Yes, you read that right. Colorado may be better known for skiing, mountain streams, and breathtaking wilderness, but it’s also home to its own wine country in Grand Valley, surrounding the cities of Grand Junction and Palisade. The Grand Valley AVA (American Viticulturally Area) actually houses two-thirds of the state’s vineyard acreage and one-quarter of Colorado’s wineries. We explore the wine scene, including the kind of grapes that thrive here, top Colorado vineyards and wineries to visit, and how you can see it all with a special wine country tour through Gateway Canyons Resort.
The Wine Scene
Gerald Ivancie, who opened Denver’s Ivancie Winery in 1968, was a key figure in experimenting with planting wine grapes around Grand Valley and forging the path for other winemakers. By 1990, there were five wineries operating in Colorado, and by 2010, there were 115 clustered between Grand Junction and Palisade. The red varieties you’ll find most often in the Grand Valley are merlot, cabernet sauvignon, shiraz/syrah, and cabernet franc, while the top white varieties are chardonnay, riesling, and viognier.
Colorado’s Unique Growing Conditions
Colorado winemakers have a relatively short window: The average frost-free growing season is 150 to 182 days, according to Wines & Vines, but they’re able to be productive because of Colorado’s unique blend of conditions. The defining qualities of Colorado’s wine country are the soil’s rich mineral content, the Colorado River water, and the region’s cool nights. The days are long, sunny, and warm, and, at the high altitudes, ripen the fruit and build natural sugars, while the evening cooldown lets the grapes retain their acids.
Grand Valley’s Top Vineyards and Wineries to Visit
Two Rivers Winery [Grand Junction]
This French country–inspired winery, nestled in the Redlands area of Grand Junction, produces six varieties – chardonnay, merlot, cabernet sauvignon, riesling, and syrah – and only 14,000 cases a year, allowing the winemaker to give more attention to detail, thus achieve consistency with each release. Try them all in their intimate tasting room or take a tour of the facility.
Grand River Vineyards [Palisade]
Colorado’s largest grape producer until 2006 has since downsized and sold most of their vineyards (all but 10 acres) so they could focus on making and selling great traditional Bordeaux-style wines in their shop, online, and to other distributors. Expect whites and reds that are made in the dry style to showcase the fruit, the terroir, and the oak aging.
Plum Creek Winery [Palisade]
What started as an experiment on an 11-acre site on Garvin Mesa in 1980 evolved into Plum Creek Winery, now the longest-operating winery in Colorado and the original pioneer in producing wine from only Colorado-grown grapes. Plum Creek offers tours of the winery and has a charming tasting room to sample and purchase their wares.
Carlson Vineyards [Palisade]
Since 1988, this small, solar-powered farm winery has been making luscious wines with some of the most creative label art around, featuring local motifs such as a prairie dogs and dinosaurs. Try the T-Red, made from the spicy, peppery Lemberger grape, their award-winning riesling (what they are best known for), or the crowd favorite, Cherry ’n Chocolate.
Book Your Own Guided Tour
Gateway Canyons Resort offers guided wine country tours of several Colorado wineries in the vicinity, including the Colorado Wine Room in Fruita (where you can sample wines from around the state), Grand River Vineyards, Colterris, La Maison Belle Vie, and Carlson Vineyards in Palisade, and many others.
Gateway Canyons Resort