Drink in wine country while biking Palisade
After Parker Carlson let me fork merlot grapes into the crusher, I asked if other visitors were given the same honor to be part of the winemaking process.
Not often, Carlson said.
“Why me?” I asked the longtime owner and winemaker at Carlson Vineyards.
“You are on an adventure,” Carlson said with a smile.
Why, yes. Yes I was.
As the Adventuring Out series moved into its ninth month, we finally — FINALLY — got to the wine.
A tour of Colorado’s wine country while pedaling along on a cruiser bike was the adventure I eagerly had been waiting for.
(No, seriously. This was the first adventure I suggested when we planned this series last year. I wanted to go in January. Features editor Ann Wright suggested we wait.)
When I moved to Grand Junction in 2007, I immediately became intrigued with a new life in wine country. I considered the vineyards one of the greatest treasures of this region. I started to drink local wine almost exclusively.
I asked questions about the varietals and how to pair wine with food. I developed a taste for both sweeter whites and complex reds.
Admittedly, I haven’t always been a wine drinker. I didn’t like the taste or smell. Then, I started drinking Pinot Grigio and eating oysters with my great friend Jill on our “date nights” as single gals in Steamboat Springs. I loved how the flavors of the white wine and oysters enhanced each other. It was so, so sophisticated.
Now, I love wine. A lot. But not in a slurred-speech, red-tongued sort of way. I appreciate wine in a slowly savored, paired-with-food kind of way.
Ann, too, enjoys a nice glass of wine, so she was more than happy to join me for a bike ride on the Fruit & Wine Byway.
Neither of us had taken a wine tour on a bike before, but we agreed it would only enhance our experience and give us an appreciation of the rural Palisade and East Orchard Mesa area.
I rented a cruiser because, well, I wanted to ride a cruiser. It sounded idyllic. Ann took her road bike.
We started at 1:30 p.m. on Sept. 4 at Mesa Park Vineyards, 3321 C Road. I met Ann there after parking my car down the road at Hermosa Vineyards, 3269 C Road, because I wasn’t going to ride a bike all the way from Grand Junction.
(I think it has been well-documented in this series that I’m not into super labor-intensive activities.)
Ann parked a shuttle car at Palisade City Park and rode to meet me.
Although our trip was only 11 miles, we brought lots of water — I wore a Camelbak and Ann had two refillable water bottles — to stay hydrated in the mid-90s heat. I can’t stress enough the importance of water and snacks on wine tours, even ones in cars or in cooler temperatures.
We sampled several great wines at Mesa Park. I wrote down my favorites — the Riesling and Barn Owl Red — in the notes section of the new book “Drink It In: Wine Guide of Western Colorado.” It has a map and was small enough to fit in my Camelbak.
(Yes, The Daily Sentinel’s Dave Buchanan wrote most of the book, but this is not some shameless self-promotion. He’s one of the most knowledgeable wine writers I know.)
From Mesa Park, Ann and I rode to Carlson Vineyards, 461 35 Road, where we sampled several varietals.
Both Ann and I had visited Carlson before, but there’s some comfort in sampling favorite wines.
It’s like reconnecting with an old friend. (“Hey, there, Laughing Cat Gewürztraminer. Have you lost weight? How’s the family?”)
The rolling hills on the stretch between Mesa Park and Carlson left Ann and I parched and hungry, so we retreated to Carlson’s shaded, picnic area to drink water and enjoy a snack.
Take food on a wine tour. The pretzels, crackers or other snacks wineries leave out are palette cleansers. They aren’t lunch.
From Carlson, we rode the short stretch to Colterris, 3548 E 1/2 Road, which has a large tasting area.
FYI: Colterris charges a nominal fee — $2 — to taste. Wineries typically waive that fee if you purchase a bottle, but take cash and a photo ID on local wine tours.
From Colterris, we rode into Palisade because Ann had to pick up her kids. (It’s nice to live in a place where adults can take half-day adventures before returning to their regularly scheduled lives.)
The only harrowing part about the entire ride was the steep descent into Palisade on 38 Road. I hate riding downhill.
Thankfully, there was little traffic on the hill at that exact time on that weekday afternoon.
Thankfully, I also had sunglasses on so my contacts didn’t blow out of my eyes.
I loved having a cruiser because the fat tires allowed me to ride on gravel shoulders and driveways, but it did give me a couple scares when I forgot the brakes were on the pedals instead of the handlebars. Note: Take a bike you’re familiar with.
Ann’s skinny tires and clip-ins kept her on the road and forced her to walk, awkwardly, on all gravel driveways to tasting rooms. Something to consider.
From Palisade, Ann drove me back to Hermosa, where she left me to taste with owner and winemaker Ken Dunn Jr.
Dunn said he’s actually shuttled his fair share of cyclists back to Palisade after they underestimated the heat and altitude.
Because I was alone in the tasting room, he spent nearly 30 minutes talking me through the tasting, answering all my questions about wine. I’d never been to Hermosa before our wine tour, although I get a pass since the tasting room’s only been open two years.
All in all it was a great way — albeit it hot way — to spend a September afternoon. We took our time — roughly 3 1/2 hours — with our ride and wine sampling.
We talked with winemakers and reveled in the scents of peaches and pears wafting from the orchards as we passed.
We didn’t visit even half the wineries the byway and its various loops offer, but that just means we’ll have to go back.
Would it be crazy to suggest we do this adventure again next month, Ann?
Just kidding. Sort of.
Get Going: Maps of the Fruit & Wine Byway, with its various routes of different lengths, can be found at area wineries, palisadetourism.com/attractions and in The Daily Sentinel’s new book, “Drink It In: Wine Guide of Western Colorado.”
And here’s a tip we were give along our ride: If you access the Fruit & Wine Byway by bicycle from Grand Junction or Clifton, consider taking the Colorado Riverfront Trail, which has a bridge over the Colorado River just east of 32 Road. It will link you with the byway and avoid the heavy traffic on 32 Road.
All those cycling-friendly routes are marked on the map.