How to go Wine Tasting in Paonia

Just a two hour drive away from Aspen is Delta County and the North Fork Valley, quickly becoming the “Culinary Capital” of the Rockies.

Recently, I received an invite from Chris Burley and his wife Rachel Nadus of Diamanté Travel  to go on a wine tasting tour in Paonia (named after the wild Peonies that grow there), a place that I fall more in love with each time I visit. Boasting excellence in freshly farmed fruits and vegetables Paonia is Colorado’s emerging wine mecca with agricultural roots that foster grape growing and locally harvested wines.

About Diamantè Travel

Not much for group tours, I was relieved to find that there were just six of us, all hailing from different parts of the world, making for engaging and interesting conversation on the drive over there.

Burley and Nadus have all it takes to be successful tour operators, he having worked in various luxury service oriented positions, and she an expert in the hospitality world. Together they wove the perfect itinerary that set a smooth flow to our day, beginning with a Veuve toast at the scenic McClure Pass overlook, an hour into the drive.

As the bottle of champagne was popped, the sweet scent of what I think was Linden trees (tell me what that plant is!!!) infiltrated the air as the tiny bubbles awakened our thirst.

A most welcome addition to the trip was Chad Cox, a Sommalier at The Little Nell Hotel and a connoisseur of … well …. everything. With his wrist swirling the wine in every glass poured, and his nose deeply sinking into the glass to smell the aromas and taste the flavors in his mouth, he described what he was experiencing, giving us greater insight into the language behind the wines.

Orchard Valley Farms and Market

Our first stop near Paonia was at Orchard Valley Farms and Market. Located in the “rugged and pristine” North Fork Valley of the Gunnison River, the market is known for it’s Bing Cherries and peaches, and sits on an 80 acre farm established in 1976. Black Bridge Wine is sold there.

Sadly I could not taste the wines being poured in  the Tasting Room as my id had expired (ha!) so I explored the market with their celebrity cat Peaches weaving in and out of my legs and wanted to buy up the tasty selection of local foods, cheese, fruits, vegetables, herbs, 18 year old balsamic vinegars and infused olive oils imported from Italy.

Since the wines are made in limited quantities and sell out be sure to Join their wine club and get it shipped to you!! Case discounts are available. Shipping available (only in Colorado for wines).

The Living Farm Cafè

We had lunch at The Living Farm Cafè, a farm to table restaurant and Inn featuring farm-fresh and organic produce, meat, cheese and eggs. Chef/Owner Mike Gillespie introduced himself and spoke of the food we were tasting, telling us of his family farm and the food they grow, including a variety of tomatoes; Lemon Drop, Red, Green (for pickling) and Black (sweetest). The Arugula salad and Gnocchi were an explosion of freshness in our mouths, and the Sheep Ice Cream had a delectably creamy texture.

The Living Farm Cafe
We are one of the very few true farm to table restaurants in Colorado. Our café features farm-fresh and organic produce, meat, cheese and eggs from our farm and others in the area. We use such fresh ingredients, you are sure to notice the tasty difference in your meal.

Stone Cottage Cellars

The next stop was Stone Cottage Cellars, located in the West Elk AVA American Bitaculture area. We met with Vineyard owners Brent and Karen Helleckson who spoke of how they moved to Paonia for an “easier” lifestyle, and to be together as a family.

The Stone Cottage Cellars landscape is a prime spot for growing grapes. With southern exposure, consistent moving winds, and a temperature that rarely gets below freezing, at 6,200 ft it is the highest elevation merlot vineyard in the Northern Hemisphere. As told in their brochure, “With sustainably farmed vineyards situated between 4500 ft and 6500 ft in elevation, the wines crafted at Stone Cottage Cellars exhibit a crispness, vitality, and minerality that reflect the Colorado mountains visible from the cellar door.”  Their Merlot, “Spicy floral with a hint of sweetness,” compares to an Italian wine, like a Sangiovese, over a Californian wine, with more tannin and more acid. Their Pinot Gris Alsatian Style is a nice, crisp tart summery wine, paired well with sharp cheeses, salads, seafood and Colorado trout. The Syrah is a fruit forward, not overpowering wine with a nice balance.

About Stone Cottage Cellars

Stone Cottage Cellars
Stone Cottage Cellars is a family business and an ongoing labor of love. Our adventure started in 1994, when we left the corporate world to begin a new and sustainable chapter in our lives that would allow us to raise our family in a rural community, connected to the land. This mission led us to the North Fork Valley, and a passion for fine wines led us to purchasing one of the highest elevation vineyards anywhere in the world. Being “connected” is something we sought out, but little did we know what that would actually involve, and how hands-on our new life would be. Over the years, we built Stone Cottage Cellars from the ground up, stone by stone, from the Stone Cottage, to the wine cellar, to the tasting room.

Azura Cellars

The last visit was to Azura Cellars for a wine tasting. The path to the stone buildings was Felliniesque and a mental note was made to book the romantic cottage for Baddy and my 20th anniversary.

Ty and Helen Gillespie, who were pouring the wines, spoke of their global sailing adventures, as told in the pictures displayed along the entire length of the tasting bar.

With a bottle in our hands, we took our glasses out to the veranda and talked about wine, food and relationships. As the sun began to sink behind the mountains we all agreed that this was a trip that needed to happen again, but perhaps next time with our significant others. Everybody needs to get away now and then, especially when the Italianesque adventure is waiting directly over the hills.

North Fork Valley Quick Itinerary.

West Elks Winery Events are held May through November.

Every Tuesday, Leroux Creek hosts Pentanque & Wine. 4pm – dark. Saturday evenings make reservations for their Paella & Wine Dinners. 970-872-4746.

FRIDAYS: Delicious Orchards Happy Hour with live music 5-8pm, Sunday brunch with open mic 10-2.

SATURDAYS: in October Black Bridge Winery hosts Pumpkin Express Train to Pumpkin Patch 970-527-6838.

SUNDAYS: Azura Cellars Yacht Club has remote controlled sailboat racing ont he pone. No experience necessary. Wine by the glass. 11-1pm 970-390-4251.

Grab a winery map, rent an electric bike from Cirque Cyclery and bike your way around the area. ending up at Azura Cellars to watch the sunset over their pond.

Stop at The Living Farm Cafè for a farm to table lunch

Visit HERE to plan your itinerary.