Highlights: Colorado Wine History

I recently received an invitation to join a class about Colorado wine, led by a local Master Sommelier. Since I pulled a wine from Palisade from my stash not too long ago, I thought it fortuitous and jumped on the opportunity.

Ah, my beautiful state 🤩

Although some of the information was familiar to me, I’m happy to share some top highlights for those interested in Colorado’s wine history (which goes back a bit further than you may think).

Quick Statistics:

  • 2 AVAs (American Viticultural Areas) in the state: Grand Valley and West Elks; other wine areas include Montezuma Valley and the Front Range
  • 110 licensed wineries over 700 producing vineyard acres
  • 3.8 tons per acre = average grape yield in 2019; this equals approximately 2.33 million liters, or 259,000 cases of wine
  • 2015 = the year the dreaded phylloxera louse was first observed in Colorado vineyards; so far, it’s only the non-flying variety, but still serious
In 1990, only 5 licensed wineries existed in the state. In thirty years, that number has gone up more than twenty-fold! Paonia, Palisade, and even the Montezuma Valley are places to find great vines.

Colorado Viticultural Facts:

  • Benefits from a dry climate and a high diurnal range, meaning we have fewer issues with mold and fungus
  • Cold winters mean fewer problems with pests year-round, so much lower use of pesticides in general
  • Many geographical features in Colorado assist with viticulture throughout the state, including mountains, rivers, plateaus and prairie
  • Most popular grapes grown in Colorado include Riesling, Cabernet Franc, and Cabernet Sauvignon
Winters get so cold every few years in Colorado that some growers have switched to hardier varieties like Frontenac or St. Croix. Vines typically die at -15°F, but cold hardy specimens can safely reach -22°F or so.

Colorado’s Abbreviated Wine History:

  • 1883: Earliest documentation of grapes in the state
  • 1909: US Census recorded 1 million pounds of grapes from about 1000 farms statewide
  • 1919: Prohibition ruins everything; vines are ripped out to make room for more profitable fruits such as cherries, peaches and apples
  • 1973: First grape plantings post-Prohibition in Colorado
  • 1978: First commercial wine from Colorado released by Jim & Anne Seewald of Colorado Mountain Vineyards (’twas a Riesling)
If you’re feeling adventurous, visit one of the many vineyards across our great state… and try a grape you’ve never heard of before! Catawba, Rkatsiteli, Tinto Cão…

While most of my Colorado wine experience has come from the Grand Valley (which includes Palisade), I’m looking forward to exploring West Elks and further to the southwest for more hidden gems!

Thanks for reading, everyone! Work has taken over my life quite a bit lately, but fun food projects lay ahead very soon.

Published by Allie

Foodie explorer with Stardew Valley dreams. Lover of wine but not beer, cheese but not milk, and all things chocolate. Working to learn as many self-sufficient, at-home food production skills as possible.

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