Grand Junction Colorado was named after its location at the junction of the Colorado and Gunnison Rivers. It became a major commercial center as the primary rail junction between railroads from Denver and from Salt Lake City. The combination of the region’s fertile soils and its access to transportation helped it to grow into the region’s agricultural center and primary source of vegetables and especially fruits (especially peaches, its famed Palisade peaches and more recently its wine grapes.
Grand Junction’s downtown is a pretty, vibrant, well-kempt small living city (in contrast with a tourist city). It has several local restaurants, clubs, and two popular downtown breweries. The city was very clean, with nary a scrap of litter along Main Street or the other city roads along which we drove or walked.
Art on the Corner
Grand Junction was one of the first cities to create an outdoor sculpture exhibit on its streets. About 100+ sculptures and murals exhibited on its streets. About two-‘thirds of them are permanent and the others are on annual display and available for sale.
While the town is pretty, we stayed here to use it as a base to visit several other points of interest in the area.
Colorado National Monument
Fifteen miles from Grand Junction is the Colorado National Monument, which we discuss in another post.
Rattlesnake Canyon Arches
Twenty miles from Grand Junction is the remote Rattlesnake Canyon. The canyon is named for its shape rather than its inhabitants. It is home to 35 natural red rock arches, the largest such concentration after only Arches National Park. All of these arches, and especially its eight major arches, are accessible only with a 4WD vehicle or a challenging 15.5-mile hike. Since we had recently explored Arches, we decided to pass.
Grand Junction is also the terminus of the so-called Palisade Plunge, a 32 mile biking descent from the top of the 10,000-foot high Grand Mesa, the largest flat-topped mountain in the world. You can take a shuttle to the top and bike down or, for the more adventuresome, bike both ways.
Palisades is part of the Grand Junction metropolitan area. Wine grapes had been a fixture of Palisade’s Grand Valley agriculture, along with peaches, cherries, and other fruits, from before the dawn of the 20th century. While the vines were generally plowed under after the passage of Prohibition, the Palisade wine industry has been rejuvenating since 1991. The area now has more than 30 such wineries with more opening every year. We visited a few of the more prominent, and some of the less well known of these.
Colterris entered the wine field by purchasing the third oldest of the area’s post-prohibition wineries. It was by far our favorite area winery. An extensive tasting of about a dozen wines produced several favorites. These began with a crisp, minerally 2022 Sauvignon Blanc and an off-dry white Cabernet Sauvignon (the first we’ve had) named “Coral”. From there, we moved onto the reds for which the winery is best known. Among our favorite of these were its 2019 Coloradeaux Special Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon-dominant Bordeaux-style blend and especially its 2020 Coloradeaux Right Bank-style blend whose percentages of Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot were reversed and the other component varietals remained the same. Among our other faves were the 2020 Cliffside Vineyard Estate Syrah, 2019 Vinelands Vineyard Estate Merlot, and it 2020 Cabernet Franc and Petite Verdot.
Lovers of views and quirky outdoor sculptures will be intrigued by intrigued by the outdoor art of Colterris’s Overlook winery site with its handful of oversize Claus Oldenburg-like sculptures and sweeping view over the Grand Valley and huge, 10,000-foot high, 3-million acre Grand Mesa, the largest in the world. Those of a somewhat more historical and artistic bent may lean to the winery’s separate tasting room which highlights the Colterris Collection. It displays high-resolution renditions of interesting, and in many cases artistic, wine lists from some of the world’s most famous restaurants and hotels from over the last 80 years. Or you can visit both, since each offers different selections of wines. The winery also hosts Saturday evening concerts during the summer.
Carlson is the second oldest (after Colorado Cellars) existing Palisade wineries. Founded in 1987, it focused initially on fruit and sweet wines before expanding into dry and off-dry whites, roses and reds, many from grapes native to Germany. It grows all of its fruit in Palisade except for its Gewürztraminer which is grown in Washington State. We tasted multiple wines which represented all of the winery’s styles. The most interesting were three of its sweeter wines: Laughing Cat Tree Ripe White (a blend of peaches and grapes); Laughing Cat Sweet Baby Red (Merlot, Chambourcin and Orange Muscat); and Sweet R&D #5 Dessert (fortified Orange Muscat). Honorable mentions go to its High Desert Dry and Off Dry Rieslings and to two of its dry reds, Exodus Dry Red (100% Blaufränkisch) and Wren Quinn (Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon).
A husband and wife team bought and rejuvenated an overgrown vineyard into this winery and event space whose Saturday summer concerts regularly attract up to 300 people. It also makes some very interesting dry wines. Among those we found most interesting are a 2020 Chardonnay aged for 8 months in American Oak (they also make an unoaked Chardonnay of which they had sold out) and a 2022 Grenache Rose (both of whose fruit is sourced from Lodi CA) and several estate wines including a its first vintage of a White Field Blend (2022), a 2019 Barbera and 2019 Cabernet Franc, a varietal that Restoration and several other wineries believe is particularly well suited to the region’s climate and minerally soil.
Although the winery focuses primarily on red wines, it has recently recently planted its own Riesling and Semillon. For our visit, therefore, we focused on reds. We began with two interesting, albeit not especially fruity 2019 Bordeaux-style blends—a Right Bank-style Merlot Blend and a Cabernet-based Red Blend which was our favorite of the tasting. Given that we enjoyed both of these blends, it is not surprising that we also found the full-bodied Reserve Merlot and black fruit-like Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon to our tastes. This said, we were less impressed by its other Bordeaux grape reserve wines. We could not say the same for its fruitless Estate Reserve Marechal Foch.
At this primarily Red shop, we favored two wines—a 2020 Cabernet Franc Reserve and a moderately sweet 2021 Late Harvest Muscat
Its 2020 Estate Grown Tempranillo was pleasant, despite its very subdued fruit, as was its 2020 Nebbiolo. We also enjoyed two of its wines that were aged in previously used whiskey barrels: a 2019 Merlot aged in bourbon barrels and a 2019 Cabernet Franc made in barrels used to age rye. We also tasted and enjoyed one of its Port-style fortified wines: Mayan Pirate made with Mexican chocolate.
The first of the region’s post-prohibition commercial wineries was our greatest disappointment. First, the woman handling the tastings, appeared to know nothing about wine or the winery and was unable to answer the most basic of questions. Second the wines we tasted were heavy in earth flavors but showed little if any fruit. This understandingly began with a library 1982 Cabernet Sauvignon and continued (albeit with a little more black cherry in the current 2020 vintage). We fared only slightly better with the 2018 Merlot and semi-sweet Alpenglo Riesling.
Grand Junction Breweries
Since we do not live by wine alone, we decided to sample a few ales from Grand Junction’s two Main Street breweries.
We stopped here for an after-dinner tasting of four beers. Tom particularly enjoyed the Horsethief IPA and its special Octoberfest lager. Joyce settled for wine from the Sauvignon Blanc limited, single-winery wine list.
Tom sampled two of its IPAs with lunch (see below). He preferred the Trailblazer Juicy double-hopped hazy IPA made from a blend of oats and wheat over the smoother, lower alcohol Mountaineer IPA.
Grand Junction Restaurants
We enjoyed our food, wine and excellent service at this restaurant. Joyce ordered the pan-seared Scottish salmon wrapped in smoked bacon with lemon crème fraiche, asparagus and mac and cheese for dinner. Tom opted for grilled Colorado lamb chops with red burgundy and lingonberry reduction with Brussel sprouts and Lyonnais potatoes. We added a chocolate lava cake with Tahitian chocolate ice cream for dessert. Our wine was a 2021 Zinfandel-based Prisoner.
At this casual Grand Junction spot, we shared a bowl of plump, juicy, and tasty Maine mussels in a green chili curry with chorizo for dinner. We added the most beautiful (if not necessarily the best) dish of the trip—an artistically presented chicken liver mousse “PBJ” with strawberries, rainbow radish, pistachio, and dill on brioche. While Joyce chose a 2021 Where’s Linus Sauvignon Blanc from Sebastopol from a surprisingly Colorado deficient wine list. Tom chose one of the restaurant’s several ciders: a Craft Cider Works “Cloud City” with tangerine and cranberry (the latter of which dominated the taste).
Our lunch at this Grand Junction brewery was Ok but not particularly interesting: pulled pork sandwich topped with BBQ sauce, cole slaw, and crispy onions on a burger roll; and a bratwurst made with the brewery’s own Amber ale and topped with green chilies, cheddar cheese, sauerkraut, and German beer mustards. Each dish came with a choice of salad or fries, of which we both chose the good-sized salads.
We had lunch along with our wine tasting at this a Palisade winery. Joyce had a seared salmon salad with local greens, almonds and dill Crème Fraiche. Tom ordered a chicken Waldorf salad sandwich on a croissant. Both were fine, although not especially memorable.