Colorado Wine Country in the Grand Valley

During a recent visit to Grand Junction, I had the pleasure of tasting wine at several local vineyards, including Graystone Winery, Carlson Vineyards, Two Rivers Winery, and Grande River Vineyards.

If you’d like to indulge in an autumn wine-tasting weekend, September 19th – 20th brings the celebration of the local wine harvest with 43 wineries participating in the Colorado Mountain Winefest – 18 of them from the Grand Valley. Wine lovers from around the world travel to Palisade, just outside of Grand Junction, to participate in a variety of events, including:

• Wine and food pairing events
• Dueling chefs
• Grape stomps
• Winery tours
• Winemaker competitions
• Chocolate and wine tasting
• Wine and dine experience
• Bicycle tours of the vineyards
• Shopping at artisan booths
• Jazz concerts
• The exclusive First Class Pass experience

For more information, call (800) 704-3667 or email

At Carlson Vineyards, winemakers Mary and Parker Carlson offer a taste of their Peach wine served warm with mulling spices (warm peach cobbler in a mug) – perfect for an autumn evening. Another favorite – and the winner of several awards – is their Laughing Cat Riesling, which is produced from 100% Colorado-grown Riesling grapes. With subtle notes of apple, apricot, and pear, it is a semi-sweet wine that is a perfect complement to light fare featuring prosciutto or ham, chicken, seafood, cheese and fresh fruit. Carlson Vineyards is open year-round for tours, tasting, and retail sales, 10:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m., except Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year’s Day. For more information call (970) 464-5554.

Founded in 2001, Graystone Winery is one of Colorado’s newest vineyards. This intimate boutique winery produces Lipizzan Port II and III – Pinot Gris Port with blackberry and cherry notes, respectively, as well as a White Port. Located in Clifton, Colorado, a short drive from Grand Junction, Graystone’s charming tasting room and gift shop are open daily, 10:00 am – 6:00 pm, Sunday 11:00 am – 6:00 pm. More information is available by calling (970) 434-8610.

Owners Stephen and Naomi Smith opened Grande River Vineyards winery in 1990. With the stunning Bookcliffs rising above the vineyard, it is the ideal setting for this award-winning vineyard.  Grande River grows all of the grapes for their wine and supplies fruit to many other Colorado wineries as well as wineries in several states.

Merlot, cabernet sauvignon and syrah – three prominent red grape varieties – together make up about half of Colorado’s grape production.  After sampling their Cabernet Sauvignon, Viognier, and Meritage Red, it was hard to choose a favorite, but I decided the Viognier will be replacing my usual selection of Gewürztraminer and Beaujolais this Thanksgiving.  Grande River Vineyards’ tasting room is open from 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. daily.  1-70 at Exit 42, Palisade, CO 81526/(970) 464-5867.

A true destination winery, Two Rivers Winery, is located near the gateway to the Colorado National Monument. Two Rivers offers tours, daily wine tasting, and their beautifully appointed Chateau is becoming a destination for weddings, corporate meetings, and other special events.

Two Rivers Winery produces just 12,000 cases a year using the five varieties of grapes they produce: Chardonnay, Merlot, Riesling, Port, and Cabernet Sauvignon.  Owners Bob and Billie Witham maintain a pristine operation, complete with a comfortable reception area and floor-to-ceiling fresco murals in the winery and French country décor in the Chateau.

Two Rivers’ Cabernet Sauvignon, one of the more complex and full-bodied Cabs I tasted on my vineyard tour, has a smoky finish and luscious blackberry notes – the perfect accompaniment to beef dishes and robust cheeses. 2087 Broadway, Grand Junction CO/(970) 255-1471.

The Grand Valley is known for its mild, fruit-producing climate. Warm summer days and cool nights throughout the growing season provide ideal conditions for producing vines with maturity and balance.

If you go:

Stay at the new Victorian-inspired Wine Country Inn next door to Grand River Vineyards in the heart of Palisade, Colorado.  For rates and availability, call (888) 855-8330. They’re currently running a Grand Opening Special – two adults, two nights, and wine country breakfast for $190.00!

The Gateway Canyons resort, built by John Hendricks – the creator of the Discovery Channel, is offering free shuttle service to the Winefest on Saturday as part of their Winefest package, and also includes a Friday evening wine dinner at the Paradox Grille, as well as winery tours with a box lunch on Sunday.  Call 866-671-4733 for package/rate information and availability.  Gateway Canyons Resort also features the John Hendricks Collection at the Gateway Auto Museum – worth a look!

There are several choices for national chain hotels in Grand Junction as well.

Dine at Inari’s Bistro in downtown Palisade for a casual dining experience that captures the area’s charm. Inari’s uses fresh, local ingredients whenever possible. We enjoyed seven cheese selections featured on their Cheese Plate followed by the Thai Fish Cakes, which won rave reviews at our table – as did the Peach Mojitos! Located at 336 Main Street, in Palisade, dinner is served Wednesday through Saturday from 5:00 to 9:00 p.m. and reservations are accepted. Call (970) 464-4911 for reservations or more information.

Enjoy a mouthwatering, plate-sized cinnamon roll or sample the homemade preserves at the Crystal Café in downtown Grand Junction. Hours are 7:00 – 2:00and 5:00 – 9:00 Monday through Friday; 8:00 – 12:00 and 5:00 – 9:00 on Saturday and Sunday. 314 Main Street, Grand Junction/(970) 242-8843.

“Good Food! Good Wine! Good Life!” is the mantra of the new 626 on Rood, a modern American Cuisine and Wine Bar with a contemporary feel and vibrant works of art. We started with wine flights that featured both local, Colorado wines as well as national and international selections. Wine Director Dylan Burns makes choosing from over eighteen flights a definite challenge!

While a traditional white might have been my first choice for the crisp fennel salad, panko fried sunfish, pearl couscous, and grilled veggies, turns out the ’03 Cabernet Sauvignon by Verso – a Colorado winery – was a perfect complement. 626 on Rood is located in downtown Grand Junction at 626 Rood Avenue. Reservations are accepted; call (970) 257-7663 for reservations or more information.

Celebrating ten years in business this year, Il Bistro Italiano owners Brunella Gualerzi and Ron Hall offer traditional Italian dishes with creative flair. During our visit, we tried a decadent antipasto platter followed by caprese salad, savory chilled peach soup, then family-style platters of Barramundi and pork tenderloin. Each course delivered a feast for the senses.  Il Bistro Italiano is located at 400 Main Street in Grand Junction and reservations are recommended.  Call (970) 243-8622 for reservations or more information.


When you’re ready for a break from your wine tasting and tours, be sure to visit the Colorado National Monument. Touted by Outside Magazine and USA Today as one of the top ten best places for solitude in the United States, the Monument features eleven canyons, 20,000 acres of arched windows, rock spires and natural monoliths – all thrown by the hands of wind and rain over millions of years. Fruita, CO 81521/(970) 858-3617,

Stop by Enstrom Candies, home to the world-famous Enstrom’s Almond Toffee – a delicate combination of sweet cream butter, pure Hawaiian cane sugar, paper shell California almonds, and rich Guittard chocolate. Starting out in 1960 as a small home-based “mom and pop” business, within five years of its founding, the Enstrom family was making more than 1,000 pounds of its almond toffee each year. That number grew to 100,000 pounds of toffee by 1979.  Today, Enstrom Candies produces approximately 800,000 pounds of its flagship Almond Toffee annually to fulfill the nearly 60,000 orders it receives. Enstrom’s team of more than 250 employees during the peak winter holiday season, ship products to all 50 states and more than 40 countries around the world, reaching places like base camp for climbers of Mt. Everest, the White House, and private homes of royalty and celebrities around the globe!  701 Colorado Street, Grand Junction/(970) 683-1000.

Visit the Blue Pig Gallery in downtown Palisade for a great selection of local artwork. 119 W. 3rd Street, Palisade/(970) 464-4819.

Stroll through the dozens of shops and galleries in historic, downtown Grand Junction and enjoy over 100 whimsical sculptures located on the sidewalks along its seven blocks. Grand Junction’s “Art on the Corner” is the largest sidewalk sculpture exhibit in the West.

Note for Montana residents: You must be on-site and provide wineries with a signature in order to have wine shipped to you in Montana. (Of course, if you’re in Colorado, you can always bring it with you!)

As of August 2006, FedEx and UPS have NOT approved Montana for shipment of off-site sales, because Montana law requires a consumer to obtain a license to receive such direct shipments. As of October 1, 2001, Montana law provides that an adult resident at least 21 years old may apply for a connoisseur’s license to receive up to 12 cases per year (personal consumption only) from an out-of-state winery. The license costs $50.00 and is renewable each year thereafter for $25.00. Applicants must file for the license with the Montana Liquor License Bureau (406-444-6900) and pay taxes on June 30 and December 31 for alcohol received during the previous 6-month period. All taxes must be reported and filed with the state. Wineries should request a copy of the consumer’s license before completing any order, and keep that copy on file in case audited at a later date. Wineries must be registered with the state of Montana prior to shipping wine to a connoisseur and wineries shipping over 60 cases into the state must use the licensed distribution system. Failure to comply with these state laws may incur substantial penalties.

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