Welcome to Colorado: There's Some Seriously Good Wine among the Red Rocks: Let Us Tell You about the Nine Best Wineries You've Never Heard Of

Article excerpt

I didn't even know wine existed in Colorado the summer of 1998, when I moved from New York City to a rundown ranch near Grand Junction. In fact, I was quite sure I was going to die of thirst. So I brought my own: crisp, lemony Pinot Grigio and rough Primitivo.

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Ten years later, those wines are still in the basement. That's because it took all of about one week to discover that I had relocated to the fringes of an extraordinary wine scene.

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After that first summer, I was hooked. Not only on the wine, but also on the adventure of following funky little signs down dusty roads and finding gems, the realms of winemakers who had a dream to plant green vineyards among the red rocks. Try one or all of our Colorado wine tours, and you'll be hooked too.

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TRIP 1: THE GRAND VALLEY

FOR POWER TASTERS AND SPIRIT SEEKERS

One very hot August day, I was standing in the cup of a cliff formation at Colorado National Monument, looking out over the Grand Valley, when I heard, suddenly and dramatically, the sound of a huge bird--eagle? pterodactyl?--swooping over my head. I ducked and looked over the cliff edge to see where the bird had gone. There was no bird, but below me was a verdant vineyard, green and rich with vines.

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Later that day, as I sipped a muscular Cabernet Sauvignon at Two Rivers Winery (one of 21 wineries in this most established of Colorado's appellations), I resisted telling the kind pourer that a winged spirit led me there. You just never know how that kind of story is going to come off. But I do feel there is a holy connection between the high drama of the Grand Valley's scenery and the region's many fine wines. Gout du terroir, indeed.

CARLSON VINEYARDS

Carlson is an irreverent outfit, as evidenced by the kooky names of its wines (Prairie Dog Blush?). But that doesn't mean winemaking isn't taken seriously. Carlson regularly wins competitions--the Riesling category in particular. Free tastings; 46135 Rd., Palisade; carlson vineyards.com or 970/464-5554.

GRANDE RIVER VINEYARDS

Backed up against the stunning Bookcliffs, Grande River, which has been making wine in this valley for 20 years, really shines with its Viognier. Persnickety and prone to disease, the grape thrives in the Grand Valley. Three free tastings, $3.50 total for more; 787 N. Elberta Ave., Palisade; granderiverwines.com or 800/264-7696.

TWO RIVERS WINERY

The vineyard and tasting room are beautifully located at the base of Colorado National Monument. The Cab is the real winner. Free tastings; 2087 Broadway, Grand Junction; tworiverswinery.com or 970/255-1471.

TRIP 2: THE NORTH FORK VALLEY/WEST ELKS

FOR FOODIES AND FORAGERS

Part of what keeps me coming back to the North Fork Valley, about 70 miles southeast of the Grand Valley, is the food. I love the produce and meat from small family farms. And the Cherry Days Celebration (Jul 3-5 in Paonia) is reason enough to visit. Most of all, I love the wild-crafted edibles--especially the mycological kind.

Which is why I find myself begging Yvon Gros, who owns the Leroux Creek Inn & Vineyards with his wife, Joanna Gilbert, to divulge his favorite foraging spots. Walk into the inn during the last weeks of August, and you'll encounter a King Solomon's mine of golden chanterelles piled high on the counters, Gros busily processing them for future use.

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Even after I tried to loosen his tongue one night by plying him with wine, the secret of the mushrooms remains elusive to me because Gros can hold his tongue and his liquor. Luckily, though, he'll gladly tell visitors about the local wineries.

ALFRED EAMES CELLARS AT PUESTA DEL SOL VINEYARDS

Alfred Eames is the North Fork Valley's mix master, blending exuberant cuvees that are popular with locals. …