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Posted: April 01, 2010

Traveling Colorado’s Wine Trails

Alta and Brad Smith

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As you read this magazine, chances are good you are near a Colorado winery. Surprised?

Colorado has one of the fastest-growing wine industries in the nation, with nearly 100 wineries covering most areas of the state. And discovering Colorado wine can satisfy the adventurous spirit as well as the palate, taking you to areas you may not have visited while tasting an array of different wines and styles.

The modern Colorado wine industry began in the Grand Valley east of Grand Junction. That's still the heart of the industry, but there's been an explosion of wineries along the Front Range. You can find about three-dozen wineries stretching from Fort Collins and Fort Morgan in the north to Canon City in the south. Wineries are also in the mountains, in southwest Colorado and in the Delta-Hotchkiss-Paonia area on the Western Slope.

Visiting these wineries, which can be as easy as a day trip or as involved as a Colorado "staycation," is always the best tasting experience, enhanced by the opportunity to learn more about the wine and winery from someone who knows it intimately. Nearly all of Colorado's wineries are in the small, boutique category, so there is a good chance you'll run into the winemaker at many of them.

You could find yourself at a winery in a 100-year-old renovated Sears catalog ranch house south of Sedalia (the Allis Ranch Winery), a "winery row" with four tasting rooms in Denver (4640 Pecos St.), a French chateau in the Redlands area near Colorado National Monument (Two Rivers Winery) or a Victorian Mansion (Varaison Vineyards and Winery at Palisade). You could taste the products of many wineries at one of the several wine festivals around the state (see list).

Put together your own itinerary if you like to be in charge, or use a tour operator if you want someone else to drive and make the decisions. In the latter case, Rudi Hellvig, co-owner with his wife, Chris, of Colorado Wine Country Tours (coloradowinecountrytours.com), offers tours to Front Range and Western Slope wineries.

If you want to do your own thing, a good place to start is with a brochure listing the state's wineries. The Colorado Wine Industry Development Board has a complete list on its website (coloradowine.com), including links to individual wineries and downloadable brochures and maps. You can get a map showing all the wineries or by six different regions, called Wine Trails. The latter includes The Grand Valley, Delta/West Elks, Mountains, Four Corners, Pikes Peak/Arkansas Valley and the Front Range.

The Wine Trails were set up several years ago to provide a suggested itinerary and directions to wineries in various parts of the state, according to Doug Caskey, executive director of the wine board. "We wanted to make people aware of the opportunities to visit the wineries," he says.

The original goal, in collaboration with the Colorado Tourism Office, was to put up Wine Trails signs along highways near each winery in the state. That hasn't been completely successful, partly because of government regulations prohibiting them in some areas. The best advice is to get directions before you head out, using the brochures for planning, because some of the wineries are off the main highways. And make sure the winery has a tasting room (most do) that is open when you want to come.

Jackie Thompson, winemaker and owner of the Boulder Creek Winery off the Diagonal Highway northeast of Boulder, helped design the Front Range Wine Trail a half-dozen years ago. "Probably the biggest achievement of the (trail brochure) is raising awareness of the existence of wineries in other than the grape-growing region of the Western Slope," she says, lamenting that government regulations require her and other wineries to be in industrially zoned areas and restrict the use of Wine Trails signs.

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Thompson says visitors often discover her winery and others in the Denver-Boulder area through the brochures put out by the wine board and the Front Range Winery Association. "Many who visit our tasting room are pleasantly surprised to learn that there are actually quite a few wineries even close to their Denver location," she says. Thompson was invited to Paris this year to pour her award-winning wine at a tasting at the U.S. ambassador's residence.

The growth in Front Range wineries (most wine grapes come from the fruit-growing regions of the Western Slope) is due in large part to the fact that's where most of the state's population is. There also is a trend toward urban wineries. One of the oldest existing Denver wineries, Balistreri Vineyards, is on East 66th Avenue. More recent additions include Bonacquisti Wine Company (4640 Pecos) and The Infinite Monkey Theorem (located in a Quonset hut near 5th Avenue and Santa Fe Drive).

Bonacquisti was joined this spring by three other wineries to create what they're calling the Colorado Winery Row. Paul Bonacquisti says Verso Cellars, Garfield Estates Winery and Cottonwood Cellars opened tasting rooms next to his existing winery on Pecos. "Collectively, it's Denver's wine-tasting destination," he says.

Now, the only surprise awaiting may be where you'll find the next winery.

COLORADO WINE FESTIVALS, 2010
April 24-25 and May 15-16: "Barrel Into Spring" Wine Tasting, Grand Valley.
Two weekend wine-tasting and gourmet meal events sponsored by the eight member wineries of the Grand Valley Winery Association in the Palisade-Grand Junction area.
Contact: Two Rivers Winery, (970) 255-1471, or www.grandvalleywine.com

May 13: 7th annual Colorado Corks & Cuisine, 5:30 p.m., Four Mile Historic Park, 715 S. Forest St., Denver.
Wines and food from Colorado.
Contact: (720) 865-0800.

June 5: Manitou Springs Wine Festival. Memorial Park, 500 block of Manitou Avenue.
Wines from two dozen wineries,
11 a.m.-6 p.m.
Contact: www.manitousprings.org

July 24: Castle Rock Wine Festival, The Grange in The Meadows.
Winemaker dinners plus cooking and wine seminars and wine tastings for Colorado wineries.
Contact: Castle Rock Chamber of
Commerce, (303) 688-4597, or
www.castlerockwinefest.com

Aug. 5-8: The Wine Festival at Steamboat, Steamboat Springs.
Wine and food tastings plus seminars and entertainment at various locations.
Contact: (877) 328-2783;
www.steamboatwinefestival.com

August 7: Vino and Notes Wine Festival, Memorial Park in Woodland Park, noon-6 p.m.
Colorado wineries and musical festivities.
Contact: www.vinoandnotes.com

August 27-28: Mesa Verde Country Colorado Wine and Art Festival, Cortez. Winemakers' dinners at several restaurants; wine tasting, artist exhibitions and music at Cortez City Park.
Contact: www.mesaverdecountry.com
Sept. 16-19: Colorado Mountain
Winefest, Palisade.
The "grandaddy" of Colorado wine festivals, bringing dozens of the state's wineries to Palisade for wine-tasting, winemaker dinners, workshops and wine-food pairings, a bicycle tour, music and artists.
Contact: www.coloradowinefest.com

Nov. 4-7: 2010 Denver International Wine Festival, The Mile High Station, 2027 West Lower Colfax Ave., Denver. Wine and food competition, tastings and tour of three Front Range wineries.
Contact: www.denverwinefest.com; (303) 664-5700.

(Note: Many wineries, restaurants and liquor stores have their own wine events.)

Other resources:
Colorado Wine Industry Development Board: www.coloradowine.com
Front Range Winery Association: frontrangewine.com
Grand Valley Winery Association: www.grandvalleywine.com/index.htm
Colorado Tourism Office: www.colorado.com/wineries.aspx

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