Wine, Chocolate and Food in the Vineyards of Western Colorado

Author: Ben Weinberg - September 19, 2013 - Updated: September 19, 2013

The Colorado Mountain Winefest, (CMW) celebrates the winemaking history of the Grand Valley as well as the rich bounty that the western portion of our state has to offer. It kicks off on Sept. 19 and runs through the 22 at the Colorado Wine Country Inn, the region’s only wine-themed hotel, which is set in the middle of the vineyards that back up to the striking Book Cliffs rock formations. Everything related to the festival will therefore take place within a few steps of the vineyards that surround Palisade.

With more than 45 Colorado wineries in attendance and a few thousand close friends with whom to share unlimited sips, it’s the kind of activity that makes everyone wish they lived on the Western Slope. What’s more, 100 percent of the proceeds support the Colorado Association for Viticulture & Enology (CAVE), a trade-based non-profit organization, going towards education and research that improves our state’s grape growing and winemaking.

Cassidee Shull, the executive director of CAVE, is confident that the 22nd annual CMW will serve as the Colorado wine industry’s most celebrated event. “Dozens of wineries will fill Riverbend Park in Palisade for the grand tasting, and everything else that surrounds that tasting generates a wonderful excuse to get away for a weekend of wine adventure!”

This year, General Admission and VIP tickets went on sale quite early. “Almost 400 tickets were sold during a ‘Cyber Monday’ sale in November 2012,” relates Shull, “the earliest that Winefest tickets have ever been available.” She is expecting a record crowd of at least 5,500 during the Festival in the Park on Saturday, Sept. 21. “Last year we topped the 5,000 mark and this year’s sales are already up 50 percent at the same time in the cycle.”

The Colorado Mountain Winefest is a premiere Grand Valley event in one of the most picturesque locations imaginable.

Colorado Association for Viticulture and Enology
P.O. Box 1556
Palisade, CO 81526
Tel: (970) 464-0111
Fax: (970) 464-0999
Email: info@coloradowinefest.com
Web: www.coloradowinefest.com

Colorado Wine Country Inn
777 Grande River Drive
Palisade, CO 81526
Tel: (888) 855-8330, (970) 464-5777
Web: www.coloradowinecountryinn.com

The Lineup

In 2012, there were several new interactive activities as well as demos from festivals past, all incorporated free-of-charge, and this year CAVE Executive Director Shull has added a bunch of additional happenings. So there is no need to pay extra to learn about food and wine pairings from top chefs, get in-depth knowledge of Colorado’s unique terroir or learn to pick out common aromas in wine.

“From Sept. 19 to 22, guests can enjoy food and wine pairings at local Grand Valley restaurants,” says Shull. “These include a glass of Colorado wine and a small plate for $20 or less. We also offer educational seminars throughout the long weekend. There is a Riedel tasting on Friday afternoon that will highlight the difference a good glass can make. On Saturday, entrance into Winefest grants free access to the seminar tent, where we rotate three informative and fun sessions throughout the day: Wine 101, Wine 201 and Navigating Colorado Wine Country.”

The festival also includes a demo and dinner with the Colorado Wine Country Inn’s new executive chef and a decadent chocolate and wine tasting. All of these culinary and educational teasers lead up to the 22nd annual Colorado Mountain Winefest itself, the largest fundraiser for CAVE, in Palisade on Sept. 21. Finally, on Sunday you can even join state viticulturist Dr. Horst Caspari for an introduction to grape growing.

Tickets to the culinary happenings start at $40, and those for CMW begin at $45. General admission includes a commemorative wine glass and tote, unlimited tastes from dozens of Colorado wineries, interactive seminars, chef demonstrations, live music, the ever-popular grape stomp, and wine storage. A limited number of VIP tickets add a roundtrip shuttle ticket, separate entrance and access to the shaded VIP Pavilion, a commemorative Riedel crystal wine glass, other gifts, exclusive parking, an array of fresh gourmet dishes, and concierge wine storage in the Pavilion.

Infrastructure is Key

Colorado Mountain Winefest would not be possible without the dedication of the CAVE board and staff, hundreds of volunteers, and a plethora of supportive sponsors. But Doug Caskey, executive director of the Colorado Wine Industry Development Board (CWIDB), says that we also would not be celebrating Colorado wine’s rapid growth and economic vitality were it not for the leadership and foresight of two individuals — Ron Binz and former Senator Ron Teck.

“Ron Binz was the chair of the CWIDB in the late 1990s,” says Caskey, “when we discovered that the Liquor Enforcement Division did not approve of the way CMW allowed consumers to carry wine samples from booth to booth.” At the time, Mr. Binz was co-owner of Trail Ridge Winery in Loveland and he went on to serve as chair of the Public Utilities Commission under Gov. Bill Ritter. He is now awaiting confirmation as President Obama’s nominee for the chair of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission in Washington, D.C. “Ron drafted a very strong bill that created the wine festival permit within the Colorado Liquor Code, CRS 12-47-403.5, allowing multiple wineries to share a single permit for festival premises as well as addressing liability issues. This allows them to put on all of the events that we have come to love.”

A few years later, CMW discovered another snag with Liquor Enforcement that would have prevented CAVE, a non-profit trade association, from selling tickets to an event licensed by commercial, independent wineries. “Senator Ron Teck from Grand Junction stepped up,” says Caskey. “He introduced a bill within the last few weeks of the session that allows a non-profit organization to get a special events permit and sell tickets for happenings that are co-located with the premises of a wine festival permit. As the bill was introduced at the last possible minute, it may have been one of the fastest passed pieces of legislation on record, all thanks to the strong support of then-Sen. Ron Teck.”

Getting It Right

The first Winefest was held in 1992 with just five participating wineries. Now, 22 years later, it has expanded to the largest open park space in Palisade and has almost 50 wineries that participate in the well attended event.
Sponsors include the First National Bank of the Rockies (the title sponsor), but also the Daily Sentinel newspaper of Grand Junction, Townsquare Media Grand Junction, Impact Promotional Products, KKCO 11 News, Colorado Wine Country Grand Junction, The Wine Country Inn, Moody Insurance Agency, Western Colorado Community College, Central Distributing Company, Shamrock Foods, Enstrom and FCI Constructors, Inc.

The Colorado Mountain Winefest is thus a premiere Grand Valley event as well as destination vacation in one of the most picturesque locations imaginable. I highly recommend you take this unique opportunity to taste Colorado’s wines.

Certified sommelier and unfilteredunfined.com editor-in-chief Ben Weinberg, JD, MBA, pens Weinberg’s Wine Tech in Sommelier Journal and has written for the Daily Beast, Worth Magazine, The World of Fine Wine, Wine Enthusiast and The Tasting Panel Magazine, where he is the Rocky Mountain Editor. He also leads luxurious, behind-the-scenes tours of the world’s most famous wine regions via WineOnTheRoad.com. He can be reached at BentheWineBerg@coloradostatesman.com

Ben Weinberg