Thumb of the valley
The Grand Valley's first orchard was planted in the late 1800s. Some of today's major growers, like Harry Talbott, president of Talbott Farms, have pretty deep roots here. "I'm a fifth-generation fruit grower in the Palisade area," he notes with pride.
In his office above the peach-packing shed, he points to a relief map of the Grand Valley to help explain why fruits that won't survive elsewhere in Colorado thrive here. "We call this the thumb in the valley," he says, pointing to a spot where the Colorado River flows west out of a narrow gorge. "Almost all of the orchards and vineyards are within 10 miles of that spot." Here, sun radiates off the Book Cliffs, and warm breezes come down the canyon, creating a microclimate that keeps temperatures milder in winter.
Grand Valley farming has changed a great deal over the years. "Now, instead of 1 or 2 types of peaches, we have 20 or more varieties," Talbott explains. And he acknowledges that while the peach is still king of the valley, the wine grape is pretender to the throne.
Growing wine grapes is not exactly new here. But the early wine industry was done in by Prohibition, and those in the wine business soon forgot this valley's grape-growing history. When grapes were once again tried here in the 1970s, it was considered a huge gamble.
Parker Carlson, owner of Carlson Vineyards, is one of the second wave's pioneers. "Most industry insiders thought it was insane to even try wine grapes here," Carlson says. "They laughed at the idea."
Nobody is laughing now. Between 1994 and 2003, acreage planted with wine grapes almost tripled, making it the fastest-growing sector of Colorado's agriculture industry. And 70 percent of the state's wine production comes out of the Grand Valley.