample sunshine allow most growers to produce without pesticides, and the high altitude creates a unique portfolio of wines from local makers — mostly Riesling and Cabernet Sauvignon with small batch productions of Syrah, Merlot, Charddonay, Pinot Gris and more.
If you’ve already dipped your toe into what Denver has to offer — like at Infinite Monkey Theorem or Bigsby’s Folly — and are interested in exploring more of the wines in Colorado, we’ve built two itineraries for you— one day trip to Boulder and another weekend trip to Grand Valley. Keep in mind — with more than 145 licensed wineries across the state — this is just a taste of what Colorado has to offer wine-wise, but it’s a great place to start.
For the Day — Boulder
Where: BookCliff Vineyards — 1501 Lee Hill Rd. #17, Boulder
When: Tasting room is open Thursday – Sunday, 1 p.m. – 6 p.m. Tours available upon request.
Cost: Tastings are three wines for $5 or five wines for $8. Reserve wines are $3 per taste. Tours are $20 and include a tasting with chocolate and cheese.
The Lowdown: Owners John Garlich and Ulla Merz were making wine for 1o years (more than 2,000 cases) in their garage before opening BookCliff Vineyards. Now, although their grapes are grown on 37 acres in Palisade, their storefront is in Boulder as part of the Boulder Wine Studios — three wineries that sit in the same building. All of their 10 wines are made from 100% Colorado grapes, and they’ve won more than 17 medals. Tastings are available for $5, and we suggest taking full advantage to try the Malbec, Friday’s Folly Red and the sweet blush wine called “A Touch of Red.”
Where: Settembre Cellars — 1501 Lee Hill Rd #16, Boulder
When: Tasting room is open Thursday – Sunday, 1 p.m. – 6 p.m.
Cost: Tastings are $10 for a mixed selection or $15 for reserve.
The Lowdown: Just one door down from BookCliff is Settembre Cellars — named after the Italian word for September. Owners Blake and Tracy Eliasson have been making wine from 100 percent Colorado grapes since 2007. You can read about their intricate production here, or taste it for yourself during a visit. The Eliassons allow guests to bring in their own picnic to try with their selection of Cabernet Sauvignons, Syrahs and more.
Where: Decadent Saint — 1501 Lee Hill Rd #14, Boulder
When: Tasting room is open Thursday – Saturday, 1 – 9 p.m. and Sunday 1 – 6 p.m.
Cost: It depends on what you try, but tastings start at $5.
The Lowdown: Just two doors down from Settembre is the most colorful of the Boulder bunch — Decadent Saint. Their tasting room is a bit of a millennial paradise, with string lights, bright colors and a back wall that opens completely to the outdoors. Inside is pizza place called Hot Tin Roof that serves pies to pair with your wines on Fridays and Saturdays from 4 – 8 p.m. Austrailian native and owner Michael Hassler has stocked Decadent Saint has a little something for everyone — their wines (we like the Faithful Red), cider from Wild Cider and his newest product The Ultimate Cocktail Mixer. This mixer is a shelf-stable, high-proof blend of 100% unfiltered, unpasteurized fruit, concentrated to make more than 30 cocktails per bottle. Trust us— you’ve got to try it for yourself.
Bonus: Redstone Meadery
Where: Redstone Meadery — 4700 Pearl St. #2A, Boulder
When: Tasting room is open Monday – Friday, 12 – 6:30 p.m. with a half-hour tours at 1 and 3 p.m. On Saturdays, it is open 12 – 5 p.m. with a half hour tour at 12:30 p.m.
Cost: Tours are free and include a tasting.
The Lowdown: If you’re looking to step outside your comfort zone and expand the definition of wine, head three miles down the road to Redstone Meadery. Closer to central Boulder, this place makes Mead — a honey wine that is the oldest alcoholic beverage on record. (Game of Thrones, anyone?) Redstone also has free live music every Saturday from 1:30 to 4:30 p.m. November through April.
For the Weekend — Grand Valley
Two Rivers Winery
Where: Two Rivers Winery & Chateau — 2087 Broadway, Grand Junction
When: Tasting room is open Monday – Saturday, 10:30 a.m. – 6 p.m. and Sunday, 12 – 5 p.m. The last tasting each day is 30 minutes before closing.
Cost: Tours and tastings are complimentary.
The Lowdown: Two River’s Winery is what you picture when you imagine visiting a winery. Nestled in Grand Valley, the Witham family lives and grows their grapes on the 15-acre piece of land. Open since 1999, the property is family-run, including the bed and breakfast chateau that doubles as an event space for weddings, conferences and more. As a family, they currently produce 14,000 cases of wine per year, and the wines have won more than 60 awards. We loved the Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve, the Chardonnay and the Port.
Whitewater Hill Vineyards
Where: Whitewater Hill Vineyards — 220 32 Rd., Grand Junction
When: Tasting room is open daily from 10 a.m. – 5:45 p.m.
Cost: Tastings are free.
The Lowdown: Up on a hill overlooking the 23 acres of grapes, Whitewater Hill offers a picturesque view of the Grand Valley. Owners and married couple John Behrs and Nancy Janes left the tech industry in Boulder in 1998 to begin the operation, and they now produce 19 wines and grow 70 percent of their grapes to sell to other local wineries. They are the only two full-time employees, and they are able to produce about 2,000 cases per year. With so many options, it might take several trips to try all the winery has to offer, but we suggest picking up the 2015 “No Oak” Chardonnay, the 2016 Chambourcin or the sweeter 2016 Sweetheart red.
Where: Carlson Vineyards — 461 35 Rd., Palisade
When: Tasting room is open daily from 10 a.m. – 5:45 p.m., excluding major holidays. Tours are limited by day when time is available.
Cost: Tastings and tours are free.
The Lowdown: If this were a beauty contest, Carlson Vineyards would take the crown. In the back of the tasting and production rooms, Carlson Vineyards has a gorgeous outdoor seating area that backs up to the vineyard. It’s the third oldest winery in the state, started by Parker and Mary Carlson, and later officially taken over by his understudy Garrett Portra and his wife Cailin in 2015. Although they have great classic red blends, rosé and more (try the Tyrannosaurus Red), we love their fruit wines. They’re made from fresh fruit, aren’t too sweet and really showcase everything Palisade has to offer. The cherry wine served in a glass rimmed with melted chocolate is nothing short of an out-of-body experience.
Red Fox Cellars
Where: Red Fox Cellars — 695 36 Rd. Unit C, Palisade
When: Hours vary by season, but are usually 11 a.m. – 5 p.m. Sunday through Thursday, and 11 a.m. – 6 p.m. on Friday and Saturday.
Cost: Tastings are a la carte and change with the seasons. Contact Red Fox for current offerings at 970-464-1099.
The Lowdown: Red Fox produces what they call avant-garde wine, fruit wine and cider— without an ounce of pretention in sight. From making bourbon barrel-aged merlots to tequila barrel-aged Chardonnays, owners Scott and Sherrie Hamilton aren’t afraid to push the boundaries and redefine Colorado wine drinking. They also have up to eight ciders and fruit wines on tap at any time — including interesting flavors like Roasted Chile Cider and wines made from fruits other than grapes like cherry or peach.
Unless noted, all photography by Alexandra Palmerton.