Palisade: The place for agriculture, art and alcohol
PALISADE, Colorado – Most good Coloradans know Palisade for the round, juicy jewel it produces each summer – the peach. But dig a little deeper, and you’ll find a vibrant community of people who are supremely proud of their produce, and they’ll also be the first to tell you there’s more going on in Palisade than just acres of fine fruit. There’s quality wine, sophisticated restaurants, intimate art galleries, biking and hiking trails and a bevy of charming B&B’s. Perhaps the most beautiful aspect of the small Western Slope town is the people. Instead of competition, there’s cooperation among business owners, farmers and artists. They constantly cross promote one another because they see the bigger picture – they’re all dependent on one another. This was more than apparent at a media weekend the town hosted in early April. A dozen or so journalists were treated to the full Palisade experience. My boyfriend and I toured a brewery, three wineries, two art galleries, an alpaca farm and an orchard in a little more than 24 hours. We spent the night at a cozy B&B on East Orchard Mesa called The Orchard House (3573 E-1⁄2 Road, 970-464-0529) and were treated to a three-course wine dinner at Inari’s Bistro (336 Main St., 970-464-4911), a chic eatery that could have easily been located in downtown Denver.During the introduction to the weekend, held in the Blue Pig Gallery’s (119 W. Third St., 970-464-4819) courtyard in downtown Palisade, one of the townspeople talked about the burgeoning local art scene, as well as the area’s innate charm.”Don’t quote me on this, but we like to talk about the three A’s here – art, agriculture and alcohol,” she said as she smiled.
She’s not kidding. Palisade proper is small – just two square miles. The town and surrounding area are home to more than a dozen wineries, the Meadery of the Rockies, Peach Street Distillers and Palisade Brewery.”So there seems to be more alcohol production here per capita than anywhere else in Colorado,” Coloradowino.com editor Jacob Harkins mused as our group of six sipped beers at the brewery, where we ate lunch with the town’s jovial mayor, Dave Walker.”Oh absolutely, there’s no doubt about it,” Walker said, smiling.We’d been in Palisade for 30 minutes and already a distinct theme was emerging.After a tasty lunch of house-smoked, pulled-pork sandwiches, bratwursts and more, we walked back downtown, looking at some of the quaint Victorian homes built at the turn of the century. On the way, we passed one of the town’s newer businesses, a marijuana dispensary located next door to CAVE, the Colorado Association for Viticulture and Enology.”Perfect, isn’t it?” Walker said as he chuckled. “We just need a Fritos dispensary to round it out.”Next we ducked into the Twisted Brick Studios (128 E. Third St., 970-464-4653), a 2,000-square-foot working gallery in the style of European salons, where artists work and display their creations in the same space. Eight artists – jewelers, sculptors and painters – show their work in the airy, cheerful gallery, and six of those artists also use the space as their studios. Nearly everywhere I looked, I saw a colorful piece of art that drew me in; I could’ve spent a good hour there exploring and quizzing the artists but, alas, our tight schedule didn’t allow for dawdling.
Afterward, a group of us hoped on cruiser bikes, courtesy of Rapid Creek Cycles (317 Main St., 970-464-9266), and pedaled to Canyon Wind Cellars (3907 North River Road, 970-464-0888), which at nearly 20 years old, is one of Colorado’s oldest wineries. There, Norman Christianson, a towering John Wayne-esque man, talked about his beloved vineyards. As the story goes, he visited five continents looking for the perfect terroir before choosing Palisade. As a geologist, he knew the land, rich in cobblestones, sand and fertile soil, would provide ideal growing conditions for the estate winery he envisioned. Winemaker Bob Pepi (of Napa Valley’s Robert Pepi Winery acclaim) named the winery after the nearly constant breeze that’s channeled through the mouth of DeBeque Canyon. And it makes sense to pay homage since it’s those winds that are the key to the area’s agricultural success, keeping the area warm during spring frosts and cool during the hot, desert summers. After a tour of the winery, we bellied up to the tasting room’s bar to sample the goods, including my favorite, the 2005 Cabernet Sauvignon. The deep, dark wine hinted at two of my favorites – chocolate and coffee.After stopping at Grande River Vineyards (787 Elberta Ave., 970-464-5867) to try a few of their offerings, we pedaled over to the building that houses Peach Street Distillers, where a rowdy crew of leather-and-tattoo laden bikers were tossing back drinks in the warm afternoon sun.”Nice bikes,” they shouted, as we parked our rides.”Want to trade?” I replied.
We ducked through a door next to the distillery. Inside the cool, dimly lit storage room, hundreds of wine barrels lay in wait. The keeper of the wine, Bennett Price, owns DeBeque Canyon Winery (tasting room at 3943 Highway 6, 970-464-0550). A trained geologist, Price said he planted some of the first vineyards in Colorado in the ’70s. After a few other vino ventures, he opened DeBeque Canyon Winery with his wife Davy in 1997.Our group was in for a treat. For over an hour, Price inserted a giant glass pipette, called a “wine thief,” into the barrels and let us try more than a dozen wines he’s carefully aging. Price barrel ages his wine longer than most. Proof in point, an intense, sophisticated 2003 Syrah that likely will be bottled this year. As wine ages in oak barrels, water evaporates and thus concentrates the flavors, making for the bigger, bolder wine that Price craves.The winery annually produces 3,000 cases of wine, varying from merlot and Cabernet Franc to chardonnay and viognier. Their award-winner and flagship wine is the Claret – a tasty blend of cabernet sauvignon, Cab Franc, petit verdot, malbec and merlot. However, it was a rich and complex 2003 port, one of the last wines we tried, that we’re still talking about weeks later. He sipped the port with us and with a satisfied look on his face, declared it ready for the bottle. Though we’d never been port drinkers before, we plan on making a trip back to Palisade to score a few bottles for our own cellar – the kitchen cabinet.
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