Cabernet and fruit wines
For all the challenges posed by topography and weather, the Grand Valley does boast advantages. Horst Caspari, state viticulturist, explains, "Our isolation has helped keep pests and disease out." Still, production is relatively small: All of the region's 13 wineries could be called boutique. One of the largest, Grande River Vineyards, produces about 7,000 cases per year.
Tasting rooms range from Carlson Vineyards' small, rustic facility, patrolled by a housecat, to the almost Napa-esque grandeur of the French-style architecture at the new Two Rivers Winery & Chateau. You'll taste a lot of Chardonnay, smooth Merlot, and bold Cabernet Sauvignon. "Plantings of white varietals used to dominate," Caspari says. But as winemakers learn more about what does well in the region, red wines are gaining the upper hand.
And, in a move that combines the best of both worlds, fruit wines are coming on strong. Carlson makes one wine that's a blend of Colorado-grown pears and apples. Slightly sweet and tart, it's called Pearadactyl, in a nod to the region's wealth of dinosaur-fossil sites. While serious about their craft, Colorado winemakers apparently don't take themselves all that seriously.
The end of summer in the Grand Valley is a cornucopia of wine and fruit, and there's no better way to enjoy it than to roam the orchards, vineyards, and fruit stands. Make Grand Junction your base, then explore from there. Take a spin across Orchard Mesa; it's like driving down a leafy green alley, with the sun shining through the fruit trees and dappling the roadway. Rustic produce stands seem to crop up at every bend in the road, offering homemade jams, pies, and lugs of peaches and apples. Several wineries have great picnicking.
Back at Jessie Jacobs's Valley Fruit Stand, it's a typical August day. The fruit buyers are standing under spray misters, trying to stay cool. Rows of baskets brim with fat, fuzzy peaches, filling the air with a honeyed perfume. Jacobs closes her eyes, inhales, and sighs. "To me, that's the smell of summer in the Grand Valley."