PALISADE – When you think of this little town near Grand Junction, you probably think of peaches, and that’s fine. Palisade peaches are on par with the best in Georgia, which is to say, the best in the world. (The annual old-fashioned Palisade Peach Festival, held in August, attracts more than 20,000 people each year.)
But there’s another fruit that’s gaining fame here: the grape.
Palisade is promoted as the largest concentration of vineyards in Colorado. That cluster along the rolling hills on both sides of the Colorado River represents a tourism bounty that the region is only beginning to harvest.
Here’s how to make the most of it: Rent bicycles ($35 a day at Rapid Creek Cycles & Sports on Main Street — rapidcreek cycles.com) and do what locals call “the fruit loop” — a 25-mile trek through the heart of Colorado’s peach and wine country.
The stair-stepping route from orchard to orchard, vineyard to vineyard, is about the most scenic route in Colorado, with the towering gold Garfield and Grand mesas serving as backdrops to the row after row of impossibly green trees and vines.
You get to stop every few blocks and sample wines and fruits. More than a dozen wineries, orchards, breweries and distilleries line the route. Most have tasting rooms, where you can get samples for free or for a nominal charge.
If you want to do a more low-impact tour, get a designated driver or hire one from Absolute Prestige Limousine (1-888-858-3904), Allen Unique Autos (1-970-263-7410) or American Spirits Shuttle (1-970-523-7662).
One of our favorite stops on the fruit loop was High Country Orchards, which grows peaches, cherries and grapes, and plans to open a wine-tasting room soon. You can tour the fields and sample the fruit for free. The peaches here, thanks to a sorting process that allows them to stay on the trees longer, are so sweet and juicy they should have warning labels. Whole Foods carries them throughout the Rocky Mountain region.
We were lucky enough to visit High Country (named not just for the elevated terrain but also after the owners Scott and Theresa High) the previous evening, during one of their regular wine dinners, Feast in the Fields. Held in the middle of their orchards, the dinners are catered by John Barbier, owner of Le Rouge, an outstanding French-inspired restaurant in Grand Junction.
Eating Barbier’s crispy duck, sipping High Country’s awesome new Colterris Cabernet Sauvignon (one of the best Colorado wine values at $18.99) and listening to a lively acoustic duo in a vineyard overlooking the Colorado River is about as close to heaven as you can get while remaining grounded..
The dinners are $95, plus tax. For information on future dinners and special events, go to highcountryorchards.com.
COLORADO MOUNTAIN WINEFEST
The Saturday Wine Festival in the Park highlights this four-day oenophile celebration planned for Sept. 17-20.
Held under the gargantuan cottonwoods of Riverbend Park, the fest features wines from more than 50 wineries. There also is an annual grape stomp, music, chef demos and more.
Admission is $43 (or $180 for a VIP ticket, which gets you a buffet and comfortable seating.)
BEYOND WINE AND PEACHES
There’s plenty to do in Palisade besides drinking wine and eating peaches.
You can appreciate some fine art. The Blue Pig Gallery, the largest art gallery in Mesa County, at 119 W. Third St., just off Main Street in Palisade, features the work of more than 30 area artists. We were especially impressed with the edgy sculptures and wildly hued computer-enhanced landscape photos.
You can visit The Little Book Cliffs Wild Horse Area, one of only three areas in the western United States set aside for wild horse herds. From 80 to 120 horses roam the Bureau of Land Management land near Palisade. You also can hike, fish and raft nearby.
For more details, go to palisadecoc.com.
113 W. Third St., Palisade; 1-970-464-0657
Here’s one of those authentic small-town cafes with wood paneling on one side, brick on the other, local art on the walls and food made from scratch. It’s open for breakfast, lunch and dinner, but we liked breakfast the most. With the corned beef hash, you get real chopped slices of corned beef, not stuff from a can, and the omelets are scrumptious. The blood orange mimosas make good starters.
Red Rose Café
235 Main St., Palisade; 1-970-464-7673
Here’s a wonderful and bizarre bistro that specializes in burgers, sandwiches, local wines and … wait for it … Vietnamese noodle bowls. The wines are spotty, but everything else is wonderful.
As you’d expect in a quaint little wine town, the place is loaded with darling B&Bs in cottages and restored Victorians. Among them: Vistas and Vineyards, A DiVine Thyme, Wine Valley Inn, The Orchard House, Dreamcatcher, Bookcliffs Bed & Breakfast, Peach Valley Lodge B&B and Pearadice Farm Carriage House. For more info, go to palisadecoc.com.
Wine Country Inn
777 Grande River Drive, Palisade, 1-970-464-5777; coloradowinecountryinn.com
This sprawling 80-room hotel, surrounded by vineyards and bearing a giant sign visible from I-70, combines the comfy country style of a B&B with the amenities and spaciousness of a corporate hotel. Guests can enjoy a pool, daily wine receptions and deluxe breakfasts.
755 Horizon Drive, Grand Junction, 1-970-243-6790; clarionhotel.com
For the festivals, all of the Palisade lodging tends to book months in advance. If you don’t mind a 15-minute drive, this former Holiday Inn is a fine choice: indoor and outdoor pools and hot tubs, free Internet in rooms and at the business center, free breakfast and reasonable rates.
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