When you consider the warm and sunny weather of California, it might seem surprising that Colorado has a thriving wine industry. The harsh climate isn’t ideally suited to growing grapes; however, this unlikely wine -growing state has a history of producing wine that dates back to the 19th century. Prohibition laws put a stop to things for a while and the wine growing practice didn’t really get started again until the 1990s. However, it was then that the great wine-producing boom occurred, with the industry increasing tenfold between the years of 1991 and 2011.
So how can the wine growing process occur in the cold Colorado climate? The answer is that many of the vineyards are very high in elevation, which means that they are exposed to very strong sunlight during the day. The warm daytime sunlight and cool evenings make for ideal grape growing, and the soil is also less acidic than other regions of the USA, making the conditions more similar to Europe. Although the growing season is short, Colorado’s wine producers make the most of the time they have.
Colorado boasts over 70 wineries and you can take day trips from Vail to many of the small towns where the grapes are grown. Visiting these lovely vineyards is a great opportunity to take a break from skiing and mountain biking and enjoy some of the gorgeous scenery of the Colorado countryside, including snow-covered mountains and stunning red-rock mesas. Many of the best resorts in Vail will offer you information about wine-tasting tours or how to get to each winery on your own.
Where to Go
Whether you are exploring on your own or with a tour, Vail is a great base for enjoying Colorado’s wine country. Here are a few of the locations that you can check out along the way.
This lovely town is a popular gateway to the Black Canyon on the east as well as Telluride and other ski areas to the south. It is home to some of the highest wine vineyards in North America and it is especially well known for its superb white wine varieties. After sampling some off the wine at one of these high-altitude wineries, you can also learn about early pioneer lifestyles at the Montrose Country Historical Museum.
This area is most famous for its fruit orchards and it is a picturesque farming community surrounded by mesas and other stunning rock formations. More than three-quarters of wine grapes grown in Colorado come from Palisade, and the town is home to more than a dozen wineries. If you visit during a weekend in the summer, you can check out the farmer’s market where you will find artists, local musicians and fresh produce.
This small town is a bit of a haven for the quirky and the off-beat, with a population of artists, activists and new-age enthusiasts. It prides itself on its community activism and liberal thinking as well as the funky mix of boutique shops and art galleries within the center. There are many fine wineries located around the city where you can spend the afternoon tasting and chatting.
Another similar small town in the wine country, Hotchkiss is known for the 19th and early 20th-century architecture along its Main Street. It also has plenty of rich soil which makes it perfect for growing cherries, apples and peaches along with grapes. If you visit during August, you can attend the Delta County Fair.
This is the main hub between Denver and Salt Lake City, so it is a great place to head if you want to explore Southwestern Colorado and Northern Utah on day trips. It also offers wine tasting as well as fine dining, excellent shopping malls, theaters and plenty of outdoor recreation opportunities.
When to Plan Your Trip
The best time to make a visit is during late March, which is usually when the very first fruit orchards will start to blossom. Many of the vineyards in the area will most wine tastings during the spring season, usually accompanied with delicious food pairings. Another great time to visit is the late summer, which is when the peaches and other fruit will be ripe. Also, a visit during September will mean that you can take part in the Colorado Mountain Wine Fest which is a very popular four-day wine celebration and one of the biggest events of the year in the Grand Valley.
Have fun savoring the pleasures of Colorado’s fantastic wine country!
About the Author: Erica Shelton is a freelance writer and blogger who lives in Vail, Colorado. She loves to spend her weekends relaxing in the peaceful communities within Colorado’s wine region.