Grape stomping is a thing of dreams: Pulling off socks and shoes to smash wine-wannabes, admiring your purple feet and luxuriating with a glass of wine can create a perfect day. Thanks to the Colorado Association for Viticulture and Enology, there is no need to travel to Tuscany or Sonoma for la dolce vita.
Colorado Mountain Winefest, Thursday through 20 in Palisade, will showcase the expanding world of Colorado wines. Until recently, Colorado wines have been under the radar, pleasing the palates of high-country oenophiles and visitors and occasionally appearing on valley restaurants, but little known outside the region.
CAVE is dedicated to broadening that market and adding Colorado wine to the list of world-class produce that includes Palisade peaches, Rocky Ford cantaloupes and Olathe Sweet corn. Working with enterprising winemakers and loyal locals, they’re hosting educational events like Colorado Mountain Winefest and rapidly putting Colorado wines on the map — and more menus.
“There has never been a better time to familiarize yourself with the wonderful world of Colorado wine,” said Cassidee Shull, executive director of CAVE and Winefest.
In its 24th year, the Colorado Mountain Winefest is the largest fundraiser for CAVE, a nonprofit organization. CAVE encourages people to explore the flavors of and uses for Colorado wines. Through Winefest, chocolate and wine tastings, bus tours of the Colorado wine country and multicourse dinners on vineyard grounds, CAVE promotes vineyards and the bounty that comes into its own in early autumn.
Addressing the fact that Colorado wines are relative newcomers to the world of wine, Shull says that extensive marketing is important for the promotion of local industries like winemaking.
“Everyone (over 21, of course) should get outside of their comfort zone and find an event, a restaurant or a tasting room, and try a glass of Colorado wine,” she said.
The Colorado Mountain Winesfest showcases wines produced on the Western Slope, where the majority of wine grapes are grown in the state.
“This area is known for warm days, cools nights and low humidity,” Shull said. “These are perfect conditions for the cultivation of wine grapes with the complex character and chemistry required to produce award-winning wines.”
Because of this growing environment, Colorado grapes produce a myriad of flavors, which local winemakers and chefs are eager to highlight. Extremely varied, Colorado wines are as earthy and natural as the state: full of flavors such as cedar, currant, berries and stone fruits.
TIME WITH EXPERTS
And what would attending a wine festival be without spending time with those experts who grow, age and blend these wines? Steve Flynn, the owner and winemaker at Vino Salida, will promote his winery for the sixth year at the festival. Happy to discuss the subtleties of winemaking (and tasting) in Colorado, his enthusiasm and knowledge nudges even skeptical wine drinkers to explore the Colorado wine bounty.
One of his great loves is his honey wine, or mead. It incorporates local honey to “promote the ancient tradition of mead making.” The vast variety of Colorado honey flavors means that Vino Salida offers completely unique mead.
“Our honey is sourced from Chaffee County alfalfa and clover fields, producing mead with the grassy notes of mountain meadows,” Flynn said. “The flavors in the honey we source are as interesting and complex as wine grapes and provide the chance to showcase the unique flavors of our high mountain valley.”
While visitors are eagerly trying alcoholic samples, the festival will provide plenty of sustenance to counteract the effects of a weekend spent sampling wine. Winefest is hosting chefs who will provide pairing ideas and new cooking methods. Jill Peters and Christina Horn, from Grand Junction’s 626 on Rood Restaurant and Wine Bar, known for serving local ingredients in a contemporary setting, plan to surprise attendees with their pairing for Eames Cellars Tempranillo.
And the festival is also drawing bakers and culinary instructors from nearby colleges to introduce the appropriate wines to serve with multiple courses of creative cuisine. Live music, local creations and sophisticated food pairings provide a way to kick back and chill as Coloradans say goodbye to summer.
IF YOU GO …
What: Colorado Mountain Winefest Festival in the Park, with more than 50 wineries, live music, grape stomp, demonstrations and seminars
When: 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday; other Winefest events take place at various times Thursday, Sept. 17, to Sunday, Sept. 20
Where: 451 Pendleton St., Palisade
Cost: General admission is $45 online or $55 at the door, VIP is $190 online or $190 at the door, non-drinker is $25 online or $35 at the door, and shuttle tickets are $15 online or $20 at the door. All tickets include entrance the park, commemorative tasting glass and wine tote.
More information: View the full schedule and purchase tickets at www.winecolorado.org.