TRIP 2: THE NORTH FORK VALLEY/WEST ELKS
For foodies and foragers
Part of what keeps me coming back to the North Fork Valley, about 70 miles southeast of the Grand Valley, is the food. I love the produce and meat from small family farms. And the Cherry Days Celebration (Jul 3–5 in Paonia) is reason enough to visit. Most of all, I love the wild-crafted edibles ― especially the mycological kind.
Which is why I find myself begging Yvon Gros, who owns the Leroux Creek Inn & Vineyards with his wife, Joanna Gilbert, to divulge his favorite foraging spots. Walk into the inn during the last weeks of August, and you'll encounter a King Solomon's mine of golden chanterelles piled high on the counters, Gros busily processing them for future use.
Even after I tried to loosen his tongue one night by plying him with wine, the secret of the mushrooms remains elusive to me because Gros can hold his tongue and his liquor. Luckily, though, he'll gladly tell visitors about the local wineries.
Alfred Eames Cellars at Puesta Del Sol Vineyards
Alfred Eames is the North Fork Valley's mix master, blending exuberant cuvées that are popular with locals. INFO: Free tastings by appointment; 11931 4050 Rd., Paonia; or 970/527-3269.
Peak Spirits Distillery
Lance and Anna Hanson produce spirits from the valley's abundant tree-ripened, organic fruits. Try the Peak Pear Aperitif. INFO: Free tastings by appointment; 26567 North Rd., Hotchkiss; 970/835-4916.
Stone Cottage Cellars
Brent and Karen Helleckson produce an excellent sweet wine, Alpine Dessert. INFO: Through Oct 31; free tastings; 41716 Reds Rd., Paonia; 970/527-3444.
Terror Creek Winery
On a mesa overlooking the valley is the nation's highest-altitude winery, where Joan Mathewson produces wines of finesse. INFO: Through Sep 30; free tastings; 17445 Garvin Mesa Rd., Paonia; 970/527-3484.
TRIP 3: FOUR CORNERS
For true explorers
My obsession with the Four Corners area's tiny but burgeoning wine industry started last spring at a fancy French restaurant in Telluride, where the waitress talked my table into ordering a bottle of Pinot Gris from Sutcliffe Vineyards.
And ― a bonus ― the winery's owner, an Englishman named John Sutcliffe, happened to be there. He walked over and regaled us with tales of his odd new venture, a small vineyard that was producing world-class wines. I started out a skeptic, but the proof was in our empty bottle.
After a little research, I discovered that McElmo, a 21-mile canyon southwest of Telluride, was such a grape-growing zone that it now supported two wineries. Never one to shy away from wine and a good road trip, I lit out, finding a valley filled with a new generation of frontier people ― transplanted chefs, winemakers, innkeepers, and artists, all lured to southern Colorado by its open spaces, Ansel Adams moonrises, and, now, sublime wine. –Stephanie Pearson
Guy Drew Vineyards
Guy and Ruth Drew are always open to visitors and will set you up in their straw-bale kitchen with ample tasting options, from a Riesling to a Chardonnay to an off-dry Gewürztraminer. But save room for their signature 2004 Metate, a blend of Cab, Cab Franc, Syrah, and Petit Verdot. INFO: Free tastings; 20057 Rd. G, Cortez; 970/565-4958.
John Sutcliffe's magical ranch with a hay farm and 12-acre vineyard is buried deep in McElmo Canyon. INFO: Free tastings Fri–Sun; 12202 Rd. G, 15 miles west of Cortez; 970/565-0825.
Next: What to take home, where to eat and stay