Colorful Colorado is known for its majestic mountains, world-class ski resorts and tons of breweries. But for all the wine connoisseurs out there, Colorado is also home to two designated American Viticultural Areas (AVAs, wine growing regions) and more than 80 wineries, many of which produce award-winning wines.
This Colorado wine travel guide is designed to help you explore Colorado’s wine scene. Be it downtown Denver’s urban wineries, to the wine country in the Grand Valley, which Trip Advisor’s listed as of the Best Wine Destinations, alongside Napa, Sonoma and Willamette Valley. And, to everywhere in-between.
What makes Colorado wine so amazing? Read on to learn more about the Colorado wine regions and why wine loving travelers MUST them sip in.
Colorado has some of the highest elevations of vineyards – not just in the United States, but the entire world! Argentina is the only wine region that has a higher elevation than Colorado. Most of the vineyards in the State lie somewhere between 4,000 and 7,000 feet above sea level.There are only two American Viticultural Areas (AVAs) in Colorado – the West Elks AVA and Grand Valley AVA. These two areas are home to 100+ commercial wineries that produce 90 percent of Colorado’s wine. Grand Valley, is the larger of the two and home to the town of Palisade, which is considered the heart of the Colorado wine region. There are a few non-AVA wine regions in Colorado too, including Manitou Springs, Canon City, Pikes Peak, Durango, and the Four Corners region. A third AVA might be in the works…
Colorado has some of the highest elevations of vineyards – not just in the United States, but the entire world! Argentina is the only wine region that has a higher elevation than Colorado. Most of the vineyards in the State lie somewhere between 4,000 and 7,000 feet above sea level.
There are only two American Viticultural Areas (AVAs) in Colorado – the West Elks AVA and Grand Valley AVA. These two areas which neighbor one another are also home to the famous Colorado peaches and fruit orchards. When it comes to wine, the two AVA’s makeup 100+ commercial wineries that produce 90 percent of Colorado’s wine.
Grand Valley, is the larger of the two and home to the town of Palisade, is considered the heart of the Colorado wine region.
There are also a few non-AVA wine regions in Colorado, including Manitou Springs, Canon City, Pikes Peak, Durango, and the Four Corners region. In other words, a third AVA might be in the works…
Colorado has seen a 15 percent growth rate in its wine industry every year since 1992. There are a few reasons why this expansion has taken place, but a lot of it comes down to the incredible weather. The State enjoys 300 days of sunshine during the year, with low humidity, nice warm temperatures, and cooler evenings. This is an optimal environment for many species of grapes to grow, and it has produced results that wine lovers from all over the world have recognized.
A number of wines from Colorado have won the Jefferson Cup, an award in the Doug Frost competition that considers new and emerging wine regions in the United States. Colorado has placed in this competition for five years straight.
In 1881 George A. Crawford, who later became the Colorado Governor founded Grand Junction. He was the first one to see the Grand Valley’s potential for grape production and planted 60 acres of vines on Rapid Creek above Palisade, along the Colorado River. In 1890, wine production in Colorado was born. Like all states within the U.S. production came to a screeching halt in 1920 when Prohibition took effect. It wasn’t until 1977 the Colorado General Assembly enacted the Colorado Limited Winery Act to permit small “farm wineries.” Wine production in Colorado had been reborn.
Today Colorado is home to two designated AVA’s that produce 90 percent of the state’s wine grapes.
- The Grand Valley along the Colorado River between Palisade and Grand Junction.
- The West Elks along the North Fork of the Gunnison River between Paonia and Hotchkiss.
In the last five years, wine production in Colorado has increased by 70 percent, and for good reason. The growing conditions are excellent! Colorado grapes grow in regions that range from 4,000-7,000 feet, making these vineyards some of the highest in the world – only below Argentina. With 300 days of sunshine blended with Colorado’s high altitude, the climate consists of warm days and cool nights, perfect conditions for growing grapes.
Grand Valley, is the larger of the two wine regions is home to the town of Palisade, which is considered the heart of the Colorado wine region.
Colorado is blessed with warm days, cool nights and low humidity. This combined with some vineyards at high elevation – some of the worlds highest (4,000-7,000) – pairs perfectly for viticulture. The state is home to two AVA’s which are fairly close to one another and also home to Colorado’s famous peaches and fruit orchards.
The Grand Valley in Colorado was nominated as one of the top 10 wine destinations in the entire world in Wine Enthusiasts 2018.
Read on to find Carpe Travel’s first-hand travel tips and recommendations to help make your stay in the Colorado Wine Country a memorable one.
The spring season is still chilly in the Grand Valley but it’s warm enough to picnic outside and enjoy all the outdoor activities the region offers beyond the vines. Depending on the snow in the Rocky’s you can also sip in the ski slopes at nearby Powder Horn.
It’s cold in the Grand Valley during the winter. Vines and the fields of orchards are are dormant. But, tasting rooms are open and skiing is prime.
Grand Valley is a great summer destination! Keep in mind that temperatures during the day can be between 90-100 degrees so plan to spend some time cooling off with a nice rose’ or an afternoon at the pool. Better yet, pack a picnic lunch and soak in the Colorado River.
Fall is harvest. There really isn’t any better time to be in the Valley than when everything is happening! Temperatures are still warm, yet not boiling during the day making patios and picnics the perfect pairing with a glass of local wine. This is peak season though, so prices may be higher than other times of the year. If you can travel during the week, you’ll find lower prices paired with all the same wonderful activities but at a lower price point.
If a wine is designated with the name of an American Viticultural Area (AVA), federal regulations require that 85% or more of the wine is derived from grapes grown within the boundaries of that AVA and that the wine is fully finished within the AVA. Some states have stricter laws regarding the amount of grapes required in the wine.
Inari’s A Palisade Bistro
The Palisade Café 11.0
13 °Brix Cider Bistro
357 Bar And Grill
Diorio’s Pizza of Palisade
Peaches Coffee Co
Slice O Life Bakery
Maison la Bella Vie Winery – Friday Burger Night
Two Rivers (in Grand Junction)
Creekside Cellars (in Evergreen)
De Beque Canyon Winery
Grand Junction is the closest airport to Palisade. However, you can also fly in to Denver and rent a car. The drive up to the Grand Valley is stunning!
You may consider taking the train into Grand Junction too. Amtrak goes right through the area and the ride is amazingly beautiful. If you’re short on time though, flying directly into Grand Junction will be the most efficient.
Be sure to check out these Colorado Wine Festivals and Events
The Crested Butte Wine & Food Festival takes place each July, which is THE perfect time of year to visit this scenic and captivating area. The festival features a selection of seminars, fine dining Winemaker dinners, the signature event, the Grand Tasting, which presents over 500 select wines from 25 wineries and distributors, food demonstrations, and more.
Since 1981, Telluride has hosted the prestigious Telluride Wine Festival. The festival is a beautiful gathering of the local culinary community, enthusiastic visitors, vintners and chefs from around the world. Also happening within the four days of world-class wines and cuisine are amazing modern-cuisine, cooking classes, a “Celebration of Colorado” featuring local wines and spirits, cooking demonstrations, cocktail classes and samplings of unique and deliciously prepared foods.
Each year, FOOD & WINE hosts its FOOD & WINE Classic in Aspen, which has become one of the nations premier culinary events with the world’s most accomplished winemakers, celebrity chefs, and culinary experts coming together in one breathtaking setting – the base of Aspen Mountain. Foodies will delight in the range of food and wine offerings both in the grand tasting pavilion as well as the carefully curated seminars.
The Breckenridge Wine Festival is a unique wine and small bites festival held in the heart of the Rocky Mountains during the summer. Indulge in exciting wine seminars taught by master sommeliers and food pairings that will tantalize the taste buds as you take in the amazing mountain views.
Ok, we know it’s not wine but it’s super fun and is the largest collection of U.S. beer ever served, in a public tasting event plus a private competition. With Colorado being king of craft beers, it only makes sense to hit the GABF to explore craft beers from around the U.S. and the world.
The annual Taste of Vail has been rated among the nation’s best spring food and wine festivals by Forbes, USA Today and The Travel Channel. During this year’s annual, four-day event as many as 5,000 people are expected to taste, sip and soak in the Vail Valley. The event features world-class restaurants, fine wine poured by winemakers and winery owners from renowned wineries throughout the world, interactive cooking seminars, the iconic Mountain Top Tasting sensory extravaganza at the top of Vail Mountain, and the famous Grand Tasting auction as well as other exciting events.
There are two official organizations that support the Colorado wine industry, but many other “unofficial” groups. For historical information, updated wineries and other industry updates visit the following.
The Colorado Association for Viticulture and Enology (CAVE) is a member-based, trade non-profit that exists to encourage and support enology and viticulture in Colorado. The group hosts two of Colorado largest wine events, Colorado Mountain Winefest and Colorado Urban Winefest.
Colorado Wine Industry Development Board is a state entity that works within the Colorado Department of Agriculture to support the growth, promotion and awareness of the Colorado wine industry.