FOLLOWING the North Fork of the Gunnison River from the old mining town of Bowie, the West Elks
AVA continues on through Paonia and Hotchkiss until it reaches the Adobe Badlands Wilderness Study Area, an otherworldly place of sloping hills dissected by rugged, serpentine canyons, isolated mesas and a maze of deeplycarved canyons, washes and ravines just outside of Delta. As the elevation here ranges from about 5400 feet up to 7000 feet, the growing season starts about two weeks later and has 30 percent fewer days between the last spring frost and the first fall frost than the Grand Valley. As a result, riesling, pinot gris and pinot noir grow particularly well here.
With some of the highest vineyards in North America, the area is considered to be a somewhat unusual place to grow wine grapes, however, the result is fantastic wine that is roundly considered to be some of the best in the state. The high elevation and low humidity works in conjunction with cool nights to retain a high degree of acidity as the grapes ripen which is particularly good for riesling and gewurztraminer. pinot gris and chardonnay also grow well here. As for red wines, pinot noir has turned out to be quite at home in the West Elks.
WHERE TO GO
A boutique winery, Azura was established in 2007 by artists Ty and Helen Gillespie, so it should come as no surprise that the tasting room doubles as their gallery. With fantastic views overlooking the North Fork Valley, Azura also boasts 2016's Colorado Winemaker of the year, Brett Neal, as their winemaker. As a boutique winery, Azura only sells from their tasting room where tastings are complimentary.
Offerings change every year, and this year they have a pinot gris, a riesling, pinot noir, malbec, merlot and a sweet wine appropriately named “Sweetie Pie” as well as their Yacht Club Red (the 2016 vintage is a blend of Grand Valley merlot and is so named to celebrate their love of sailing).
Micro Magic Radio Controlled Sailing Regatta, October 6 & 7
Tasting and holiday shopping, November 3
Open every day from May 1st through the first week in November AzuraCellars.com
LEROUX CREEK INN & VINEYARDS
A small winery run by Frenchman Yvon Gros and his wife Joanna, Leroux Creek produces two grape varieties - a French hybrid red chambourcin and the American cayuga across four acres of their 54acre farm. Originally from the French Alps and NYC respectively, the pair have been in Colorado for 30 years where they love to share this passion and love for wine and winemaking with their guests.
Leroux Creek has won many accolades in
Colorado but they have also received recognition from competitions in Sonoma and in the Finger Lakes.
Paella dinner and concert, September 14 and October 12
Open daily from May and August and weekends in September and October lerouxcreekinn.com
BLACK BRIDGE WINERY
Taking its name from the century-old bridge that spans the North Fork of the Gunnison River that borders the farm, Lee and Kathy Bradley first planted their wine grapes in 1997 and were soon hooked.
Situated at 5,800 feet, with 13 inches of precipitation annually, 150 frost-free days, a three percent slope and agua fria stony loam, Black Bridge is ideally located to grow several of the classic varieties including chardonnay, riesling and merlot. They also grow the notoriously fickle pinot noir which they have won awards for in the past. The pinot along with chardonnay and riesling have also received awards at the Colorado Governor's Cup.
Producing a limited quantity of classic reds, whites, blends and a pinot noir rosé which sells out quickly. They also have fruit wines made from fruit grown on their own orchards, Orchard Valley Farms.
Open from Memorial Day weekend through October orchardvalleyfarms.com
MESA WINDS FARM & WINERY
Mesa Winds is another small winery in the West Elks with just six acres of certified organic vines (as well as 14 acres of peaches and apples) which are monitored and kept trimmed by a flock of Babydoll Southdown sheep. The estate's first vintage was back in 2011 and on average they turn out around 400 cases a year of pinot gris, pinot meunier, pinot noir, rose, chambourcin, and peach wine.
Every autumn volunteers are invited to share in the “Glory Work” of picking grapes. Pickers are rewarded with dinner and wine.
Open Memorial Day weekend through October www.mesawindsfarm.com
Photos (this page): Azura Cellars
Photo: Leroux Creek Inn & Vineyards
Photo: Black Bridge Winery