No need for a California-bound flight when Colorado’s nascent vineyards bloom just a hop, skip, and a jump over the Continental Divide. A mere four-hour drive from Denver, the Western Slope awaits, its vinous offerings acquiring a growing reputation. “The new Sonoma,” declares Food & Wine. “A study in superlatives,” heralds Decanter. Yet beyond the tantalizing vintages lies an endearing mom-and-pop essence. The heart of these wineries beats in rhythm with the passionate couples behind the vines, each adding a personal touch to every unpretentious tasting.
Here on the Western Slope, growers and winemakers are cultivating a diverse selection of grapes to make wines that are gaining prominence. During my four-day exploration, I uncovered a charm extending far beyond the bottle. It’s the people behind the wine—from the innkeepers to the chefs—who make this a trip worth taking. Whether you’ve never been to the Western Slope or if it’s been a minute, it’s time to set your in-state travel sites on Colorado wine country. Here are some must-visits for your itinerary.
Where To Stay: Wine Country Inn
Situated in Palisade, the Wine Country Inn offers an idyllic setting nestled against the dramatic Book Cliffs. Here, Victorian farmhouse architecture merges with the Sonoma spirit amidst thriving vineyards. Enjoy a rocking chair rendezvous on the porch, a hearty breakfast buffet, and daily complimentary wine tastings, courtesy of owners Richard and Jean Tally.
The property is adjacent to two wineries, with a dozen more just an easy bike ride away— even easier if someone else is peddling. Enter Palisade Pedicab and its gregarious owner, Mark Williams, the town’s unofficial ambassador. He’ll even take a detour to let you pet the baby goats at a local farm—five stars, no doubt about it.
High on the Colorado Plateau in the Grand Valley American Viticulture Area, Peachfork Orchards and Vineyard is a charming and rustic venue in the idyllic landscape of Palisade. Owned and operated by Phil and Sue Patton, the vineyard is known for its top-notch fresh fruit and estate wines. The Pattons’ unique style and friendly demeanor shines through in their eclectic tasting room, which exudes a farm-fresh-Pinterest-board vibe, complete with vibrant flowers in mason jars, mismatched chairs, and folk music in the air. Their winemaking prowess is evident in Peachfork’s 2021 Chambourcin—dry, smooth, medium-bodied, with blackberry notes and an earthy complexity—which won a Double Gold at the 2022 Governor’s Cup. However, the heart and soul of Peachfork lies in their fruit wines, which Phil Patton describes as “patio pounders that pair well with friends.”
In Palisade, Sauvage Spectrum is no ordinary vineyard. Here, 26 varieties of hand-harvested still and sparkling wines fill the rustic industrial warehouse, a stark contrast to the typical vineyard scene. Rather than a couple tending the vines, Sauvage Spectrum is a labor of love between two best buddies, Patric Matysiewski and Kaibab Sauvage. A daring duo, these two established their unique venture in 2019, with a bold mission to birth “a new breed of estate winery.” Rather than sticking to tried and tested blends, these maverick vintners let their imagination run wild, experimenting with the trendy pét nat wines and producing unusual and rare combinations that boldly showcase the versatility of Colorado wines, with a lineup that spans from a classic white to a novel hops infusion. But the innovation doesn’t stop at the wines. Matysiewsk and Sauvage also mix up some wickedly tasty cocktails. A crowd favorite, the Bloody Mary Bomb takes you on a flavor rollercoaster— you start with a frozen ball of Bloody Mary mix, top it off with Sauvage’s award-winning Sparklet wine, and sit back as the Lambrusco- inspired vintage fizzes and mingles with the mix, crafting an explosive taste sensation—every sip is a celebration of the unabashed spirit of Colorado wines.
The West Elks American Viticultural Area spreads through Delta County on the Western Slope of Colorado. It boasts some of the highest elevation vineyards in North America—and some great Colorado wines.
Within the lofty embrace of the West Elks Mountains, just over an hour from Palisade on Colorado’s Western Slope, Qutori Wines brings a high-elevation vinous experience centered on estate-grown Pinot Noir and Chardonnay to the creative haven of Paonia. A boutique winery and vineyard, Qutori invites visitors to sample an array of varietals and blends from the West Elks and Grand Valley AVAs. The winery’s crowning jewel is its 2017 Syrah, a bold, full-bodied gem that clinched Best in Show at the 2019 Colorado Uncorked wine tasting event—a feat they achieved when the winery was just two years old and participating in its first Governor’s Cup competition. The bold and full-bodied wine is eminently drinkable, with or without food. Try it yourself at the tasting room tucked inside the Root & Vine Market café (which doubles as a gift shop, with local art, handwoven African baskets, and other artisan creations) or order a glass and grab a seat on the incredible patio set along the West Elk Scenic Byway with an unbeatable view of Mount Lamborn.
In Hotchkiss, The Storm Cellar steals the spotlight. This boutique winery, helmed by a sommelier couple, excels in aromatic white and rosé wines that could constitute my entire menu of summer sippers. The Rosé of Chambourcin pairs perfectly with whatever’s on the grill, with the full body of a red without the tannins that are intolerable in the heat of summer. Owners Steve Steese and Jayme Henderson, seasoned hospitality veterans, have channeled their expertise into creating an immersive, people-focused wine experience. Think: sideways labels for a good peek at what’s being poured and carefully curated pairing events. The vineyard showcases the alpine-desert terroir of the region and offers an enviable view of the valley, farmland, orchards, and distant snow-capped peaks.
For a full-bodied Storm Cellar experience, participate in their curated chef dinners. Friday’s steak nights with Chef Joseph Kerns and small plate Saturdays with Chef Brandt Bishop are culinary delights. In the summer season, the winery transforms into a lively venue hosting chef dinners and special events, like the “Asado on the Mesa” firecooked dinner with the Forage Sisters.