The High Vineyards of Colorado

While many know the mountains of Colorado for outdoor sports and hikes, few know that the high-altitudes and sunlight can benefit vineyards as well.
Illustration by Kavel Rafferty

While Colorado may be best known for mountain and river sports, the state enjoys renown for other resources: fine cattle ranches, organically raised lamb, artisanal cheese and wine from more than 140 licensed producers.

The wine industry got its start in 1890 when Gov. George A. Crawford planted Colorado’s first grapevines near Palisade, in the western part of the state. After a nine-year gradual climb to 1,744 gallons of wine, 1916 legislation effectively halted wine production four years before the start of Prohibition.

Colorado Wine Industry

 

689 acres under vine
147 Wineries mostly in Mesa and Delta Counties

It was Dr. Gerald Ivancie, a periodontist, who ushered in the modern era of Colorado winemaking, opening his namesake winery in 1968. The first wines were made from Cabernet Sauvignon grapes shipped from California. His winemaker, Warren Winiarski, went on to greater fame at the 1976 “Judgment of Paris” tastings with Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars.

Today, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc and Riesling are the top-planted varieties, with most premium grapevines planted from 4,000 to 7,000 feet above sea level. The state boasts the highest-elevation appellation in the states, the West Elks American Viticultural Area (AVA).

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Anemoi Red

 

Leading Wineries

 

Anemoi, Carlson Vineyards,
Colorado Cellars,
Infinite Monkey Theorem, Kingman, Sutcliffe,
Terror Creek Winery,
Two Rivers Winery

“While the high-elevation vineyards present significant challenges to the grape grower, those same elevations offer the winemaker unique and very desirable wine characteristics,” says Brent Helleckson, owner of Stone Cottage Cellars in Paonia, noting that the combination of elevation and intense sunlight allows grapes to “easily accumulate sufficient sugar in almost any year.”

John Garlich, owner/winemaker of Boulder’s BookCliff Vineyards, notes that while the climate creates setbacks, it also provides benefits in the way of pest and disease control.

Soils matter, too

Kingman Cab

“We have wonderful soils in the Grand Valley, which are ideal for growing wine grapes,” says Kaibab Sauvage, president of the Colorado Association for Viticulture and Enology, and owner of Colorado Vineyard Specialists, a viticultural management company. He noted many soils are mixed with eroded sediment washed down from the mountains.

Production + Distribution;

 

Approximately 160,000
cases per year, with wineries gaining more distribution every year, and most with direct shipping to consumers where allowed.

“This mixing with three different rock types and the components of an ancient sea bed combine to make well-drained, fertile soils ideal for producing magnificent wine grapes,” he says.

Kyle Schlachter of the Colorado Wine Industry Development Board, within the state agriculture department, is optimistic about Colorado’s future. “I see Colorado producers gaining a larger market share and even being available in select markets around the country. I think Colorado will have the reputation as a high-quality wine producing region.”

Published on June 5, 2017
Topics: Wine Regions
About the Author
Mike DeSimone and Jeff Jenssen
Entertaining and Lifestyle Editors

Mike DeSimone and Jeff Jenssen are Wine Enthusiast's Entertaining and Lifestyle Editors. DeSimone tastes wine from Israel and the Mediterranean Basin, while Jenssen tastes wine from Eastern Europe, including the former the Soviet Union and Yugoslavia. Both co-authored Wines of California, Wines of the Southern Hemisphere, and The Fire Island Cookbook. Wine educators and presenters, both gentlemen serve as frequent guests on national and local television. Email: mikeandjeff@wineenthusiast.net




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