It’s all grapes!
When the Colorado Mountain Winefest started in 1992, it was meant to bolster tourism and the wine industry on the Western Slope. Twenty-five years later, it’s safe to say it’s been a success.
After starting with five wineries and 500 attendees the first year, Winefest — as it’s simply become known — has sold out the past two years, bringing in more than 6,500 attendees each year. It is expected to sell out once again this year and the festival has turned into one of the most economically impactful weekends each year in Palisade and throughout the Grand Valley.
“It’s one of three busiest weekends of the whole calendar year. It is by far the weekend that has the most revenue,” Visit Grand Junction Executive Director Debbie Kovalik said.
Visit Grand Junction is one of the three organizations that founded Winefest along with the Colorado Association of Viticulture and Enology (CAVE) and the Colorado Wine Industry Board.
According to CAVE Executive Director Cassidee Shull, Winefest brings in between $800,000 and $1 million in economic revenue to the Grand Valley over the four-day event that will take place this year from Sept. 14-17. A full schedule of events is available at coloradowinefest.com.
“It is one of the premier events in the Grand Valley,” Shull said. “It has a huge economic impact and (brings great) revenue for the Grand Valley.”
Shull said capacity for the festival is now 6,550 people and 55 wineries from around the state take part, including more than 20 from the Grand Valley. The growth also includes more events such as bus tours, food and wine pairings and vineyard tours. These smaller-capacity events fill up the Thursday, Friday and Sunday schedule.
While Winefest is not Palisade’s largest festival — the Palisade Peach Festival regularly brings in more than 10,000 people — it does bring in the most money, according to Kovalik, who said the only other weekends that compare are Country Jam and the third weekend in May, which brings in soccer tournaments, graduations, Spring Barrel Tasting and Epic Rides.
About 70 percent of Winefest visitors are from outside the Grand Valley. Many come from the Front Range, but last year there were visitors from 35 states and three countries, meaning that hotels, restaurants, taxi and limo services can all plan to be very busy that weekend.
“The hotel rates do go up significantly that weekend as they can anticipate that they will sell out,” Kovalik said. “It’s a weekend that everyone looks forward to.”
Talon Wine Brands, which operates the Talon Winery, St. Kathryn’s Cellars and Meadery of the Rockies, has been taking part in Winefest since opening in its current format in 2008. The locations serve as spots on bus tours, and the company spends the Saturday in Riverbend Park. Head winemaker Brian Stevens called the weekend a “nice boost” and said the company does between 3 and 5 percent of its business during Winefest, which isn’t bad for one weekend.
“We put up some good numbers,” Stevens said. “We’re happy to have it and happy to showcase Colorado as a whole.”
For Absolute Prestige Limo Service owner Shirleen Hutton, weekends are typically big for her, but Winefest adds a new wrinkle as she has partnered with the festival for the past three years and runs some of the bus tours in addition to shuttling people around during the four days.
“Winefest weekend is a bit bigger, but during the summer we have pretty big weekends throughout the valley,” Hutton said.
Kovalik added the reason it makes the most money — even though it’s not the biggest — is that people don’t necessarily treat it as a family event. They’ll eat out at restaurants, stay out late and spend more money around town.
“People come over with predispositions to spending money,” Kovalik said.
Winefest will essentially triple the population of the town of Palisade, particularly on Saturday. This and other festivals definitely put a strain on the town, but the festivals have become a big part of the economy in Palisade.
“It’s huge,” Palisade Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Juliann Adams said, referencing Winefest, the Peach Festival, the Bluegrass and Roots Festival, the Lavender Festival and Brews and Cruise. “You put all them together and festivals are important economic driver for Palisade. … It’s great for all hotels, wineries and shops.”
The festival is the largest fundraiser of the year for CAVE, a trade nonprofit organization, and it takes more than 300 volunteers each year to pull off the event.
Shull said the event is at capacity, so it’s tough to imagine it growing. She is starting to see it sell out earlier, especially this year after it was named the best wine festival in the country by USA Today’s 10Best, a reader’s choice award. She’s also hearing of people staying remotely in places such as Moab, Vail and Rifle if they can’t find a place to stay in town.
“It goes back to quality of the event,” she said of its popularity.