While Colorado is justifiably famous as an outdoors enthusiasts’ dream (hello, 14,000 high peaks to climb!) and a beer drinker’s paradise (cheers to the 348 and counting breweries in the state). However, wine lovers appreciate the Western part of the Centennial State which is home to a flourishing wine scene. Those seeking an alternative to Napa, Sonoma, or Willamette Valley should consider visiting the North Fork Valley and Western Slope, including the towns of Palisade, Paonia, and Grand Junction. Pair your wine tasting and peach picking with the unique sights of Western Colorado, where the Colorado River flows alongside stunning red rock mesas and the peaks of the West Elk Mountains reach towards the big skies of the American West.
Hop Along Beer: Make Room for Wine
Before you head out on your wine tour, it might help to learn a bit about the wine scene in Colorado. While beer is quite popular, there is also a robust wine production community in Colorado, with 140+ producers located throughout the state. Many are located in the Western part of the state, where the climate is ideal for growing and the scenery is one-of-a-kind. The Western Slope, in particular, is a strong agricultural hub for the state, which can be seen in the unique wines coming out of that region; peach, watermelon, and plum are just a few of the rare varietals you can enjoy in tasting rooms.
Start Here: Grand Junction
Located four hours from both Denver and Salt Lake City, Grand Junction is the gateway to this wine tour. The town is the perfect place to rent a bike if you’re opting to bike along the Fruit and Wine Byway, warm up to hiking at altitude at the nearby Colorado National Monument, and start your wine tasting at any of the wineries in town. Some of the favorites include:
Desert Sun Vineyards
This winery offers amazing mesa views and delicious Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon vintages. Their tasting room is open in summer and fall from 11am-5pm daily.
Whitewater Hill Vineyards
Follow a tasting at this winery with a picnic on their terrace. Wine aficionados can appreciate their tasting room all year-round; there, you can taste many varieties, including the rare Riesling Icewine.
Two Rivers Winery
This family-owned winery is open year-round and offers privately scheduled tours for groups larger than 8. Located just west of town, the winery neighbors the Colorado National Monument, making it the ideal stop after a day hike (or the perfect place to admire the Monument from afar, wine glass in hand!)
Next Stop: Palisade
Drive twenty minutes down the road to Palisade, a quaint town known for its world-class peaches and creative wines. The Fruit and Wine Byway connects Grand Junction and Palisade and then meanders through Palisade’s side roads. Visitors can choose to drive or bike the byway; biking is a fun way to make your way between stops, while driving allows you to see more in a day. Either way, consider incorporating these favorites into your itinerary:
Maison La Belle Vie Winery
Established in 2009, this winery offers Merlot, Syrah, and other traditional wines. They also offer unique wines such as Muscat, a French dessert wine, and the Vin de Peche, which uses the famous Palisade peaches to make a Muscat fortified with peaches. Wine lovers can start with a complimentary tasting, then sit on the patio for a lazy afternoon filled with wine, cheese, and charcuterie.
With 30 wines and two tasting rooms on site, everyone can find the wine that suits their preferences at Talon. They are open 10am-5pm daily. Stop by to try their apricot honey wine, classic chardonnay, or chocolate cherry dessert wine.
Talbott’s Hard Cider Tap Room
Take a break from wine to try a crisp and refreshing hard cider. Talbott’s started serving apple cider in 1907; since their founding, they’ve expanded their offerings to include the “IPC,” a cider inspired by IPAs found at breweries, and the “Grow a Pear,” which is a, well, pear hard cider.
The Finale: Paonia
Your final stop on this wine tour of Colorado is Paonia, a hidden gem nestled in the North Fork Valley. Located an hour and a half drive from Palisade, Paonia is home to award-winning wineries, beautiful views, and a strong agricultural and foodie scene. Stock your picnic basket with local cheeses from Western Culture Farmstead, bread from Paonia Bread Works, and produce from Lizzy’s Market. Visitors can stay at a quaint bed and breakfast just out of town before striking out to taste the local offerings. Some of the favorites in the area include:
Azura Cellars and Art Gallery
Drive up a gravel road until you reach the best views–you’ve made it to Azura Cellars. Enjoy perusing the beautifully curated art as you enjoy your complimentary tasting, and then buy a glass or bottle to split on the patio. They offer five red varietals and two white; one local favorite is the Yacht Club Red, a blend of Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Malbec. Wine lovers should plan their trip in advance as their tasting room is only open seasonally, from May to October, from 11am-6pm.
Stone Cottage Cellars
Drive just down the road from Azura until you stumble across the winery’s namesake stone cottage. While you can sip on many standard offerings at Stone Cottage, such as Merlot, Syrah, and Chardonnay, make sure you don’t leave before trying their unique wine, the Gewürztraminer.
Black Bridge Winery
Family-owned and operated since 1976, this winery is located on the Orchard Valley Farm, which offers seasonal produce, olive oils, aged balsamic vinegar, and, of course, wine. Try their “Tape Label” pinor noir, “Pearamour” pear wine, or the “Farmer’s Ditch” red blend. All tastings are complimentary.
If you only have time to pick one town for your first wine vacation in Colorado, well, plan your next trip now, because all three towns have something to offer! That said, Grand Junction is fantastic for wine lovers to include more intense outdoor adventures with a select few wineries; Palisade’s cute downtown is perfect for families who want to combine a wine tour or two with peach picking and park picnics for the whole family. Couples seeking a romantic getaway may prefer Paonia, with its stunning views and cozy bed and breakfast vibe. Wherever you decide to visit, please drink responsibly and plan ahead for safe transportation between locations and enjoy. Cheers!