In Colorado, Wine Country Comes Spiked With Adventure

Napa, Sonoma, Bordeaux and Tuscany. The regions read like the wine world’s varsity starting line up. But in Colorado, there’s a lesser-known, still-growing wine country that’s ready for scouting, especially if you like outdoor adventure as much as crushed grapes and think both belong on a vacation itinerary.

The last stretch of a four-hour drive from Denver meanders through earthy red rock canyon walls to the Western Slope, where you’ll find peach stands and wineries, but also a new riverfront park, epic mountain biking and scenic hikes. Plus, for a unique stay, Hotel Maverick is a boutique hotel set on the Colorado Mesa University campus, where enthusiastic hospitality students are helping run the show and craft the menus.

Together, Palisade, Grand Junction and Fruita make up the Grand Valley. The area is defined by Colorado’s greatest geographic hits—towering rock formations, the Rocky Mountains and a wide stretch of the Colorado River. As winemakers are proving, the hot days and cool nights yield some great grapes, here, too.

Ahead, a wine country itinerary for adventurers in the Grand Junction area that, like all good blends, is about balance.

Where to Stay:

The 60-room Hotel Maverick is a boutique teaching hotel in Grand Junction, which means hospitality and culinary students are learning the ropes at the property that’s owned by the university and managed by Charlestowne Hotels. Snag a table on the fourth-story rooftop at Devil’s Kitchen, and enjoy views of the red rock landscapes while choosing between a decadent fried lobster and waffles dish or Colorado bison tamales.

Those coming to the Grand Junction area for a wine trip can book the “Gourmand Getaway” package that includes a charcuterie board, a bottle of wine, a three-course tasting dinner, plus an immersive tour and tasting at Talon Winery, which is owned by an accomplished falconer.

Wineries to Try:

Palisade is considered Colorado’s wine country, with a couple dozen wineries that have laidback tasting rooms and scenic views of the valley that’s striped with grape vines.

At Sauvage Spectrum, winemaker Patric Matysiewski has no interest in mimicking varieties grown in other regions; he’s crafting fruit-forward sparkling wines and pet-nats true to Colorado’s terroir. Grapes are grown in his Palisade vineyard, where volcanic rock lends a unique minerality.

Over on Peach Avenue, winemaker Ben Parsons transformed a former peach packing shed into a spacious tasting room for his Ordinary Fellow wines. Before his tenure in Western Colorado, he was the head winemaker at The Infinite Monkey Theorem, where he convinced the masses to give canned wine a shot. Now, Parsons is growing Riesling, Cabernet Sauvignon and Chardonnay grapes in a southwest patch of the state where ancient pottery shards leftover from an un-excavated Puebloan ruin occasionally turn up in the red dirt vineyard. Leather and velvet couches fill his spacious tasting room, which also has a vending machine stocked with local crafts and artwork. Le Snack food truck is parked out front, slinging seasonal snacks like peach and shishito kebabs.

Another must-visit, Colterris has a front-row view of the dramatic Roan Plateau and guests can go horseback riding through the vineyards as part of a unique wine tasting offering. The winery makes a “Coloradeaux” red blend as well as Cabernet Sauvignons, Syrahs, Pinot Gris and more.

Adventures to Seek Out:

Outdoors lovers will find much to do in this region, including the new Palisade Plunge, a wild alpine-to-desert ride that descends 32 miles from the top of Grand Mesa National Forest to the valley floor in Palisade. The trail was a decade in the making and is designed for experienced mountain bikers who can confidently skirt cliff sides and handle a 6,000-foot descent.

For a more laidback adventure, the newly opened Riverfront at Las Colonias Park is a great place to beat the high desert heat. Grand Junction Adventures has an outpost at the park, renting stand-up paddleboards, rafts, kayaks and inner tubes for leisurely floats down the river, which has a few ripples here and there that break up the calm waters.

Outside of Grand Junction, hikers can discover a collection of 35 natural arches that are hiding out in Rattlesnake Canyon. It’s one of Colorado’s best-kept secrets, and, after Utah’s Arches National Park, has the second largest concentration of arches.

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