tasting room at Maison la Belle Vie includes French
touches - the winemaker and chef's family has been
making wine for more than a century in France.
Colo. — It’s the breeze, they say, that creates plump
grapes and a wine destination in the heart of hops
the "Million Dollar Breeze" by locals, winds
waft in over the Grand Mesa, one of the largest
flat-topped mountains in the world and a keystone
geographical feature here. Air flows between canyon walls,
warming and then flowing out over wineries nestled near
the Grand Mesa’s base.
4,700-foot-high climate, featuring sunny days, dry air and
cool nights, finesses what local winemakers say are
globally unique elements for their craft.
state known for breweries, people in Palisade want to make
sure Colorado is squarely on the map — as a confident
marker, not a curiosity — when people plan travel toward
is a town of about 2,700, about four hours west of Denver
along Interstate Highway 70. It boasts two-thirds of the
state’s vineyard acreage and more than a quarter of the
overall wineries. Vines twist together, creating a
picture-perfect foreground framed by the Grand Mesa’s
a really well-kept secret," said Jay Christianson,
owner of Canyon Wind Cellars.
known for peaches, lavender and alpacas — yes, alpacas
— the town slogan, "Life tastes good here all year
round," reflects the 25 area wineries.
rambling go-to vino destinations such as Napa, 22 wineries
are within a 7-mile radius.
Caskey, executive director of the Colorado Wine Industry
Development Board, said grapes for reds and whites grow
well — from syrahs and grenaches to rieslings.
hard to say Colorado has one signature wine, because we
have such a diversity of climates," he said.
national wine tastings and competitions, he said,
"the wine is received remarkably well. People are
just dumbfounded that we can make wine as good as we do
here in Colorado."
geography pins Palisade as an on-the-way or short-drive
destination for many. It’s about a two-hour drive from
cities like Moab in Utah and Aspen, Vail and Telluride in
actually seeing a huge growth in our tourism," said
Juliann Adams, executive director of the Palisade Chamber
of Commerce, "not just in numbers but also where they’re
rooms have seen an uptick in visitors from outside
Colorado, she said. Surveying visitors to last year’s
Palisade Peach Festival, about 23 states were represented.
of leaving after buying a box of peaches, visitors
increasingly stick around.
wineries give people the reason to really stay a while in
Palisade," Adams said. "You can do quite a few
wineries in a short trip, and most of the time the owners
and/or the winemakers are right there, and they’re the
ones you can talk directly to."
quaint downtown includes an art studio, The Blue Pig
Gallery, with mountain-inspired paintings, and Slice O’
Life Bakery (970-464-0577), offering doughnuts and
pumpernickel bread. In a restaurant like Palisade Cafe,
where local wines are on the menu, it’s not unusual to
hear, "Are you going to the wineries?" Even a
summer yoga series skips around, stopping at a winery —
the fee includes a post-workout drink.
in other destinations a group might rent a limo, walking
or biking to wineries is common. Although some wineries
have been around long enough to collect distinctions,
others are new enough that at most places, tastings are
still free. Bottles range from a $13 riesling at DeBeque
Canyon Winery, to a $100 blended red, the 2012 IV, at
Canyon Wind Cellars. Most tasting rooms are open
year-round, excluding holidays.
proudly tout awards (Grande River Vineyards boasts a
winning cabernet franc in the World Value Wine Challenge);
others prize a casual image. At Carlson Vineyards,
winemakers pose the question, "Why make drinking wine
complicated?" and playful names include Tyrannosaurus
Red and Laughing Cat Sweet Baby White.
many busloads of international tourists have arrived —
they often fly into Denver and drive the four hours
through the mountains — that some wineries have started
charging for tastings.
Wind is getting maxed out on the weekends: As many as 500
people can come through on a summer weekend on their way
to Vegas or traveling from Sweden, New Zealand or China.
the tasting room feels full with 10 people. It used to be
his father’s office — the elder Christianson planted
the first vines in 1991 with the help of Napa winemaker
Robert Pepi, and when tourists arrived, he’d simply
throw a white bedsheet over desk clutter.
father was a firm believer that nobody would ever come to
western Colorado to be a tourist," Christianson said.
Now, he said, they’re planning a larger tasting space.
50 acres, which Christianson took over in 2009 with his
wife Jennifer, include nine different kinds of grapes.
When they met, she’d tried wine about six times.
range from relatively new experimenters to family-owned
Maison la Belle Vie, winemaker and chef John Barbier
incorporates elements from France, where his family has
tended grapevines for more than a century.
French traces included a "Bienvenue" welcome
sign and the barista, a student from France who arrived a
month earlier. Bike racks were fashioned from wine
barrels, and labels for rich reds inspired by playing
who come for a tasting opt to buy a glass or bottle and
enjoy the view in the courtyard, where mountains frame the
Red Fox Cellars, named after animals seen scurrying around
the vineyard, owner Sherrie Hamilton said when they opened
in September they needed to stand out.
one of our wines reflects that," she said.
they’ve aged them in a bourbon barrel, adding a smoky,
rich taste to, for example, the best-selling Bourbon
Barrel Merlot, aged in barrels from Colorado distilleries.
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unique, Red Fox offers hard ciders and mixed drinks, like
an Old Fashioned that pairs the merlot with cherries,
simple syrup and club soda.
Romero, who pours at Red Fox and another tasting room in
town, grew up nearby. She noted how the region "just
took off" in recent years, tourists arriving with
get surprised by how many people are coming to town just
for that," she said.
is big in Palisade. Bikes are available to rent at Rapid
Creek Cycles. Even those who don’t regularly get on two
wheels can try out the 5- or 7-mile loop. (Maps are
available here.) Routes are well marked by signs noting
the Colorado Fruit & Wine Byway, which meanders past
orchards, lavender farms and locals’ homes. Although
bike lanes aren’t yet fully in action, vehicles are
respectful and traffic manageable. Not every business is
on the map, but that allows for stumbling across
discoveries. Rapid Creek offers helmets, water and maps.
When you return your bike after most wineries close at 5,
stop in at Peach Street Distillers or Palisade Brewing
Co., which stay open a bit later.
the summer, enjoy a farmers market with bands and cooking
demonstrations. Prime wine time would be Sept. 17-20, when
the town hosts the Colorado Mountain Winefest, featuring a
grape stomp, demonstrations and dozens of wineries.
Experience it on two wheels with the Tour de Vineyards, a
motels and hotels serve the area, along with B&Bs.
Catering to wine fiends is the Wine Country Inn, which
offers bottles from neighboring Grande River Vineyards.
Mountains are visible from the pool and outdoor patio,
where visitors can dine at the Tapestry Lounge, drawing
even locals for dinner. A complimentary, robust hot
breakfast is offered in the mornings.