NY Times

Biking Colorado’s Wine Country

Excerpts from the article in The New York Times
By STEFANI JACKENTHAL OCT. 5, 2008

THE early-morning sun warms the back of my neck as a friend and I pedal along the open road, rolling past dangling peaches as well as grapes hanging in little clumps on parallel rows of trellised vines. Up ahead, a wood-frame chunk of white rock bearing the vineyard’s name signals the entrance to the Plum Creek Winery, and we turn down a short pebbly road and spot a seven-and-a-half-foot metal fowl that’s been made from old farm equipment guarding the rustic tasting room.

Inside the bright, lofty barn-turned-tasting room, a redwood tasting bar takes center stage. Cozy couches and a hand-woven rug face a well-used sandstone fireplace; local artwork decorates the shop selling homemade preserves, salsas and mustards. But it’s the promise of a glass of wine that has drawn us here today. Maybe the sauvignon blanc, with its apricot aroma? Or perhaps the riesling, with its hint of sweet peach and fig?

No, this isn’t Napa or a wine section of France. This is the Palisade region of Colorado, a dry, sunny area on the Western Slope, and the winemaking hub of Colorado’s fledging viticultural industry. In recent years, the vineyards here have produced award-winning varietals and blends, making Colorado a rising star in the wine-making universe. More important, it’s given active travelers yet another reason to visit this outdoorsy state, a place where you can push yourself to the physical limit by day, and then relax with a good meal (and an even better glass of wine) at night.

Surrounded by the Book Cliffs mountain range and Grand Mesa, said to be the world’s largest flat-top mountain, Palisade’s mapped wine trail explores the area’s local flavors and showcases its reputation as a pristine cycling playground. Although the elevation is high, the terrain is mostly flat with some moderate hills in the orchard area, and with quaint country roads wending past scores of working vineyards and fruit farms buzzing with activity. The paved route crisscrosses the Colorado River, which offers cool breezes and lovely views, and connects well marked, cycling-friendly tasting rooms and wineries that are never a few miles out of pedaling range.

Having recently tasted a sturdy Colorado syrah that I would have guessed was from the Rhône Valley in France, I was intrigued by the idea of checking out the area. Joined by a friend, who is also a cycling enthusiast, we spent three days spinning and sipping through Palisade wine country this summer. Riding 15 to 20 miles a day, we stayed at B&B’s, picnicked in fragrant orchards full of fuzzy peaches, dangling cherries and golden apricots, and savored hometown cooking and local wines along the way.

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About 15 minutes into our ride, we spotted High Country Orchards in the distance. A tidy checkerboard of neatly aligned peach trees — 19,200 in all I was later told — was clustered along the glistening Colorado River, with the Book Cliffs as backdrop.

Ten minutes later, we rolled through the log fence entrance and leaned our bikes against the High Country store, where we were greeted by the owners, Scott and Theresa High. Veterans of the wine import business in Denver, Mr. and Mrs. High bought their first 10-acre orchard in 1999, intending to rip out the nearly 3,200 old Topaz and Elberta peach trees after harvest and replant the land with grapevines. “But when those first peaches were ripe, we stood among the row of trees tasting the peaches with sweet juice running down our chins,” recalled Mr. High, clad in jeans, work boots and blue-collared short-sleeve shirt with the High Country Orchards logo over the left pocket. “We couldn’t bear tearing out the orchard, and it became clear the vineyard would have to wait.”

Since there were just two of us, we took golf carts, rather than the trolley that is used for larger groups, to explore the peach orchard buzzing with busy workers pruning and plucking unripe fruit from fluttering branches. By what could have been the 18th hole, I was in peach overload and overwhelmed by the staggering size of the estate. Before leaving, we stopped into the country store to peek at the jams and fruit salsas made from unsold fruit, before heading to our first winery of the day.

IF YOU GO

THE WINERIES

A map of the local wine trail is available at the Palisade Chamber of Commerce and most Palisade wineries.

THE ORCHARDS

Alida’s Fruits sells locally grown peaches, cherries and apricots, as well chocolate-dipped dried fruit, canned fruit, jams and sauces, in its country store in East Orchard Mesa; 3402 C ½ Road, Palisade; (970) 434-8769; www.alidasfruits.com.

High Country Orchards sells peaches, plums, apricots and cherries, as well jalapeño peach and amaretto preserves. Country store open 11 a.m. to 5 p.m., Wednesday through Sunday; tours by appointment; 3548 E ½ Road, Palisade; (970) 464-1150; www.highcountryorchards.com.

Z’s Orchards is a 30-year-old orchard run by Carol Zadrozny and her family, producing sweet, juicy cherries, apricots, raspberries and peaches. Tours available Monday 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. 315 33 ¾ Road, Palisade; (970) 434-6267; www.zsorchard.com.

WHERE TO STAY

The Two Rivers Winery & Chateau is an upscale inn designed as a French country chateau with its own winery, situated in Grand Junction. Ten guest rooms, outdoor pavilion and sprawling grounds surrounded by Colorado National Monument, Book Cliffs mountain range and Grand Mesa. Rates are $79 to $145 a night. 2087 Broadway, Grand Junction; (866) 312-9463; www.tworiverswinery.com.

Wine Country Inn, which opened in August, calls itself Palisade’s first wine-focused hotel, with house wines coming from the Grand River Winery. Eighty rooms, $149 to $285; $89 to $211 from November through February. 777 Grand River Drive, Palisade; (888) 855-8330; www.coloradowinecountryinn.com.

A DiVine Thyme B&B is an elegant Victorian bed-and-breakfast, a few blocks from downtown. Three rooms, $99 to $139 a night. 404 West First Street, Palisade; (970) 464-9144; www.adivinethymebandb.com.

Dreamcatcher Bed-and-Breakfast is in East Orchard Mesa, just outside of town. Terrific baked goods accompany a hearty breakfast. Four rooms, $70 to $175 a night. 3694 F Road, Palisade; (970) 464-9900; www.dreamcatcher-b-and-b.com.

WHERE TO EAT

Inari’s features an eclectic menu with selections that may include cioppino, Southern fried rabbit and a Colorado leg of lamb braised for nine hours. Patio seating; 336 Main Street, Palisade; (970) 464-4911; www.inarisbistro.com.

Red Rose Café has an eclectic Vietnamese, American and Italian-inspired menu, featuring seafood, pasta and beef. The affordable wine list is entirely local; 235 Main Street, Palisade; (970) 464-7673; www.theredrosecafe.com.

Palisade Cafe, a breakfast and lunch nook in the middle of town, uses local produce when possible for their omelets, pancakes and French toast. Lunch specials include homemade soup and assorted sandwiches, burgers, and salads; 113 West Third Street, Palisade; (970) 464-0657.

RENTING BIKES

Bike rentals are available from Rapid Creek Cycles & Sport in downtown Palisade, which offers three-speed cruising bikes ($35 a day; baskets and racks available) and mountain bikes ($45 to $55 a day); 317 South Main Street, Palisade; (970) 464-9266; www.rapidcreekcycles.com.

Those too pooped to pedal can take a driving wine tour with American Spirit Shuttle, 204 Fourth Street, in Clifton, (970) 523-7662, and other local operators.