Colorado is known for our many quality microbreweries, but what may not come to mind when one thinks of our state is wine. It turns out, our mountains, valleys, run-off water, and unusual amount of sunshine can produce some of the best grapes in the US.
The Early Years of Colorado Wine Making
Colorado Governor and founder of Grand Junction, George A. Crawford saw the potential in our state’s unique terrain and planted 60-acres of wine grapes in the Palisade area in 1899. Unfortunately, prohibition hit our state hard and in 1916 we were declared a dry state. All wine grape growing was halted. After prohibition was appealed it still took awhile for our state to catch on to our grape growing abilities.
In 1968 a Denver dentist, Gerald Ivancie, began shipping grapes from California and selling his own blends as a hobby in his local store and winery. Soon, over 8,000 gallons of his wine were sold. Ivancie sold his store in 1972; the new owners vowed to make their wine with Colorado-only grapes. Cutting down on costs and supporting farming on the Western Slope, they began to experiment with growing grapes specifically for our region and for wine making. Although Ivancie’s store closed in 1975, it planted the seed for wine production in Colorado.
Academic Endeavours Cultivate Wine Production
In 1978, Colorado State University, knowing that the Grand Junction area had enjoyed success with crops of grapes and other fruits like cherries, pears,and peaches, got on board with viticulture studies. Viticulture, the science and study of grapes, and the events that occur in a vineyard, was met with huge interest. CSU scholars found that the low-humidity, 300 days a year of sunshine, and position of land and
soil between the Gunnison and Colorado rivers made this an ideal location for grapes. Soon after, vineyards began growing all over the region and many wineries* were sprouting up in urban areas.
(*Note: Wineries are not the same as vineyards. Wineries do not grow wine grapes, but will blend their own wines. Vineyards grow grape varietals and typically blend their own wine.)
The easiest of the grape varietals to grow in Colorado is the Merlot grape, making up 15% of growing production. Other varietals that grow well here include Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Chardonnay, Riesling, Syrah, Pinot Noir, and Pinot Gris.
The Current Colorado Wine Scene
Napa will always be the King of the domestic wine scene, but there are over 100 wine producers in Colorado. Most of the vineyards and wineries have tasting rooms and tours offering guests a first hand look at how these grapes end up in a glass. Plan a weekend away to Grand Junction or the Palisades to tour one the true Colorado vineyards, or if you can’t find time to get away, visit one of Denver’s or Boulder’s over a dozen wineries. Many of them host regular tastings.
Infinite Monkey Theorem
In addition to tasting and tours some vineyards and wineries also double as event spaces (call to see what each winery offers). Denver’s urban winery, Infinite Monkey Theorem, offers space in the actual warehouse where their wine is made, giving a uniquely open and modern ambiance to large parties. The tasting room can also be rented, and is perfect for a lounge-type evening with friends, as well as an ideal outdoor patio, complete with bar. If you do not have an upcoming event, but would like get in on this cool and sip-able spot, this summer Infinite Monkey will host Summer Supper + Song, every third Thursday from May through October. The evening will include live music, Mexican street food from Comida Food Truck, and free admission! Follow them on FaceBook for more details.
Serendipity Catering has also catered a private event at Infinite Monkey Theorem to rave reviews on the entire experience.
No matter how you choose to enjoy Colorado wine, whether at home, at your favorite restaurant, or by visiting the vineyards yourself, it is safe to say Colorado wine has arrived and is quickly gaining recognition.