Colorado is known for the outdoors: world-class skiing, hiking, mountain biking, and rock climbing are everyday activities for residents of the Centennial State. But in recent years, Colorado has gained accolades for its wine country as well.
Colorado has more than 300 days of high-altitude sunshine per year, cool nights, and alkaline soil, which create an ideal environment for grape-growing. Pests, mildew, and disease aren’t as big an issue as in coastal, due to the state’s low humidity and precipitation levels. And since Colorado growers rely on irrigation for water, they have more control over the ripening and development of their grapes.
The Bordeaux varieties all do well here–from sauvignon blanc and semillon on the white side, to cabernet franc, malbec, and petit verdot on the red side. In cooler parts of the state, riesling flourishes and is made in both dry and sweeter styles. Syrah and other Rhône varieties also do well.
For a complete Colorado wine experience, (with scenic backdrops to boot) start your wine tour in Denver, then work your way over to the Western Slope, where the majority of the state’s grapes are cultivated.
Start the day at Bonacquisti Wine Company. Owner Paul Bonacquisti’s motto is “wine for the people,” and education is the cornerstone of his business. He aims to eliminate the snobbery associated with wine tasting, and his casual, laid-back tasting room in Denver’s Sunnyside neighborhood does just that. You can taste five wines for $5, which is refunded if you buy a bottle. You’ll find plenty of bold reds, but don’t miss the pink moscato and the Port Style grenache, which has hints of caramel and marshmallows, and is aged in a Porto barrel from Portugal.
Next, head to one of Colorado’s oldest wineries, Balisteri Vineyards. Here, you’ll discover a more rustic style of winemaking—even white wines are fermented on the skins, resulting in a fuller body than you may be accustomed to. There’s a small vineyard on site, but they also source grapes from the Western Slope. All of Balisteri’s wines are single-vineyard varieties, meaning that instead of blending all of one type of grape together to make a Balisteri blend, they are kept separate so you can appreciate each terroir and grower’s style. Settle in and stay for lunch at the on-site café—everything here, except the imported cheeses and cured meats, is made from scratch using local ingredients.
For your last Denver stop, head toward the trendy River North neighborhood to taste the distinctive wines at The Infinite Monkey Theorem, which prides itself on “back-alley winemaking at its finest.” Owner Ben Parsons offers kegged and canned wines (perfect for hiking Colorado’s trails) in addition to bottles. Tours are available for $25, or treat yourself to a private or barrel tasting ($35 and $50, respectively) for a true VIP experience. You’ll learn about Parsons’s environmentally focused winemaking process from the master.
Spend the night at The Crawford Hotel in Union Station. You’ll find fantastic wines to enjoy with dinner at the farm-to-table restaurants inside the restored train depot, or walk over to 16th Street Mall if you feel like checking out the nightlife downtown.
Grand Junction/Palisade/Grand Valley AVA
Today, you have one of the most beautiful drives in the state ahead of you. Head west on I-70, passing through Summit County (where many of Colorado’s big-name ski resorts are located), and through the incredible feat of engineering and geographic wonder that is Glenwood Canyon. It’s a four-hour drive, so leave early.
The best way to enjoy Western Slope wine country is via bicycle. The folks at Rapid Creek Cycles in Palisade will get you set up. Choose from cruiser or electric bikes ($39 and $60 for the day), which both have baskets for the local goodies you’re sure to purchase. You’ll receive a map of all the area wineries, and the staff is happy to make suggestions for a customized tour. Don’t worry about being unfamiliar with the area; it’s a small town and even if you get lost, friendly residents will point you in the right direction.
Standout wineries include Colterris Vineyards, Grande River Vineyards, and the female-owned and -operated Plum Creek Winery. If you’re into fruit wines, don’t miss Talon Wines and St. Kathryn Cellars; their wines showcase the bounty of the area’s many local peach, cherry, plum, apricot, and apple orchards.
Between wine tastings, stop in at Sage Creations Organic Farm, whose specialty is lavender (they have a great gift shop), and SunCrest Orchard Alpacas, where you can buy yarn, socks, teddy bears, and other handmade items made from the adorable resident alpacas’ wool.
You’ll have burned some calories today, so indulge in a decadent dinner downtown. For an authentic Italian experience, choose Il Bistro Italiano, where the focus is on Northern Italian cuisine. On wine night, bottles are half off, and they also have regular four-course pairing dinners. If you’re lucky, you might be in the dining room when the owner slices into one of the giant imported wheels of parmigiana. Bin 707 Foodbar is an excellent choice for charcuterie, small plates, and gastronomic flair.
Hunker down at Two Rivers Winery & Chateau, where you’ll wake up to a homemade hot breakfast, excellent coffee, and scenic views of the Grand Valley. Plus, you’ll be able to fit in a quick tasting before you depart tomorrow.
Paonia/West Elks AVA
Today, head southeast toward Colorado’s smaller AVA in Delta County. The heart of the action is in Paonia, which has plentiful orchards and a sleepy, small-town feel (the downtown is all of three blocks, filled with quirky shops and a handful of family-owned restaurants).
Must-visits are Alfred Eames Cellars and Black Bridge Winery (where you can stock up on delicious local canned goods). Make your last stop Azura Cellars & Gallery; the winery doubles as a high-end art gallery. Order a chilled bottle of pinot gris and plant yourself on the sunny patio. Panoramic views of the North Fork Valley, including the iconic Mount Lamborn and Land’s End, are the perfect ending to your Colorado wine tour.
For a unique lodging experience, make reservations at Wisehart Springs Inn , which looks like a modern castle. The building is a work of art in itself, each room is cozy and individually decorated, and the owners, Art and Erin, are happy to offer suggestions about other area excursions. They provide a basket of locally made bread and goat-milk cheese, fruit, chocolate, and smoked salmon to get you off to a good start for your journey home.