written by: Christie Marcy
Colorado’s Grand Mesa beckons with wine, food and scenery.
I spent a fall day cycling country roads, weaving through orchards of peach, cherry and plum trees, lush fields of lavender and vineyards heavy with grape—stopping only at wine tasting rooms to sample locally made libations.
I wasn’t in Bordeaux or Napa. I was on the Western Slope—in Palisade, Colorado—on the Fruit and Wine Byway.
The climate on the Western Slope is similar to Rhône Valley and Northern California—the long, hot, high desert days allow grapes to ripen with sugar levels at ideal levels while cooler nights create acidity, two essential qualities for any winemaker. An added bonus to the high elevation (4,728 ft., among the highest in the world for vintners’ grapes) is that pesticides are used sparingly because there are fewer insects to kill. The end result is not only award-winning wines from vinifera grapes (lots of syrah with bold layers of coffee and caramel) but also unusual wines made from fruit growing in the nearby, and often onsite, orchards.
To start your tour, check out a beach cruiser, complete with a basket for gear, at Rapid Creek Cycles, on the charming main drag of Palisade. Grab a map of suggested routes to more than 20 bicycle-accessible winemakers. A three-speed cruiser will do just fine—the route is not strenuous and is mostly through flat land, but you will get a workout if you’re a novice cyclist, especially after a few tastings.
Palisade is a sleepy farming town in the shadow of the Grand Mesa—the largest flat-top mountain in the world—just outside of Grand Junction. On any given day you’re guaranteed to be one of at least a handful of cyclists on the roads, though you will also share the pavement with cars and heavy farm equipment. The people driving them will wave at you as they pass. I even stopped to chat with residents in their yards. In season, the roads are lined with farm stands weighed down with colorful, fresh produce.
Each winery has its own personality—some are refinished-but-still-rustic barns, others are upscale new construction—but all had knowledgeable and friendly staff who guide tastings based on wines you already know. Gift shops offer wine-themed wares and wine (and it’s after you buy a bottle or two that you realize the true purpose of the basket on your beach cruiser). At each stop, you’ll meet wine lovers from all over the country.
In the tasting rooms, you can sample as many wines as you’d like—small pours are best for trying as many as possible, and palate cleansers are provided. Part of the reason that Colorado wines are so highly rated is variety; try them all—but pace yourself. There’s a lot of wine to taste.
If mountain biking and beer is more your thing, neighboring Fruita is your destination. The 117 miles of trails around the small town have a reputation as being among the best mountain-biking terrain in the West. Plus, there’s a crop of small microbreweries in town. Try Suds Brothers for lunch or the tiny, charming Copper Club. A sign at the door tells patrons to bring their own food. Inside, you’ll find knowledgeable barkeeps, board games stacked on the tables and a dog-friendly policy.
After a day of cycling and imbibing, head 20 minutes southeast, to Grand Junction. A far cry from the truck stops that line its I-70 exit, Grand Junction is a gem of a mountain town with recreation, dining and drinking activities that mirror the small town feel of Palisade and Fruita, but on a larger scale.
Main Street is the hub of activity, tree-lined and gloriously devoid of a single chain restaurant or shop. There is a smattering of fountains and the city’s Art on the Street program has commissioned more than 100 permanent and rotating sculptural pieces. The public art on the thoroughfare sets your expectations—Main Street is anchored by culture.
Locally owned shops include Benges, a more-than-a-century-old upscale women’s shoe store, Enstrom Candy (try the toffee), a handful of toy stores, salons, books stores, art galleries, farm-to-table restaurants and breweries. The Avalon Theater, a beautifully renovated art-deco building, pulls triple duty as a cinema, performing arts center and convention center.
On Tuesday nights, Grand Junction provides residents and guests with the Dinner and a Movie program—show your receipt from any downtown restaurant and get two people into a preselected second-run film that night at the Avalon, free of charge.
Speaking of dinner, there are plenty of culinary options along Grand Junction’s Main Street. Rockslide Brewery offers standard brewpub fare and, of course, a spectrum of microbrews, while 626 on Rood is a wine bar with thoughtfully constructed farm-to-table cuisine. Dream Cafe is a diner-style restaurant perfect for brunch, with cinnamon rolls the size of your head and an extensive mimosa menu.
In all, I spent three days in the area, sleeping in Grand Junction and mostly dining there. Then, I left my comfortable basecamp to explore the nearby Colorado National Monument—32-square miles of sandstone canyons and plateaus, perfect for more cycling, hiking, or just taking in the spectacular scenery.
I also took advantage of girly thrills like pedicures, shopping and champagne brunches.
Shifting from wilderness adventure to rural grace to urban amenities was as seamless as switching gears on a bicycle.
Rapid Creek Cycles
237 Main Street, Palisade, CO | 970-464-9266
Sud’s Brothers Brewery
127 East Aspen Ave., Fruita, CO | 970-858-9400
Copper Club Brewing Company
233 E. Aspen St., Fruita, CO | 970-858-8318
Colorado National Monument
Fruita, CO | 970-858-3617
626 on Rood
626 Rood Ave., Grand Junction, CO | 970-257-7663
Rockslide Restaurant & Brewery
401 Main Street, Grand Junction, CO | 970-245-2111
314 Main Street, Grand Junction, CO | 970-427-5353
514 Main St, Grand Junction, CO | 970-242-3843
701 Colorado Ave, Grand Junction, CO | 970-242-1655
645 Main St, Grand Junction, CO | 970-263-5700
Images Courtesy: Grand Junction Visitor and Convention Bureau