Well to be honest, we knew. And if you have spent much time in Colorado you probably also know. But not a lot of people really know how great the wine scene is here, especially in the summer. You have to deal with the heat, it hovers in the high 90's for long stretches, but "it's a dry heat" and it cools down at night. We decided a trip to Colorado isn't complete without a trip to one of our favorite parts of the state, and that's Colorado's Wine Country.
The center of it all is Palisade, a small town of somewhere around 3000 people, long famous for its sweet peaches. The climate is perfect for growing those delicious stone fruits, with its very hot days and cool nights in the summer. But the area is not all about peaches and other snack fruits.
Sitting on Colorado’s western slope at around 4700’ Palisade has some of the highest elevation vineyards in the world. This makes for some difficult weather at times, with deep freezes in the winter and late spring freezes which can cause damage. The growing season is only 120 days, compared to around 200 days in many parts of California. So it's a challenging environment in these vineyards, but it's been said that grapes that have a hard life make the best wine. That may explain why the Colorado wine industry is growing at 14% annually.
Virtual Happy Hour
But this story doesn’t start in Palisade or even in Colorado. It starts where else? but in Puerto Rico. During the depths of the great Puerto Rican Virus Lockdown, we were not allowed to leave the house except for the very basics (food, medicine, etc.). We were all locked down pretty tightly (not even allowed to go to the beach!) for an extended period of time, and certainly not allowed to go out for Happy Hour! During this time, Deb found a couple of virtual happy hours, where people were tasting drinks and discussing them online. One of them was out of the Virgin Islands, but the personalities on that one didn't carry a lot of interest for us and we dropped off.
One that didn't drop off for us was the one hosted by the fine folks at Mesa Park Vineyards in yes, Palisade, CO. We'd met the previous owners more than once and had enjoyed their wines in previous years. But a couple of years ago they sold the place to some young guns named Brandon and Laura. These two quickly became our online friends as we looked forward to their Friday Happy Hours. I don't think they realize how much joy they brought us during the lockdown, giving us much-needed conversation on such an interesting subject!
We also got some bonus info from the Mesa Park virtual happy hours when a couple of local business owners joined in. The owners of the Spoke and Vine Motel joined and chatted, as did the owners of Restoration Vineyards, both in Palisade. Spoke and Vine is a renovated 1950's motel in downtown Palisade that is run by a young couple who have done it up nicely with modern design and some very nice touches, including rental bikes to tour the wineries and a continental breakfast delivered to your door. We had a great couple of days there. We also stopped at Restoration and had a nice tasting inside their large facility. It was pretty windy outside that day so it wasn't great for that, but they let us bring the dogs inside and we had a great time.
The Real Thing
While in PR, we told them we were going to come see them, and we finally made good on that promise last week. We drove to the big red barn, parked the car, and were greeted by a familiar face, Laura, only this time she was in person, and wearing her mask. I told her I wanted to introduce her to Deb the Pirate (Deb's Instagram handle), and she got a good laugh since Deb had been messaging her for weeks during the online events. What Laura didn't know is that we'd stopped at 3 different stores on the way west, trying to find an eye patch for Deb - but sadly had no luck! We were seated at a nice outside table in the shade and were quickly chatting about our travels, tasting their wine, and having all sorts of fun. Somewhere during the tasting Laura had called Brandon in from the vineyard so we got to spend a little time with him as well. So much fun!
Besides the great people, there is something about this vineyard that keeps bringing us back. That may just be our love for, and their focus on, dry red wines like Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and Cabernet Franc. We also love blends and they offer several of them that hit our taste buds just right. Their whites are very nice too, and we buy some of each on every stop we make there. They even have a couple vintages of a Merlot Rosé that we really enjoyed. Finally, no trip to Mesa Park Vineyards can go without a shout-out to the winery mascot, Daryl the bulldog. Yay for Daryl, he didn't seem to mind our dogs' insistence that it was their place and not his!
Another must visit for us is a place called Maison La Belle Vie (House of the Beautiful Life). The owner comes from France and apparently they know a bit about wine over there. The wines are delicious and the views are spectacular. They even have less common wine varietals like Marechal Foch and Petit Verdot.
Our favorite thing is to sit in the shade of the trees in the courtyard, and just relax and take in the views of Mount Garfield and the Book Cliffs. All of this is while we're enjoying their charcuterie plate and a bottle of wine of course! There's really not much better than that in life.
The Other Side of the Table
Before our trip to Palisade we actually hit a couple of wineries in another part of western Colorado. Paonia is on the other side of the Grand Mesa (the Big Table) and it is a really big table, a flat-top rock that covers 500 square miles! The Paonia area boasts a bunch of wineries in its own right, and is definitely worth a visit for wine lovers.
A short side note, with my youngest son Matt and his Grandpa, we installed a sweet solar power system at Matt's property outside of Hotchkiss (a short drive from Paonia). I should also mention we got Deb out there for a while with the post-hole digger to give her a good shoulder workout! The system includes a neat swiveling solar panel system (for winter and summer angles), a brand new 128lb! sealed solar battery, and the components and cables I brought back with me from the islands. It was hard work over the hot fourth of July weekend, but we got it done in two long, sweaty days.
After that, we rewarded ourselves with a trip to Black Bridge Winery and one of our favorites there, Stone Cottage Cellars. While Black Bridge boasts of its fruit picking (we picked some raspberries) and a lazy riverfront park setting, we prefer Stone Cottage for the people and the wine. We had a wonderful tasting there on another hot summer day.
And We're Off
Before leaving Colorado Wine Country, we made a final stop at Colterris winery. They have a big acreage on a bluff overlooking the Colorado River but recently bought a second location (winery and vineyard) on the east side of Palisade. We'd met the previous owners of this winery as well, when it was called Canyon Winds. A few years ago, they sold it and headed off with an airstream trailer to travel and follow their dreams, and you know, we can't blame them! They can be found online at Tin Sheets to the Wind, where they're carving out a really interesting journey of their own.
The "new" Colterris seems to be every bit as nice as it was when it was Canyon Winds, and they've added more outdoor seating which allowed us to again enjoy those beautiful mountain views. It's also good for our little doggies. Before we knew it this trip was done, but we were full of joy. This area is always great for a couple of days to relax, away from the busy world. Also, note that we only mentioned a few places we stopped. There are at least 30 other wineries in the area from tiny to quite large, all for you to visit. And there's a brewery and a distillery, both very good as well!
TODAY'S SPECIAL: "Day Drinking" by Little Big Town. "Don't need a reason or a Happy Hour" - ha! This song and video also brings us back to the beach, where we will be in the VERY near future, so stayed tuned!