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.
That might sound like a long ride, and it is, following a stair-steplike route from orchard to orchard, vineyard to vineyard. But it’s 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.
And, of course, you get to stop every few blocks and sample the 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 small 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 without crossing the state line.
The dinners are $95, plus tax. For information on future dinners and special events, go to highcountry orchards.com.
COLORADO MOUNTAIN WINEFEST
The Saturday Wine Festival in the Park highlights this four-day oenophile celebration planned for Sept. 16-19.
Held Sept. 18 under the gargantuan cottonwoods of Riverbend Park, the fest features wines from 56 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.)