When most people think of Colorado, images of snow-capped mountains, ski lifts, and golden, fluttering aspen trees spring to mind. Indeed, the colorful (no, seriously, that’s our motto, Colorful Colorado) state is renowned far and wide for its mountains, forests and, yes, marijuana; but did you know we also have a thriving wine country? I know, right? Crazy.
As a native, the Colorado that I know is the Western slope, a sandy, reddish brown desert that leads up to the Utah border. But nestled in the Colorado River valley is a small town that, historically, was renowned nation-wide for its peaches. Since the turn of the new millennium, though, several wine makers are setting out to create a new name for Palisade, and that is as the Napa Valley of Colorado.
Recently, my friend Keri and I decided to venture to the small, sweltering hot town, to give the wineries a try. What we found was Colorado at its finest: laid-back attitudes, friendly people, and proud, local vendors.
After three days of wine tastings, I learned that not only is Palisade the real deal, in terms of wine, there are a few wineries you simply must try. I will say now, though, be warned, with a few notable exceptions below, this is unequivocally red wine country. Chardonnay drinkers may want to approach cautiously.
St. Kathryn, and its sister winery, Talon Wine, is hard to miss, in Palisade. It’s practically the first place you hit when you exit off I-70, and its tasting building is huge. Talon Wine is a good winery, but I wouldn’t say it’s great, or even unmissable. But St. Kathryn is a must visit, if for no other reason than it is highly unique. They specialize in fruit wine, and considering the area is known for its produce, you can imagine how many varieties they have. They range from sweet to crisp, with something for everyone. My personal favorite was the Peach Passion, and you need to try their lavender wine. Yes, lavender wine. Yes, it’s as weird as it sounds, but worth a taste.
Tucked off of a worn country road is a small winery that looks like something out of the French countryside. From the moment you drive up the graveled path, until you leave, it’s like stepping into a slice of France. The wines here are some of the priciest, and their reds are also some of the boldest. Their whites lean a little on the sweet side (the muscat was entirely too rich for me), but they have a merlot that should not be missed.
Red Fox is easily the most commercial-feeling of the bunch, recommended here. The tasting room is in a bold, urban-chic shed that almost looks out of place in Palisade. They make flashy wine cocktails, but at their heart, they’re a good, solid red winery. As their catch phrase implies, they’re not afraid to experiment with their wines, and it shows in the taste. They have a lot of reds that have spent some time in bourbon or whiskey casks, creating deep, exotic flavors. My personal favorite was the Bourbeaux.
ColTerris is a “blink-and-you’ll-miss-it” stop, but it’s really good so try not to blink, OK? They have a very small selection of wines to taste, and it is one of the only places to charge for tastings ($2.50 for three), but they have one of my favorite wines we encountered. Their Cabs were very nice and bold, but their Coral is a special type of rosè for the non-rosè drinker. It tastes like summer in a bottle, and on a sweltering hot July day, sitting on their open-air tasting area, munching on olives, crackers and cheese, it’s exactly what the doctor ordered. The view from the winery is stunning, too!
Several people and websites told me Hermosa was not to be missed and I can tell you the hype is real. Like so many Palisade wineries, the tasting room looks a little sketchy at first; it’s a detached garage next to the owner’s house. But the owner himself pours, and describes all of his wines with such passion and love, it’s hard not to be smitten. The wines are on the pricier end, but completely worth it. If you arrive without a large crowd, you may just get treated to a tour around the property, and a lovely conversation. I should note, this is also one of the most generous tastings, with his entire menu available, to taste, for free.
For Denverites, Palisade is just less than 5 hours, straight out on I-70, and well worth the trip. A special shoutout is needed for the VRBO we rented for the weekend. After a long day of walking and drinking, coming back to an air conditioned house, with a kitchen, entirely to us, was very nice.
Bonus: Meadery of the Rockies
I have trouble recommending MotR without caveat, and that caveat is that mead drinkers need only apply. For those uninitiated, as Keri was, mead can be a little shockingly sweet. It is, as the name implies, a honey wine, and ergo, it might be considered an acquired taste. While they have some lovely, lighter varieties, I don’t feel as though Meadery of the Rockies will be the place that convinces you to love mead if you’re not a fan. If you are a fan, though, not only do they have more flavors than the average liquor store, they have a special, top-shelf mead that is worth tasting and experiencing.