Travel, Etc.

Travel, Etc.

Travel, Etc.

Travel, Etc. --> Exploring Red Rock Country

Exploring Red Rock Country Part I
Colorado & Utah with a Little Wine Country

Needing to be in Colorado for a wedding outside of Vail last month, Linda and I decided to make a week of it and take the opportunity to see the famous Red Rock Country of western Colorado and eastern Utah. It was an opportunity to visit three national parks within 100 miles of each other, and drive beautiful Highway 128 through the canyons of the Colorado River along the way. And, to our surprise, discover a tiny, high desert, micro-climate producing wines capable of rivaling the high-desert wines of the Columbia Valley in Washington.

The almost five-hour drive from Denver to Grand Junction across I-70 is a bit daunting but beautiful. Exiting the mountains through the DeBeque Canyon and into the high desert after miles of rock and scrub pine, you are greeted by a lush, V-shaped, Eden-like, green valley, flanked by impossibly tall sheer rock walls on either side, hence the name Palisade. It seems that as the Colorado River leaves the Rockies through the pass, it has constantly changed its course through the valley, leaving behind rich sediments that have created this lush valley known as the peach capital of Colorado.

The Colorado River provides the moisture and the soils, and the high desert provides the hot days and cool nights. Breezes funnel out through the canyon to provide protection against frost and complete this tiny micro-climate. And, it is less than ten miles before the desert returns to scrub and tumbleweeds. It may be tiny, but where the grapes have been planted between the peach orchards, it is capable of producing the vinifera varietals that produce first-rate Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah, Cabernet Franc and Merlot. Only 27 small wineries occupy the Grand Valley AVA and room for growth is very limited, so these wines will, unfortunately, never find their way to Indiana tables, but if you are ever passing through, it is certainly worth an afternoon.

Our favorite was Maison La Belle Vie Winery, owned by John Barbier, a French immigrant from a wine-making family in the Loire Valley in France. We were able to spend time with his young Australian wine maker, who had come to ski and stayed to make wine. They only produce about 2,000 cases of wine, but the Merlot, Cabernet and Syrah were excellent. And, we were able to enjoy them that evening at dinner at a French bistro that the owner had founded in Grand Junction years ago.

Another standout was the Colterris Winery, which shares its facility with a large peach orchard, High Country Orchards. Their Cabernet Franc was outstanding, and the peaches in the peach tasting room, adjacent to the wine tasting room, were perhaps the sweetest we had ever tasted.

Grand Junction, a city of 60,000, made a great base to explore both the wine country and the Colorado National Monument, and the downtown was a pleasant surprise. With a small convention center and a bustling main street filled with interesting restaurants and shops, and dotted with attractive public sculpture installations, it was all you could ask for in a small city center. It included, who would have thought, two excellent restaurants and at least three others we wished we had time to try.

Our favorite was Le Rouge, a French Bistro and Piano Bar, founded by the Maison La Belle's owner and now owned by another Frenchman, Patrice Petit. In my mind there is nothing better than a French bistro done well and this one was excellent. So good that we went back the next day for lunch. Wonderful outside seating, authentic onion soup, mussels and frites, a ham and jarlsberg crepe and a wonderful charcuterie plate, not to mention the reasonably priced wine list, made both meals memorable.

Our second evening dinner was at 626 on Rood, a more contemporary restaurant with beautiful courtyard seating, provided an interesting foray into small plates. Things like turducken terrine, lamb barbacoa and lobster mac and cheese proved interesting to excellent, all enjoyed with a bottle of David Phinney's E1 Spanish blend.

Next week...The Red Rock Parks and Ancient Aliens in Utah.