Colorado wine is produced from vineyards found nestled in the spectacular valleys of the western slope of Colorado. Warm days, cool nights, and low humidity make this region of Colorado perfect for the cultivation of the classic wine grape varieties. Here they develop a complex character, with subtle distinction and chemistry balance that produces world class wines. Wines from Colorado are the best kept secret in the world of wines.
Winemaking is not new to Colorado. Over a century ago, vineyards were being planted on the western slope. Many of these vineyards produced table grapes, but some vintners planted varieties to make wine. Unfortunately, winemaking suffered when the country plunged into prohibition and most of the wine vineyards were replanted to orchards, making this area the fruit growing capital of Colorado.
It took this area a long time to recover from the prohibition era, but when it did, the new vineyards were planted to the classic wine grape varieties that are found in Europe and California. In the conducive climate and fertile soils of the western slope of Colorado, these varieties have flourished and become the backbone of the new wine industry in this region.
Today, Colorado's wineries enjoy a reputation for producing a wide variety of premium, award-winning wines. The high elevation river valleys and mesas of Delta and Mesa Counties are among the highest vineyards in the world and their hot days and cool nights are perfect for the ripening of premium quality grapes.
During the grape ripening season of September and October, the diurnal, night to day temperature variation may range from 24 to 30 degrees. The days during this period of the growing season are long and warm, thus with the intense high altitude sunlight, the grapes mature to their fullest with natural sugars and flavors. The cool nights allow the grapes to retain the acids that are essential to the production of premium wines. But there are problems in the grape growing process. Cold winters, fluctuating spring temperatures, and an average frost free growing season of 150-182 days present a challenge that other premium wine areas don't have to put up with.
In recent years, Colorado wine is being produced throughout the state. Most of the state's 60 wineries utilize the grapes grown on the western slope, but vineyards are starting to show up along Colorado's front range. Varieties grown there need to be hardier because of the harsh continental climate and the bitter winters. Although some vinifera varieties are found on the front range, most varieties are the hybrids found throughout the east and mid-west.
Near Grand Junction, you will find the Grand Valley AVA. This is one of two federally designated American Viticultural Areas found in Colorado. Here you will find some of the most majestic scenery as you tour the wine country. The Grand Valley AVA is where the rebirth of wine began. It is home to more than a dozen local wineries and more come to life each year. This area is perfect for the growing of the best red wines found within the state. Merlot, Syrah, and Cabernet Sauvignon are amongst the reds you'll find coming from this region. Chardonnay predominates the white wines of the region.
Colorado's other major viticulture area is the West Elks AVA in Delta County. At the foot of the West Elk Mountains, the valleys and mesas of this region produce some of Colorado's best white wines. Reisling, Gewurtztraminer, and Pinot Gris have a well deserved reputation as world class from the Delta area. The big red variety from the West Elks AVA is Pinot Noir although other varieties that can tolerate the slightly cooler climate, like Cabernet Franc, are now being planted.
An interesting sidelight to this area is that the vines are mostly "own-rooted" and this makes them develop the flavors and characters that these varieties have long been noted for. There are not many viticultural areas throughout the world where you can taste wines from own-rooted vines.
Winery tours can be found from spring to fall. It's such a delight to spend a day sipping Colorado wine and enjoying the clear air, warm sunlight, and beautiful scenery that can be found along the western slope. It's the perfect Colorado day. And, be sure not to miss the yearly Colorado Wine Festival held in September. Then dine in the local restaurants and enjoy your favorite Colorado wines with a meal of your choice. You can't ask for more when it comes to wine.
The Grand Valley American Viticultural Area
The West Elks American Viticultural Area
Colorado's Four Corners Wineries
Colorado Front Range Wineries