Wines of the Grand Valley: Exploring Palisade’s East Orchard Mesa
June 4, 2016
"Is Colorado the next big wine story in the U.S.?" I asked Doug Caskey, director of the Colorado Wine Industry Development Board. Visiting winemakers in Colorado over the past few months I have had numerous conversations that suggest that the Grand Valley in particular is on the verge of being discovered as the next great wine region. Many even remark that "downtown Palisade looks just like Sonoma in the early days." So I add, provocatively, "Are there wines now in the Grand Valley that could rival those produced in California?"
Caskey sensibly dodges the question, and responds by telling me that in the early 1970s, Mondavi-trained California winemaker Warren Winiarski joined forces with winery Ivancie in Denver to investigate the potential for growing vinifera grapes in Palisade and East Orchard Mesa. Their encouraging findings led to the planting of vines in the Grand Valley, a bold move that would mark the beginning of Colorado's wine-making resurrection.
So it is a fact that one of California's great winemakers (Winiarski later went on to found the award-winning Stag's Leap Cellars) played a key role in identifying the terroir and establishing what would become the major source of grapes for today's Colorado winemakers. Bruce Talbott, whose family vineyards on the East Orchard Mesa supply many winemakers in Colorado, noted that today, when they have the crushed juice from their Colorado grapes analyzed by labs in California, the chemistry is identical to grapes in Napa.
Though Caskey won't directly confirm — or deny — my question about Palisade being the next Sonoma, he does assure me that today, 40 years after those first vines were brought from California and planted in Palisade and East Orchard Mesa, "we are at the point where we have the potential to become much, much bigger."
PALISADE – WINE TASTING ON THE EAST ORCHARD MESA
The East Orchard Mesa rises imposingly above the town of Palisade in Colorado's Grand Valley. The Grand Valley is a designated American Viticultural Area (AVA) with a climate that supports the growth of the vitis vinifera grapes, those with a longstanding history throughout Europe and beyond as fine wine grapes. And it is here on the East Orchard Mesa where most of the finest grapes in the Grand Valley are grown — and where many of the top wine producers are located. Early this spring, I had a chance to spend time with Rick and Padte Turley, owners of Colorado Cellars Winery which started producing wine in 1978. Located in a picturesque adobe encampment overlooking vineyards, gardens of lavender, and an impressive view of the Book Cliffs, Colorado Cellars is the oldest winery in the state making Colorado wine from Colorado grapes. From classic cabernet sauvignon and merlot to fruit wines, ports, meads and even champagne, Colorado Cellars' products are well known throughout Colorado. Making wine is Turley's sole passion.
Recommended Stories For You
When I asked him which wine was his favorite, Turley laughed and responded, "I always say what Robert Mondavi told me 30 years ago: The wines are my children, I have no favorites. They are all perfect in their own way." Visitors to the winery are welcome to sample some of the 27 wines produced by Colorado Cellars, either inside the cozy southwestern-style tasting room or out on the terrace.
A newer winery on the East Orchard Mesa, though one that is quickly gaining popularity among wine drinkers, is Colterris — a name that proudly combines the "Col" of Colorado with "terris" for earth. Owner Theresa High and her husband Scott have been working in the wine industry for over 30 years.
"When my husband proposed to me," said High, "he promised me a vineyard." And so they traveled around the world and did extensive research on the ideal climates, and microclimates, for wine. Then, on a visit to Palisade, High realized that the East Orchard Mesa, with its high elevation, volcanic soil, and river in the valley below, had very similar conditions to the Mendoza wine-producing region in Argentina.
"I thought, here one should be able to grow those grapes that would produce the great Bordeaux wines," she said.
In 2010, Colterris released its first wines, and today visitors can sample a an array of superb choices: Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Petit Verdot, Malbec and more in the lovely tasting room or the outdoor patio surrounded with striking sculptures, fountains, vineyards and sweeping views.
Great wine is not the only attraction of East Orchard Mesa. Cider lovers will be familiar with Talbott Farm's Scrappy Apple, Alpine Start and IPC (India Pale Cider) all of which are produced from apples grown on Talbott's orchards on the East Orchard Mesa. The Talbott family came to the Grand Valley in 1908, Bruce Talbott told me, and their extensive orchards and vineyards produce the famed Palisade peaches, grapes for many local wineries and apples. Hard ciders are relatively new to Talbott's.
"The passion for creating cider is coming from the younger generation," said Talbott. "From my son, Charles, and from his cousin and wife. They have the vision and ambition," to promote this new line.
Try this summer's favorite, cider infused with Talbott's Palisade peaches, available at Anita's Pantry and Produce, on the mesa or in downtown Palisade.
Whether by car or by bike, a lazy day traveling along the Fruit and Wine Byway on the East Orchard Mesa offers up a wonderful array of treats: fruit and vegetable stands; small shops selling cheese, pies and fresh eggs; gorgeous views; and stops to taste wine and get to know some of the best wine makers in Colorado.
And wine tasting with good friends makes all the difference. When I asked Kenn Dunn, winemaker at the lovely boutique winery Hermosa Vineyards on East Orchard Mesa, what was his favorite wine, he answered with a twinkle in is eye, "Well that all depends on who I'm drinking it with."
WHERE TO STAY
East Orchard Mesa: While there are no hotels up on the East Orchard Mesa, there are plenty of charming Airbnb rentals where you'll wake up surrounded by peach or cherry trees, or with a vineyard right outside your door. Check out: Jeff & Catherine's "Orchards or Adventure in Palisade" listing.
Downtown Palisade: Wine Country Inn is great for large groups; Palisade Vistas and Vineyards is a popular Victorian B&B. Airbnb options also available.
WHERE TO EAT
Palisade Café. The sleepy Palisade dining scene has been energized by the recent re-opening of the popular Palisade Café. It offers tapas and fresh local fare sourced from nearby farms, orchards and vineyards, and a wine list specializing in Colorado wines. Serving lunch every day, breakfasts on weekends, and Friday dinner.
Inari's. A mod bistro, serving dinner on weekends.
Diorio's. Great pizza and casual Italian fare. Open for lunch and dinner.
WHERE CAN I GET THESE WINES IN SUMMIT?
Many wines from the East Orchard Mesa can be found in Summit County liquor stores, including wines from Carlson Vineyards, Colorado Cellars, Colterris, Mesa Park, Talbott's Ciders. Try any one of these liquor stores: Base Camp (Frisco), The Bottle Shop (Summit Cove), City Liquors (Breckenridge), Dillon Ridge Liquors (Dillon), Locals Liquors (Silverthorne).
Christina Holbrook is a writer living in Breckenridge. She is working on a book on The Winelands of Colorado, to be published in Spring 2017 by The Hoberman Collection. This article is the second on the wines of the Grand Valley. Go to summitdaily.com for the first article.