I must be “politically correct” here and say that I do not endorse any hotel or hotel chain, as there are numerous places to stay in Colorado offering a variety of accommodations and price ranges. However, if you are looking for a special place to stay while in Palisade, the Wine Country Inn is superb! Located off I-70 at exit #42, it is convenient to all of Palisade’s wineries. One of the reasons I included this hotel, is they actually are a functioning vineyard and are surrounded by 20 acres of grapes.
The hotel features 80 rooms….72 in the main guest house and 8 suites in the Vinters House. They offer a full, chief-prepared, complimentary breakfast and in the afternoons provide wine tasting and information. There is also the Tapestry Lounge that offers tapas and a wine bar.
The Inn just opened a new restaurant onsite called Caroline’s, named after owners, Richard and Jean Tally’s granddaughter. It is upscale dining featuring French and American cuisine. The price range is $18-$34 for entrees and includes local and fresh seasonal items whenever possible. The restaurant’s wine list includes both a variety of Colorado wines (by the glass or bottle) and wines from around the world.
Whether you are a Wine Country Inn guest or staying at another hotel, stop by their “Live in the Vines” Friday evening music event during the summer months. Its held on their outside patio and complimentary for hotel guests.
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So how does someone get into the wine business?? That would be a great question to ask Mesa Park Vineyards owners, Brooke and Brad Webb and Brooke’s parents, Patty and Chuck Price!!
During my visits to Colorado’s wineries, its been interesting to find out why people opened up a winery. Some owners have been farmers growing grapes and decided they could make great wine, others have been born into the business, some have decided this would be a fun “retirement” endeavor, others view this as a second business and everything in between. But according to the story of Mesa Park’s new owners, Brooke and Brad were spending a few days on a wine tour of the Grand Valley and stopped in at Mesa Park Vineyards. The former owners were selling and after a few discussions and negotiations they bought the place and moved from Denver to Palisade! The sale was a turnkey deal and the Webbs and Prices obtained the house, barn, vineyard, equipment and the winery.
During the past three years of ownership, the families have been making some delicious wines. One of my favorites I tasted was their Barn Owl blend, which is a gold medal winner. It is a blend of several vintages and includes Merlot, Petit Verdot and Cab. Their 3 Estate wines include Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc. They bottled their first Rosé last year.
In addition to being the assistant winemaker, Brooke is President of the Colorado Association for Viticulture and Enology (CAVE). It is an association which exists to encourage and support enology and viticulture in Colorado. Their main fundraisers are the Urban Winefest (happened 6/9) and the Colorado Mountain Winefest in Palisade.
A stop at Mesa Park Vineyards Tasting Room is a wonderful experience, as owner, Patty, welcomes you with her friendly smile and inviting personality.
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It is a winery, a vineyard, a peach orchard, a sorting and packing facility, a country store, agri-tours, an event center, a lavender garden, a corkscrew museum….what is it?? Colterris Wines and High Country Orchards. I was fortunate enough to spend 1.5 hours with owner, Theresa High and discover about all her endeavors. So where to start?? Wine, of course!
Lets start with the grapes…Theresa has 35 acres of grapes consisting of 4 vineyards all named after her family (Theresa, Scott, Katie and Two Brothers [Matthew & Kennan]) and is growing the traditional Bordeaux grapes (Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Petit Verdot, Malbec and Merlot). She is turning these grapes into delicious wines all under the Colterris Wines brand. She also sells her grapes to many of Colorado’s other wineries.
Next comes High Country Orchards. Here Theresa offers us a country store, where she sells her own brand of peach salsa, jams and honey as well as nostalgic souvenirs and other items. Her son, Keenan manages the store and also gives agri-tours. The orchard also falls under this brand and consists of 71 acres of Palisade peaches and 15 acres of sweet cherries….yum! The state-of-the-art processing facility for peaches is incredible. It is a digital processing facility whereby cameras take pictures of the peaches as they go through the line and are sorted according to size. All the peaches are tree ripened instead of picked green. There are solar panels that produce 119% of the energy needed to operate the packing facility. Michelle Obama was served some of Teresa’s peaches and thought they were the best she had ever eaten. In fact, the Obamas came to the orchard to pick their own in 2009!!
Theresa is currently growing several varieties of lavender, which is an emerging product in the Grand Valley. For more information on the Lavender Festival in Palisade, click here. If you are looking for a beautiful place for your wedding, look no further. For Theresa’s daughter, Katie’s wedding, they built a gazebo that sits on top of the mesa overlooking the Colorado River, the Book Cliff Mountains and the peach orchards. And finally, while you are enjoying some of Colterris wines, check out husband, Scott’s “Corkscrew Museum”….its a hoot!
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I’ve been talking about wine for all my “Winery Visit” blog posts, but there is another form of wine (believed to be the oldest fermented drink) called Mead. Archeologists have discovered Mead in pots dating back to BC time. So what is Mead?? Its a combination of water, yeast and honey, with honey being the different factor. During my visit to Meadery of the Rockies, I learned that honey can never go bad… so in layman’s terms, there is a chemical process whereby honey gives off hydrogen peroxide, which actually kills off bacteria!!
So if honey is in Mead, does that mean its always sweet?? And the answer is NO…Mead can be dry, semi-sweet or sweet. Meadery of the Rockies actually makes many different Meads…from the traditional, to fruit-based Meads called Fruit `n Honey, dessert Meads called Satins that are fortified with grape spirit and a Honey Sheré, that is 18% alcohol.
I met with Brian Stevens, winemaker for Meadery of the Rockies as well as Talon Winery and St. Kathryn Cellars, who gave me the 411 on Mead making. You first need the basic ingredients – water and honey. Meadery uses Orange Blossom honey, which primarily comes from California and Florida. Its my understanding that Arizona has the best honey (who would have thought??), but it is expensive and hard to obtain. Brian mixes the water and honey in a huge 1960s dairy tank (sorry forgot to take a picture!) until he gets 24 brix (a sugar measurement). He then transfers it to a big tank and adds yeast. Here it ferments and becomes Mead. Brian says making Mead is different than making wine as there are more complex things to deal with.
For more information on Mead, see Meadery of the Rockies website or better yet….stop by for a taste!
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For all you Front Range people (and those that live elsewhere!) here is a wine festival you don’t want to miss!! Get your tickets now for the Castle Rock Winefest on Saturday, July 21. The event includes 24+ of Colorado’s wineries from all over the state….your old favorites as well as wineries you may not be familiar with. There will also be food vendors, artisans and specialty retail vendors….and ME…Exploring Colorado Wineries – Guidebook & Journal!!
I’ll be selling and signing my book and will also be the presenter at the 4 p.m. Demonstration Tent. I’ll be talking about my visits to Colorado’s wineries and also providing information on tasting room etiquette. Presenting along with me will be Distinct Cupcakes.
Here is information about the festival…
9th Annual Castle Rock WineFest – A Beautiful State of Vine
On Saturday, July 21st, noon to 6pm, wine lovers will have an opportunity to participate in a Grand Tasting of Colorado wines at one convenient location The Grange in the Meadows at 3692 Meadows Blvd. Castle Rock WineFest, an outdoor wine tasting event, will offer more than two dozen wineries and over 160 varieties of Colorado wine. This event draws wine aficionados for its tastings, wine seminars, cooking demonstrations, food and entertainment. Grand Tasting Tickets cost $27 prior to July 19th, $37 after. First 1,700 WineFest Attendees will receive a free wine bottle tote and wine glass. As part of the WineFest celebration, Winemaker Dinners will be held July 16th, 17th, and 18th. Dinners feature select wine pairings with signature cuisine at local area restaurants.
For more information, click here.
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I took a break from my winery visits and made a stop at SunCrest Orchard Alpacas….its in the Grand Valley’s What Else to See & Do section of my book – Exploring Colorado Wineries. This is a “must stop” whether you are 5 or 95! Owners Mike and Cindy and their son, Chris are knowledgeable, friendly and welcoming. The complimentary tour starts with watching and learning about their 56 alpacas. So what’s the difference between an alpaca and a llama?? One major difference is their uses….alpacas are used for guarding sheep and llamas are used for carrying/packing. Importation of alpacas from Chile, Bolivia and Peru began in 1982 and stopped in 1997. There are approximately 175,000 alpacas in the USA versus 6.5 million sheep.
Being a docent at the Denver Zoo, I was quite fascinated with them…so here’s some facts:
- They live for 20-25 years, and their fiber (not wool/hair) produces for 12-18 years.
- They ovulate only at copulation (which I’m not getting into!!), and give birth to 1 offspring called a cria.
- They eat a limited diet – 1.5 bales (65 lbs) of grass and hay per month and drink lots of water.
- Their fiber is the quality of cashmere with the durability of wool.
So how does their fiber become a product?? I’m going to give you a general overview, but you should stop by the farm and take the tour for yourself!!! The pictures below are labeled with the step and machine name.
- Washing machine – washed for 3.5 hours at 140 degrees.
- Dryer – after washing the fiber is 90% air-dried on racks.
- Picker – this machine opens up or pulls apart the fiber.
- Blows into room – (no picture) the Picker blows it into a sealed room where it is picked up after the static has stopped.
- Separator – this machine separates the hairs and vegetation and gets rid of hair follicles.
- Carder – combs out the fiber and produces 3 types of products: rug yarn, batting for quilting and regular yarn.
- Drafter – stretches the yarn to 2.5 times its size (done twice).
- Spinner – stretches the yarn further and twists it depending on what it will be used for.
- Plyer – makes the final yarn into 2, 3 or 4 ply (synthetic yarn is usually 8, 10 or 12 ply).
- Steamer – basically blow drys the yarn without combing it to “loft” it by relaxing the hair into its natural state.
- Skein winder – winds the yarn into big skeins for final use.
So now you know everything about alpacas and the processing of their fiber!!
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If you are looking for an easy-to-find winery where you can sample numerous varieties of wine, look no further. Talon Winery and St. Kathryn Cellars are just off I-70 at Exit #42 in Palisade.
Talon Winery is all about the classics. Owners, Glenn and Natalie Foster devote this production to the standard varietal wines of Merlot, Cab, Riesling and a few blends, using locally grown grapes. St. Kathryn Cellars is just the opposite….more fruit based wines. In fact, their biggest seller is called Sweet Scarlet, which is a Merlot and Blackberry blend. They also have a Lavender wine, which is a blend of Riesling and Lavender (lavender oil infused into the wine) and is a big hit during the Palisade Lavender Fest.
The Fosters began their operation in 2005 in Fruita, but 3 years later realized they needed to expand, so moved their facilities and tasting room to Palisade and purchased St. Kathryn Cellars and Meadery of the Rockies (which I’ll talk about at a later time). Glenn has been around winemaking for years as his father founded and ran Ravenswood Winery in California.
When you are visiting their tasting rooms (St. Kathryn to the right/north and Talon to the left/south side of the building they share) take a minute to read information on Colorado’s wine history. Someone has done an INCREDIBLE job of gathering information and old photographs to tell the story of how wine began in Colorado. Additionally, if you need any wine-related merchandise, both tasting rooms are huge and offer a vast assortment of paraphernalia. And finally, if you have a sweet tooth (or need to bribe the kids while you are tasting!) they have The Colorado Fudge Factory right in the tasting room where they offer free samples!
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Maison la Belle Vie means House of the Beautiful Life in French, but I also think it could be called Tasting Room with Serenity! Maison la Belle Vie winery is nestled among its vineyards and surrounded by huge trees. There is an exquisite indoor tasting room, but it was the beautiful area outside that drew my attention. Tables and chairs are arranged for enjoying your wine outside, and there is even a 1968 Citroën, which is a 2-horsepower French car (for all you car aficionados).
In addition to the tasting room area, the winery boasts both an indoor and outside facility for parties or to rent. The outside area contains a little pond complete with a fountain, a waterfall and a gazebo. A BBQ area was being built when I was there in May. This area is perfect for the wine tasting dinners and cheese and wine parties hosted by Maison’s owner, John Barbier. The indoor facility is a huge space for parties or weddings.
John is from the Loire Valley in France and produces his delicious wines all by hand, as he believes it is easier to control the wine that way. Of course, he only uses French oak for maturing his wines. He says he is still stomping the grapes with his feet, but I saw an old wine press, so I think he was pulling my leg!! He has hired a man named Cory from Australia as his winemaker. One thing I learned from both of them was what constitutes an ideal grape vine (that is not the stock that comes up from the ground, but the vine that grows horizontally). And that is having 1 hand fit between each vine….too close and the grapes don’t get enough sun and too far apart your yield is not optimal.
Hopefully my pictures below will provide you a visual of the peacefulness I felt as I tasted wine at Maison la Belle Vie.
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Ron and Kristin West and their children, owners of Varaison Vineyards & Winery (pronounced like raisin) offers a truly unique experience at their winery. They pride themselves on educating you on the proper techniques of tasting wine, and son, Alex, has this down to a tee! He is extremely knowledgeable and VERY enthusiastic about teaching you the “how tos.” But don’t let quiet brother, Andrew, fool you, he knows his stuff, too! The current West family is the 5th generation to live in the Grand Valley and is producing some delicious wines.
Varaison adds a little different twist in the naming of their wines, and predominately produces them in the Old World style. Their 2007 Merlot is called Bin 3115 and was aged in oak barrels. It is a fruit forward wine with tastes of black cherry, plum and hints of milk chocolate. They also have a 2007 Merlot called Bin 405, that they aged in stainless steel tanks with 7 “oak exchanges.” The two are amazingly different, yet from the same grape and vintage. You can’t take my word for it, you will have to taste it for yourself!
The winery is adding a new product to their tasting room…truffles. They are still experimenting with the final product but I was able to sample a few paired with their wines. What is interesting is some of the ingredients…sundried tomatoes and blue cheese and yet tastes like chocolate!
In addition to their tasting room, they also have an events center for private parties up to 400 people, with 125 ideal. The facility features a catering kitchen and includes a 100 year old pizza oven. Whether you are at Varaison to taste wine or attend an event, you must take a walk through their formal English rose garden, tended by daughter Ashleigh.
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I just received a photo taken during the Channel 7 News broadcast on June 6, 2012 with the Gabby Gourmet (aka Pat Miller) and Bertha Lynn.
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