COLORADO WINE WEEKEND

A road trip to Colorado’s Grand Valley gives Utahns  a taste of regional wines

Utah has almost everything— almost. The list of things Beehive State lacks is fairly short: an ocean and “wine country”—end of list. Luckily, the few things we lack are usually a half-day’s drive or short flight away. Grand Junction and neighboring Palisade and Fruita are home to a couple dozen wineries. At under a five-hour drive from Salt Lake City, the Western Slope of Colorado is an easy weekend escape, plus it can be enjoyed at a fraction of the lodging and dining costs of Napa and Sonoma.

SIPS
Palisade’s soil and climate put the town on the map, originally for its ability to produce orchard fruit. Peaches and the like are still a big part of the local economy, and luckily that same combination turned out be great for wine production. Today, Palisade is also home to Peach Street Distillers (PeachStreetDistillers.com) and Palisade Brewing (PalisadeBrewingCompany.com), in addition to a burgeoning wine region. The area is recognized as an American Viticultural Area (AVA) for its wine—which is what we’re here to sip.

Oh, where to start. The map shows about a dozen-and-a-half local wineries within the 20-or-so-mile loop my partner and I plan to pedal. With some local help, we narrow it down to about a dozen. Each winery offers a wide range of white, rosé and red wines, as well as meads and ports, which the Palisade area excels in producing. My favorites (which are mostly reds) are listed below.

Red Fox Cellars
This is by far our favorite of the bunch—it has the best wines, as well as a comfortable place to enjoy a glass or two. The tasting room, with garage door-style bays to let in the fresh air and expansive views of Grand Mesa, is an ideal setting, pouring tastes from eight taps. Red Fox serves wine cocktails, fruit wines, cider and, of course, wine. In fact, they were awarded Colorado’s Winery of the Year.
– Try Red Fox Cellars’ 2015 Tempranillo

Red Fox Cellars
This is by far our favorite of the bunch—it has the best wines, as well as a comfortable place to enjoy a glass or two. The tasting room, with garage door-style bays to let in the fresh air and expansive views of Grand Mesa, is an ideal setting, pouring tastes from eight taps. Red Fox serves wine cocktails, fruit wines, cider and, of course, wine. In fact, they were awarded Colorado’s Winery of the Year.
– Try Red Fox Cellars’ 2015 Tempranillo

Colterris
The easternmost winery on our route features grapes grown in the sun and soil of Theresa’s Vineyard on East Orchard Mesa in Palisade. We had the bonus of being offered rosé in a can, among other varietals, which is ideal to save on weight in our pack for the rest of the day’s ride but also for camping, picnics, etc.
– Try Colterris’ 2015 Syrah

Two Rivers Winery & Chateau
Just steps from our hotel room at the Chateau, we were able to sample many of the wines multiple times. Located in the Redlands area of Grand Junction, this is the westernmost (closest to Fruita) of the wineries. The grounds are beautiful to walk between tall rows of vines. (More on the accommodations below).
– Try Two Rivers’ 2015 Cabernet Sauvignon

Grande River Vineyards
This one is also an easy walk from the Wine Country Inn, the other place we stayed while in Palisade. Nestled at the base of Colorado’s Bookcliffs mountain range, Grande River has great wines and a huge lawn with picnic tables at which to enjoy a bottle. We timed our visit just before sunset to watch the light dance across the Grand Mesa.
– Try Grande River’s 2015 Cabernet Franc

GRAND JUNCTION EATS
Having not previously visited downtown Grand Junction, I’m glad this trip brought us to the city’s historic Main Street area, a serpentine, tree-lined roadway home to dozens of locally owned shops, music venues, galleries and eateries. All three restaurants we sampled were huge hits, and we enjoyed strolls around downtown before and after our meals.

Bin 707 Foodbar 
Seasonal and local Colorado dishes are offered here, with an expansive bottle list of beers and wine. We chose this location for our dinner after driving in from Salt Lake City, as its website claims they are open until at least 10 p.m.—perfect for us late arrivers. The menu is designed to share, so we were able to try about five or six incredible dishes, with the charcuterie being the most memorable.
– Try Bin 707 Parsnip Risotto and Cassoulet

Café Sol
This casual café with a Southwestern flair serves up giant salads that we enjoyed on their sunny patio overlooking Main Street. Breakfasts and paninis are available but greens were the perfect call after a final bike ride before driving home. Did I mention the sunny patio? The perfect end to a desert trip.
– Try the Café Sol salad

626 on Rood
No trip to Grand Junction is complete without a stop at this unique eatery featuring modern seasonal dining and fine wines from around the world. Indoors has an upscale dining feel, while the vibe is more laidback outside on the Urban Garden Patio. Our server helped us pair several wine flights (Italian, local, etc.) with the different stages of our meal. If wine is your jam, 626 has the best selection and widest variety of options, with great food to boot.
– Try the deep-fried Redbird natural turkey if you go at Thanksgiving

SLEEP
Welcome. It’s happy hour.
Upon checking into the Wine Country Inn —a mere stone’s throw from the Interstate 70 Palisade exit—I heard these magic words: “Welcome! It’s Happy Hour. Complimentary wine is being served.” You don’t normally hear such words in Utah as both happy hours and free wine are illegal in the Beehive. A few other things are also legal just across the border (wink, wink).

Surrounded by vines and picturesque views of Grand Mesa, the Wine Country Inn is a large property that reminded me of a modern version of the lodge in Dirty Dancing—but instead of dancing, the main activity is wine tasting. This central location provides easy pedalling access to any of the two dozen or so nearby wineries. A sizeable bar and cozy restaurant also make for a relaxing stay.

We opted to bike from downtown Palisade to Whitewater Hill atop the mesa and back, hitting about half a dozen wineries on the way, including a lovely stretch on a bike path along the Colorado River. Take it from me, you haven’t lived until you’ve descended a mesa daring gravity on skinny tires and V-brakes, packing a dozen bottles of wine.

We split our trip into two halves, spending another two nights closer to the mountain biking in Fruita at Two Rivers Winery & Chateau. With about a dozen rooms, the bucolic Two Rivers is the yin to Wine Country Inn’s yang: each with a distinct experience. Nestled at the foot of Colorado National Monument, and featuring a tasting room on site, Two Rivers is a perfect home base for engaging in outdoor activities while providing a quiet chateau to return to. Hiking or climbing in the monument, paddling on the Colorado River, mountain biking in Fruita or Grand Junction, or pedaling from the front door on a road bike—it’s all right there.

Both properties include a full breakfast and helpful staff who assist with everything from bike storage to winery recommendations.

RIDES
Fruita is home to the famed Kokopelli Loops trail, with favorites such as Horsethief Bench as well as the ever-growing 18 Road Trails. Further west is Rabbit Valley, perfect for a cruise on Western Rim before driving back to Utah.

Grand Junction has several convenient options, most notably the Lunch Loops, near downtown.

In Palisade, the eponymous Palisade Rim offers some technical riding for the more advanced. We opted to hike it instead and were treated to expansive views of the Colorado River Valley.
Road bikers love Colorado National Monument’s steep climbs and rowdy descent.

Word is getting out about the Western Slope’s wine-tasting adventures. A recent edition of Wine Enthusiast magazine just named the Grand Valley one of its Top 10 Wine Getaways (in the world!) for 2018. Utahns might not be able to lay claim to its own wine-making region (yet), but we can at least enjoy one only five hours away from SLC in neighboring Colorado. À votre santé!

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