With the car packed, we headed off towards Palisade, CO, which is in Grand Valley, one of the two designated Colorado AVAs (American Viticultural Areas).
The drive from Leadville back to I70 was slow and arduous as the snow was falling hard and the plows were struggling to keep up. From Vail onwards, however, the skies cleared and it was plain sailing to Palisade.
First stop was at Grande River Vineyards, just off the highway. Grande River bottled their first wine in 1990, three years after planting their first vines. From 1990 until 2006, it was the largest grape producing winery in Colorado but in 2006, the owners, Steve and Naomi Smith decided to downsize and sold off all but ten acres to concentrate on winery operations.
These wines are serious players. We tasted six: Sauvignon Blanc, Viognier, White Meritage (Sauvignon Blanc and Semillon), Syrah, Red Meritage and Petite Verdot. All are well made and the 2009 whites were excellent. I particularly enjoyed the Viognier, a favorite grape that is at its best in the Rhone Valley but also does very well in Virginia. The floral nose was followed by a rich textured, well-balanced flavor, bursting with fruit and tempered with just the right amount of acidity. The finish was much longer than I expected and was a real star. The Sauvignon Blanc was OK but a tad too acidic for my taste. The 2008 Sauvignon Blanc/Semillon white Meritage had been oaked in new barrels and the oak was evident but not too prominent. As this ages a little longer, the oak will likely integrate more and be more pleasing than at present but it is a fine wine nonetheless.
Of the reds, I enjoyed the 2008 Syrah but really found the red Meritage (2004) to be a wine to watch. This is definitely made in Bordeaux style and the tannins are still quite prominent. There is plenty of fruit still and it will likely age for a good 3-5 years with no problem. The 2007 Reserve Petite Verdot, an unusual wine, is a spicy, earthy yet elegantly-made wine that deserves to be served with red meat or game; a truly exceptional product. All of their wines are estate produced and bottled. They only distribute them within the state of Colorado (they produce between 5,000 and 7,000 cases a year) and you can find their wines in some of the best restaurants. Oh and doggies are welcome in the tasting room which is big plus for us, and Hopi!
After Grande River, we wanted to see a different style of winery. So from what was the largest producer we went to Colorado Cellars, the first and oldest in Colorado, slated as the state’s “original winery” and when added to the brands of Rocky Mountain Vineyards and the Orchard Mesa Wine Company, today’s largest producer. Bear in mind however, that their production figures include a high number of fruit wines – Cherry, Peach, Plum, Blackberry, Raspberry, Elderberry, Blueberry, Pomegranite, as well as a couple of meads (honey “wines”).
To reach this little tasting room, we drove 6.5 miles through some stunning mesa scenery, passing more orchards than vineyards. We were reminded that many vineyards were ripped out during prohibition and fruit trees planted in their place. It is the most dramatic area for growing any kind of fruit, with a backdrop of flat-topped mesas that today were sprinkled with snow that looked like powdered sugar.
The owners of Colorado Cellars are a husband and wife team, Richard and Pattie Turley. Pattie makes the wines and Richard acts as their lone salesman. Apparently he clocks 90,000 miles a year just traveling around the state of Colorado. This makes our little cross-country adventure look like child’s play! They grow some Gewürztraminer right in front of the winery and they make it in a semi-sweet style, which is more commercial. In fact, their wines are all made in a more commercial style than Grande River; they are best known for their semi-sweet light red, called Road Kill. Whereas Grande River is making some serious wines for serious drinkers, I think the Road Kill says it all about Colorado Cellars!
We continued on to Moab, Utah, passing incredible scenes of red rock and white peaks. Our accommodation here is pretty basic and the wind is howling around the little casita we rented. Tomorrow we will be splurging at a much nicer place, but this evening we are watching the Vancouver Canucks play in game 7 of the Stanley Cup Playoffs and drinking Corona!
Tomorrow is another day….