Colorado Wine

Colorado Wine Destinations

Twenty years ago, there was no such thing as a Colorado wine scene. A few small scale wineries were scattered about the state, but nothing cohesive or even close to having an identity in U.S. wine industry discussions.

We’re happy to share that things have shifted dramatically in Colorado. Colorado wine is thriving quite nicely, and growing by leaps and bounds. And as usual, the thanks goes primarily to Mother Nature (and some dedicated grape growers and wine makers).

When you think of Colorado, your first thought is probably mountains, or maybe skiing. If you’ve ever spent time in Colorado, you know several other realities, such as consistent sunshine and low humidity. And wherever you find mountains, you’ll find valleys below. Let’s examine how these elements have combined to kick start grape-growing and wine-making in Colorado.

Colorado is indeed The Rocky Mountain State, but it’s also a state with many wide open plateaus and warm valleys that benefit from mountain water runoff and cool higher elevation breezes. Coupled with abundant sunshine, you have an excellent environment for grape-growing. Lower humidity levels keep crops healthy, including grapes, and certain micro-climates in the state are almost completely protected from Colorado’s sometimes extreme weather.

Two Colorado areas in particular are well known for thriving vineyards. They are Mesa County and adjacent Delta County, situated along the north branch of the Gunnison River. These two areas are also the two AVAs in Colorado, officially named the Grand Valley AVA and the West Elks AVA, respectively. More than 80% of Colorado’s vineyards are located in these two areas. There are high altitude vineyards too, sitting anywhere from 4,000 to 6,000-foot altitudes and sometimes higher. There are also numerous smaller vineyards across the state, often adjacent to a Colorado winery. Grapes with significant plantings in Colorado are Merlot, Chardonnay, Cabernet Sauvignon and Riesling.

This predominant Colorado grape-growing area is located in the west-central part of the state. Grand Junction is actually located within the Grand Valley AVA, while the famous resort and skiing town of Aspen is approximately two hours to the northeast.

As for wineries, the number of Colorado wineries has more than doubled in the last ten years. There are now more than 80 in the state, and almost all use Colorado grapes to craft their wines. Wineries can be found in most areas of Colorado, clustered near cities like Grand Junction, Colorado Springs, Fort Collins and the greater Denver area.

Colorado Wine Trails

Colorado has developed two official wine trails: the Front Range Wine Trail and the Heart of Colorado Wine Trail. Both cover fairly long driving distances and are best explored at a leisurely pace over a few days.

Front Range Wine Trail

The Front Range Wine Trail surrounds Interstate 25. I-25 is the primary north-south interstate in Colorado and bisects Pueblo, Colorado Springs, Denver and Fort Collins from south to north. The trail branches off both east and west of I-25, but every stop is within a two hour drive of Denver.

The wine trail is divided into segments: Northern, Denver area and Southern. All in all there are 15 stops, so we recommend two days minimum. Of course, there are ample attractions to visit in and around the Denver area, including dozens of microbreweries and brewpubs if you’re beer fans, too! In fact, you’ll find brewpubs just about wherever you go in Colorado, and in some cities like Boulder, wineries and brewpubs are practically within walking distance from one another.

Heart of Colorado Wine Trail

Colorado’s second wine trail is the Heart of Colorado Wine Trail, which is one of the biggest wine trails in America, if not the biggest. This trail covers a lot of ground so again, allow for a few days minimum and enjoy the spectacular Colorado scenery along the way.

The trail starts just west of Glenwood Springs and forms a giant loop which conveniently both starts and ends on Interstate 70, which is Colorado’s main east-west thoroughfare. You’ll experience both of Colorado’s AVAs and traditional farming communities like Palisade, which is probably known even more for its Colorado peaches (yes, peaches!) than its bountiful grape vines.

Part of the loop takes you southwest of Grand Junction into a mountainous area where you’ll find vineyard and wineries tucked into slopeside valleys. Towns like Hotchkiss and Paonia are great places to stop for the night.

Colorado wine trails offer an ideal summer excursion, as the weather here is close to perfect during the summer months. You’ll be greeted with warm days, pleasantly cool nights and little need for air conditioning. Further, you’ll get to experience the emerging Colorado wine industry, whose wines are getting more and more notice in national wine publications. Denver and Grand Junction are the two ideal base of operations for your trip, with both cities offering ample accommodations and plenty to see and do.