Great Colorado Getaways

Western Slope

By Claire Walter

Great Colorado Getaways

Western Colorado, the state's fruit basket, boasts thousands of acres of orchards, farms and vineyards. Its scenic byways and quiet backroads invite road-tripping: some produce from a farmstand here, a taste of wine there. Load your cooler into the car (you'll need it for the goodies you'll inevitably buy), and head out. Grand Junction, Delta and Durango are the epicenters of the best that's grown in Colorado's west. Here's a taste.

Farms, ranches & orchards

The James Ranch, spread over 450 fertile acres along the Animas River, harbors four family agricultural enterprises. Longtime ranchers Dave and Kay James have a beef herd. The animals graze freely on sweet grass and clover, while rooting pigs and pecking chickens follow the livestock, picking their leavings. Son Dan makes cheese. Daughter Jennifer Wheeling raises organic vegetables, herbs and flowers, and takes visitors on a ranch tour by electric tram. Brother-in-law John Ott operates a tree farm. The ranch's market is open weekdays 10:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m., with tours on Mondays and Thursdays. 33866 US Highway 550, 10 miles north of Durango; 970-385-6858 (tour reservations) or www.jamesranch.net.

John Cooley's Rivendell Farm, the oldest farm along the North Fork of the Gunnison, is on land that once belonged to his grandmother. The gifted cabinetmaker and passionate organic farmer cultivates just three of his 12 acres with such intensity and intelligence that he harvests three crops a year. He grows heirloom tomatoes, assorted greens and herbs, peas, peppers and onions, and has a few chickens that lay blue-shell eggs. Rivendell is literally a small-potatoes organic farm, best known for its 14 varieties of exotic potatoes that Cooley plants with a reconditioned 1911 tiller/planter. Call ahead. If he has time, he'll give you an informative, inspirational tour. "We work like dogs," he says, savoring fresh fare and good wine, "but we live like kings." 21279 Hwy 92, three miles east of Delta; 970-874-3840.

Although neither a farm boy nor a Coloradan, Brandt Harrison decided at age 13 that he "wanted to grow peaches in Colorado." He now grows 15 varieties of organic peaches plus plums, apricots and nectarines at Kokopelli Farm & Produce on 25 hilltop acres overlooking the Colorado River and Palisade. The view stretches from the Grand Mesa to Utah. Brandt gives orchard tours by request on a "hoopie," an open flatbed on a 1950 Ford truck chassis used to bring in the fruit. 3677 G 4/10 Road, just above Palisade; 970-464-4991.

Zephyro's Farm & Garden is a diversified family farm on 35 mesa-top acres. Daphne Yannakakis, Don Lareau, their two young children, assistant Adam McKinley and occasional organic farming apprentices raise sheep, goats and chickens, and grow gorgeous vegetables, fantastic berries and beautiful flowers. They make yogurt for their own use and are toying with the idea of feta in the future. The couple conducts workshops on organic farming and hosts an al fresco "Supper in the Field" every September. 11466 3725 Road, Paonia; 970-527-3636.

You'll find the Rocking W label on dairy products from the Webb family's farm and creamery. Last November, the Webbs hired Matt Henze, a cheesemaker from Wisconsin, to make farmstead cheeses in their new cheesery. Stop by the dairy, have some ice cream and watch the cheesemaking process. Then pick up some Munster, brick, farmers, Havarti, Colby or Swiss cheese. 5644 Highway 348, two miles west of Olathe; 970-323-9322, www.rockingwcheese.com.

Great Colorado Getaways
Wine tasting in Palisade
© Matt Inden/Weaver Multimedia

Vineyards & wineries

Reed Foster founded the well-regarded Ravenswood Winery in Sonoma, California, in 1976. His son Glenn recalls, "My dad put the kids on the bottling line, and we also helped during the crush." In Colorado, Glenn started making his own wines, bottling them under the Talon Winery label. When the founders of St. Kathryn Cellars, one of the valley's oldest and most visible wineries, were ready to retire, he bought the business. The large tasting room right off I-70 sells St. Kathryn Cellars reds and whites and Confré fruit wines. Foster also crafts honey wines, fortified and dessert wines less than a mile away at the Meadery of the Rockies. St. Kathryn Cellars/Confré, 785 Elberta Avenue, Palisade; 970-464-7201, www.st-kathryn-cellars.com. Meadery of the Rockies, 3701 G Road, Palisade; 970-464-7899, www.rocky-mountain-meadery.com.

Stoney Mesa Winery in Cedaredge, established in 1990, is Colorado's seventh-oldest (and seventh-largest) winery and has amassed numerous awards for its brilliant reds and luscious whites. Ptarmigan Vineyards in Grand Junction is the newest, opened just this spring. Bret Neal is the Stoney Mesa winemaker. At Ptarmigan, his dad Ron Neal produces limited releases of select wines, explaining, "What got into my blood while I was visiting wineries myself was the people.

Great Colorado Getaways
Grand Junction grape harvest
© Grand Junction CVB
I love people who love wine." Stoney Mesa, 1619 2125 Drive, Cedaredge; 970-856-9363, www.stoneymesa.com. Ptarmigan, 221 31 3/10 Road, Grand Junction; 970-434-2015, www.ptarmiganvineyards.com.

Surface Creek Winery & Gallery provides two civilized treats in one: wine and art. Jim Durr handcrafts artisan wines from local grapes and cherries, while his wife, Jeanne, runs the tasting room/art gallery in Eckert's landmark Oddfellows Hall. Surface Creek's wine labels bear the images of animals found in western Colorado, reflecting Jim's first career as a wildlife biologist. 12983 Highway 65, Eckert; 970-835-9463, www.surfacecreek.com.

Restaurants

Whenever you ask a local about the best restaurant in Grand Junction, 626 on Rood is the invariable answer. Owner Brenda Wray, a Front Range restaurant veteran, opened this sophisticated, stylish restaurant and wine bar. She says, "I wouldn't have done it if I didn't think the time was right." She has partnered with chef Theo Otte, whose eclectic contemporary menu—a mélange of Spanish, Italian, Asian and American influences—changes constantly, depending what's fresh at the farmers' market. The wine selection by the bottle or the glass is the city's best. 626 Rood Avenue, Grand Junction; 970-257-7663.

Chad Scothorn established the Cosmopolitan Restaurant in Telluride in 1996, but sourcing fresh produce so far off the beaten track has been a challenge. When he opened a second Cosmopolitan in downtown Durango, he was thrilled that growers came to the kitchen door to sell directly to him or chef de cuisine Chris Crowl. "We get fresh sprouts year-round from growers whose profits support the Turtle Lake Refuge. A lady from Cortez comes in, flirts with us and sells tomatoes. Farmer Dave now plants for us. The farmers' market is right behind the restaurant. We change the menu on the spot when something fresh comes in," Scothorn says. 919 Main Avenue, Durango; 970-259-2898, www.cosmodurango.com.

When Kelly Steinmetz left a well-known Aspen area restaurant to open an upscale restaurant and artisan bakery in Paonia, he was excited by being close to growers and vintners. He opened the Flying Fork Café and Bakery in a former health food store, to skeptically-raised eyebrows, but what a hit it has been. Fresh baked goods and scratch-made northern Italian cuisine have seduced the locals. 101 Third Street, Paonia; 970-527-3203, www.flyingforkcafe.com.

Claire Walter is a travel, food and sports writer based in Boulder.

Western Slope farmers' markets

Great Colorado Getaways
Grand Junction Farmers' Market
© Denise Chambers/Weaver Multimedia

Other resources

For more ideas, see Great Getaways from previous issues of EnCompass online at www.encompassmag.com/weekends.

 

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