The History: Colorado Wine

by Grace Boyle on May 8, 2012

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As part of the series in which I tasted over 100 wines in two days on the Western Slope of Colorado, I also wanted to share a more historical view into Colorado Wine and its origins.

Prohibition:

During the DrinkLocalWine conference in Denver, Bruce Talbott of Talbott Farms in Palisade  shared with the group that the Palisade area was one of the first to go into Prohibition, but they were also one of the first to stop enforcing it. Just as one window closes, another opens as during the prohibition, the now famous Colorado peaches began to flourish, since grapes were out of the question.

Prior to prohibition there is research to show Colorado was producing some of the best wine around. People perceive Colorado wine country to be “new” but there is historical context to share that this area and its climate has been producing wine for quite some time.

Jake Harkins of Colorado Wino shares that at this time:
The state was producing about 1 million pounds of grapes, grown by more than 1,000 farmers, including Gov. George Crawford — it wasn’t until the 1998 harvest that Colorado grape growing reached that production level again. Crawford founded Grand Junction and planted 60 acres of grapes and fruit on Rapid Creek above Palisade in 1890.

Picking Up – Devoid of Extreme Weather and Frosts:

Although prohibition ended in 1933, the 1980’s began to pick back up for Colorado wine production as wineries began to pop back up across the Western Slope with their appropriate drainage winds, water rights, hot days and cold nights, 300 days of sunshine and nutrient rich soil. Inevitably, the areas experience frost and lose a percentage of their grapes but every 20 years there is a great frost that can be devastating.

Talbott calls it, farming on the edge. Solemnly he shared to the group, “We have to everything right to succeed.”

Colorado State University viticulture Professor Horst Caspari shared (in his thick German accent), “If I was only interested in money, I’d plant peaches not grapes,” over his presentation called Terror of High Altitude, a play on Terroir (of the earth, an expression of the place) of high altitude.

Although we know it’s an extreme, less temperate weather than the Mediterranean or California, you can’t help but deny the variety of grapes and growing industry of Colorado wine. Plainly put, it’s just not for the faint of heart and you have to do it just right.

Present Day:

Currently, there are close to 100 wineries in Colorado and Colorado wine is a $42 million industry.

These wineries are family-owned and find themselves receiving national and international awards. Officially, there are two regions that are designated by the government, American Viticultural Areas: The Grand Valley which includes Grand Junction and Palisade, along the Colorado River very close to the Utah Border and West Elks which is Paonia and Hotchkiss along the North Fork of the Gunnison River on the West Elk Mountains.

Most of the grapes are harvested and grown on the Western Slope, with the Grand Valley region boasting a bigger production than North Fork.

For a complete list of all Colorado wineries, check out Colorado Wine’s interactive map.

Note: This is part of a series (of 3) via DrinkLocalWine conference and the two-day trip I took to the Western Slope. You can read day 1 of the trip of Grand Valley here.

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