The Grand Valley American Viticultural Area (AVA), is home to 75% of Colorado's vineyards and 26% of its wineries and home to many of Colorado's best wines. This viticultural area is located just to the west of Grand Junction and contains some of North America's highest vineyards. Averaging in elevation at 4700 ft, this region contains a unique climate and many micro climates because of the terrain that is conducive to producing some of the highest quality wines.
The valley that contains the grape growing area runs east to west and was carved out of the landscape by two rivers (the Colorado and Gunnison Rivers), that left deep canyons that have allowed for superior air drainage thus reducing the frost damage. During the growing season, this area enjoys natural warm days and cool nights. This is a plus for vintners as it allow the grapes grown here to develop full flavors while retaining the acidity needed for balanced, high quality wines.
Mild winters allow for the growing of the classic European grape varieties, although some vineyards will be found that contain hybrid varieties as a back-up for those few disastrous winters when temperatures do go too low.
Viticulture in this area began in the 1800's when Isabella Bird realized the potential of the area as she traveled through on her trip to Estes Park. Governor George A. Crawford planted the first six acres in the Grand Valley in 1890. By 1910, statistics showed that there were over 1000 grape growers in this part of the state. Like most viticultural regions, in the country, the Grand Valley was deeply affected by prohibition. Vineyards were replaced with fruit orchards, which became the mainstay of the region.
The re-introduction of vineyards in the 1970's re-established the valley region as a wine producing area. In 1978, Colorado Cellars became the first commercial winery in the state. The Grand Valley now boasts 20 wineries and numerous vineyards. In 1990, this area was granted AVA status which gave a boost to the valley's reputation and Colorado's wines took on a national significance.
The Grand Junction/Palisades growing region has retained its country feel, unlike the established viticultural areas of California. Grand Valley wineries are small compared to California and are family owned. Red grape varieties rule the valley. They consist of 75% of the grapes grown here. Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon are the principle varieties. But, Syrah and Cabernet Franc are representing a growing number of acres. The main white varieties found in the valley are Chardonnay, Reisling, Viognier, Sauvignon Blanc, and Gewurtztraminer.
The wine industry makes the Grand Valley AVA unique among the Colorado tourist destinations. Other tourist places have mountain biking, fishing, river rafting, National Monuments and dinosaurs, but they don't have wine. But it's not just wine that tourists come to the Western Slope of Colorado for. While on your winery tour, you'll be taking in the majestic landscape that the Grand Valley offers, full of dramatic vistas, punctuated by towering flat-topped mesas which rise steeply along roadways.
The climax of the growing season is the yearly "Colorado Mountain Winefest" held in September. This is a time when all the local wineries open up to the public to proudly display their art and goods. Winery tours abound, grape stomps are provided, numerous wine workshops are held, and jazz fests are performed. This is a great time to tour the Grand Valley American Viticultural Area. You'll also find chocolate tastings, world class dinners, golfing events, and the ever popular "bicycle tour of the wineries".
Grape growing and winemaking may look like a new, fledgling industry here, but you will soon find that you are sampling world-class, award-winning wines. This is an area in Colorado that you shouldn't pass up if you are thinking a Colorado vacation this summer. The Grand Valley has all that tourists are looking for.