It’s been a good year for Colorado Wine.

For the first time since the repeal of Prohibition, Colorado wineries reported more than one million liters of wine to the Colorado Department of Revenue, an increase of 10 percent over the previous year. Over the past five years, production has increased 70 percent and Colorado wines’ market share, though still comparatively small, has grown 30 percent.

Mt. Garfield & the Bookcliffs Overlook the Grand Valley

Doug Caskey, executive director of the Colorado Wine Industry Development Board noted, “In the face of a small, difficult harvest in 2010 [production down one-third from 2009] and ongoing economic uncertainty, our wineries continue to expand.”

There are now 100 licensed wineries (compared to six in 1990 and 64 in 2006) in Colorado.  Front Range wineries contributed 41 percent of the wine volume reported to the Department of Revenue, while the wineries in the Grand Valley American Viticultural Area (along the Colorado River between Palisade and Grand Junction) accounted for 47 percent.  Eighty percent of the grapes grown in Colorado come from the Grand Valley AVA, though grapes also are grown in Delta, Montrose, Montezuma, Fremont, Pueblo, Boulder, Larimer, Weld and Kit Carson counties.

"Divinity" by The Winery at Holy Cross Abbey

And you can find wineries located pretty much all over the state. At last count, the Grand Valley on the Western Slope is home to 24 wineries surrounding the cities of Palisade and Grand Junction, while Delta and Montrose counties to the south, including the West Elks AVA, hosts 19 more. Surprisingly, there also are five producers further south in the state’s Four Corners area. And there are even 12 more wineries and tasting rooms scattered throughout our Rocky Mountains. On the Front Range, there are nine more wineries and tasting rooms dotted around Colorado Springs and Cañon City. Finally, in the Denver/Boulder/Ft. Collins region, wine hunters can choose from 38 wineries and tasting rooms.

Around the state there are now several well worth the trip wine festivals that offer fun opportunities to experience Colorado wines throughout the year. In the Grand Valley, the 20th Annual Colorado Mountain Winefest, the state’s premier wine festival, was just completed. And the Mountain Winefest organizers successfully hosted the first annual Colorado Winefest held last June at The Shops at Northfield Stapleton in Denver.

A Celebration of Premier Colorado Wines was an elegant tasting event held two days earlier at the Governor’s Residence. The event featured wines given the awards from the Colorado-only wine competition judged by national and local wine experts under the auspices of the American Wine Society.

There also are two great Colorado wine festivals off the I-25 Corridor south of Denver. The Winery at Holy Cross Abbey in Cañon City just celebrated the 10th Annual Harvest Fest and Winemaker’s Dinner. The Ninth Annual Manitou Springs Colorado Wine Festival was held in June. In addition to excellent wine and food, these are special community events anxiously anticipated each year.

As the Colorado industry has grown into a fine adolescence, as I have heard Caskey describe it, it seems the challenge for its journey to adulthood is to find an identity. One of the most interesting things to me about the Colorado wine

Ag Commissioner John Salazar and Gov. John Hickenlooper Survey the Bounty

industry is that most growers and wineries for a long time focused on the “Big Three” French varietals – cabernet sauvignon, merlot, and chardonnay. Merlot is the most widely planted red grape in the state, with cabernet sauvignon close behind, but plantings of syrah, cabernet franc and pinot noir are increasing, as wines from these varieties show real promise. As for the whites, riesling is now the most widely grown, which makes sense to me, since I’ve long thought it made the state’s best wine. After chardonnay, there are small but significant amounts of gewürztraminer, viognier and pinot gris.

As for the future, with the diversity of soils and climate in Colorado, I expect to see further experimentation. And as vintners learn more about which grapes grow best where and about what has made other wine-producing region successful (maybe a topic for another column), I expect the already improving quality will advance even further. Finally, let’s hope more restaurants will find room on their wine lists for Colorado wines

And you can help promote Colorado wine during the fourth annual Regional Wine Week. The blog DrinkLocalWine is hosting the event from October 9 through October 15. Wine writers, bloggers and consumers are encouraged to share information about wine from what organizers call “The Other 47” states (no California, Washington or Oregon). Share a story or personal anecdote about a Colorado wine, winery, wine region, or wine event. The only catch is you have to do it in 47 words. For more information about Regional Wine Week and the contest, check out www.drinklocalwine.com.

About Rich

I first became interested in wine while I worked in numerous liquor stores during college in the late 1970’s and early 1980’s. In the years following college, I researched, tasted, traveled to vineyards in California and Europe, participated in countless tastings. I began writing about wine in 1995 with a column in Out Front Colorado. For me, wine is more than a drink. It is food. It is a connection to the earth. It is culture. There is just something amazing, even magical, about the transformation of grapes into wine. It is also remarkable how drinking wine with food enhances the taste and enjoyment of both. Appreciation of wine has become an integral part of my approach to life, which emphasizes balance, respect for nature, physical and emotional health, and an appreciation of our nature as social beings. In 2006, I was awarded a fellowship to the Symposium for Professional Wine Writers.