December 17, 2009 | Colorado, Food, Rocky Mountains, Travel, Wine
I’ve been delinquent for some time in posting about our trip to the Colorado Mountain Winefest weekend back in September, but better late than never! I arranged for about 25 of my friends, many who have toured wine regions in many countries around the world, to join me for a taste of our own local Colorado wines – oh yea – and to celebrate a big birthday that ends in a zero with me!
I like toÂ arrive in a place early if there are planned activities or touring. It gives you a chance to unwind, adjust to any time zone changes, and generally settle in before the festivities begin. In this case we settled into the very lovely Wine Country Inn in Palisade, Colorado for the weekend.
It sits right up against the mesas on the western slope ofÂ Colorado, nestled in vineyards, and you’d never know you are only 100 feet off of the interstate.
On Friday morning, before the full crowd had arrived, the few of us who made it in early checked out these very fun cruiser bikes from Rapid Creek Cycles on Main St.
You can probably tell from looking at me that I’m more of a wine drinker than a bike rider, but combining the two on the easier of the mapped out wine routes (at the store owner’s suggestion) seemed like the perfect way to spend a gorgeous fall day.
So off we set, riding out of the small town (really just a block long) and into the vineyards…
…and thankfully we didn’t have to ride long before coming to our very first winery.
Doesn’t my husband look happy? That’s how we all felt after sipping a few CO wines at Canyon Wind, discovering that indeed we liked them, ordering some to be picked up later in the weekend, and re-boarding our bikes for the next leg of our ride.
If you’re not from Colorado, you might not be aware that the western slope of the Rocky Mountains, and Palisade in particular, are famous for growing the best peaches you can imagine. September is actually a little late in the season, but we still saw some gorgeous specimens at the farmers’ stands along the back roads of the area.
Stop two on our bike trip landed us at Garfield Estates Winery – named for that bluff in the rear that’s called Garfield Mesa. The guy running this place is a former tech guy who sold out, invested in some land on the western slope, and decided to get into the wine business. He’s passionate about wine, explained a great deal to us about why the Colorado climate is superb for growing grapes (hot and sunny days, cool nights, low moisure so little chance of rot, and very few pests), and speculated about where the region is going in terms of its wine making future (think syrah). We made our way back to the bike shop, back to the hotel to get cleaned up, and met up with the group for the scheduled Winemaker’s Dinner at Red Rose Cafe in Palisade.
Palisade isn’t exactly a dining hot spot, but I have to tell you that the Italian American-Vietnamese couple who own this place went all out for the meal. Marinated vegetables with goat cheese, mushroom soup, linguine with lobster…
…quail, pork tenderloin, and a cheesecake for dessert with Colorado peaches. And they couldn’t have been nicer welcoming us with a long “birthday table” in the center of the restaurant. Canyon Wind and Garfield happened to have been the winemakers who were thereÂ participating in the dinner, so we felt happy about our touring earlier in the day and felt more knowledgeable about what we were drinking.
Saturday morning is the traditional Winefest festival in the park, where you can see and participate in a crush, hang out in the park and listen to live music while sipping wine, and make your way around to all of the food and wine booths for tastings. The VIP ticket is probably the cheapest VIP ticket you’ll get for any event – $175 gets you into the special tent that has unlimited reserved wine tastings and top notch food prepared by a local culinary school, not to mention shade and water.
In between stops into the tent, we all just hung out under the trees enjoying each other’s company.
Back at the hotel, after cleaning up for the evening, it was time to celebrate the big birthday. We had the hotel cater the dinner for our group so we could stay local, enjoy our wines, and unwind together.
I had checked out Colorado wines in advanceÂ so the hotelÂ could order in what I wanted to serve, but stopped short after finding not a single decent sparkling wine. Laurent Perrier Brut is a favorite of mine ever since touring the Champagne region of France – it’s pricey, but worth it for special occasions!
I wouldn’t call the fare at the hotel gourmet per se, but they put out a decent prosciutto wrapped shrimp appetizer followed by braised short ribs with whipped potatoes and green beans.
Not a bad way to celebrate a birthday!
On Sunday, most of us wandered down to the Palisade Farmers’ Market that runs down Main Street on Sundays. There’s live music, food, and stands full of local produce, and we managed to get back to the hotel just as the skies opened up and it began hailing and pouring rain.
But as it only seems to do in Colorado, an hour later when we boarded our charter mini-bus to tour a few of the wineries, the clouds had passed, the sun was out, and all was right in the world again.
Many of the vineyards had already been harvested, but some still had grapes hanging on them, waiting for that perfect moment when the sugar reaches the optimal level to meet the winemaker’s targets for his winemaking plans.
If you visit the Colorado wine country, Two Rivers over in Grand Junction actually has one of the few “wine estates”Â like you see so much in Napa or Sonoma. It’s a great setting for a wedding or a romantic get away, and it was the perfect last spot for us to tasteÂ our lastÂ few wines.
That’s my gang there – all bellied up to the bar and hanging on every word the guy from Two Rivers is saying. Or were they actually numb at this point to absorbing Â any moreÂ info about growing and making wine in ColoradoÂ and instead faking the listening while they just happily sipped whatever someone poured them? Hmmm…I know my guess!
As we left for Denver the next day, we encountered what fall in the Rocky Mountains is all about. It had been in the 80s on Friday and Saturday (sunbathing weather by the hotel pool), cool and crisp but pleasant on Sunday, and by Monday morning…
…here comes winter with the first snow storm of the year!