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All You Need To Know About Colorado’s Wine Industry

Jun 14th, 2024

Colorado is a titan when it comes to U.S. wine, and there’s no doubt that a sip of this liquid gold will confirm it.

Here’s how Colorado became such a popular place for growing grapes and making wine — as well as where you can go to find some!

Colorado wine 101

History of winemaking in Colorado

The story of Colorado’s wine industry starts with the story of its people. 

The Pike’s Peak Gold Rush in 1858 attracted eager miners to Colorado from both near and far. Families from all over the nation — and the world! — uprooted their lives and headed for the Rockies with their families, hoping to strike gold and amass a fortune in the wild, rugged mountains around Denver. In fact, the massive influx of people prompted the need to organize the region into an official US territory and, not long after that, a state. 

A large portion of the people who arrived in Colorado were Europeans. Among this group were a significant number of Italians who, along with their families and possessions, brought vitis vinifera grapevines. Farms and canals were established on the lush landscapes of the Grand Valley where a great variety of stone fruits and grapes thrived in the dry heat. Homemade wine was made in these communities using a variety of European grapes, and by the end of the 19th century there were almost a million pounds of wine grapes being grown each year on Colorado’s Western Slope. 

The climate was great for growing grapes, but even the most abundant of grape-growing regions couldn’t withstand the power of Prohibition, which decimated wineries all over the state when enacted in 1916 — a whole four years before it became federal law. 

The state’s wine industry remained virtually nonexistent until the late 1960s, when a Denver businessman named Gerald Ivancie opened up a winery in 1968 using grapes grown in California. His partner was successful winemaker Warren Winiarski, who was already well-known for his work at Robert Mondavi’s winery and for his award-winning Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars in Napa Valley. 

The partnership between Ivancie and Winiarski resulted in development and research into grape plantings in the Grand Valley region of Western Colorado, as well as vineyard research at Colorado State University in Grand Junction. Just under a decade later, the Colorado Limited Winery Act of 1977 allowed for small farm wineries to produce a limited amount of wine each year using “not less than seventy-five percent Colorado-grown fruits.” 

In the following years, more and more wineries started popping up on the Western Slopes. The Rocky Mountain Association of Vintners and Viticulturalists was formed in 1982 and the state’s first American Viticultural Area (AVA) was formed in Grand Valley in 1990. Eleven years later in 2001, the West Elks AVA was formed in the area between Bowie and Hotchkiss along the North Fork of the Gunnison River. 

Several amendments to the state legislature allowed for more updated statutes regarding Colorado wine, and in 2018 Colorado was listed as one of the Top Ten Best Wine Getaways by Wine Enthusiast Magazine. 

From small homestead-grown grapes in rural mining communities to a titan of industry, the Colorado wine industry has come a long way in the past few decades. Colorado has become a respected producer of wine not just in the United States, but in the world at large, and with the way things are progressing, it can only get better!

Colorado’s ideal grape-growing climates

Grapes are fickle fruits, and in order to produce great wine they need to grow in great conditions. Luckily, Colorado has those in droves.

The Grand Valley AVA along the Colorado River in Palisade sits between 4,000-5,000 feet above sea level in a big valley west of the Rocky Mountains — this high elevation creates a greater range of temperatures during the day, which prevents the fruits from becoming too sweet and losing its acidity. Nearby canyons and the river’s path through the mountains allow for constant breezes and airflow through the valley, keeping temperatures cool in the summer and slightly warmer in the winter. Sunlight reflects off the bare cliffs to the north, warming the ground and ripening the grapes. The Grand Mesa, the Palisades and the Colorado National Monument also protect the valley from harsh weather, while the Colorado River and the various irrigation canals keep the solid well-watered and full of nutrients. 

The West Elks AVA in Delta County sits even higher at an elevation of 5,400 to 7,000 feet, making it one of the highest-altitude wine-growing regions in the world. The alkaline soils, cooler temperatures and shorter summers produce grapes with higher levels of acidity than its lower-elevation neighbors.

Several other regions also have vineyards and grown great wines, though they’re not nearly as well-known as the two AVAs listed above. Check them out, though, to see if there’s something close to you!

Wines grown in Colorado

The cooler climates, high elevation, shorter summers and the alkaline soils mean the wines grown here in Colorado mirror those grown in regions like the Pyrenees Mountains in Spain, the Bordeaux and Rhone Valley regions in France, parts of Australia and the mountains of Argentina.

Here are some of the popular red and white wines that have found success here in Colorado’s climate:

  • Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Cabernet Franc accounted for 14.15%, 12.81% and 9.18%, respectively, of the total acreage in 2017, followed by Syrah at 5.81%. 
  • Popular white wine grapes in the 2017 survey include Riesling (9.35%), Viognier (3.45%) and Chardonnay (5.54%), with Gewurztraminer, Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Grigio and Semillon making appearances often, too.

Where to go wine tasting in Colorado


Palisade is the place to be if you want to really sink your teeth into Colorado’s wine industry. Here, nestled among the cliffs and mountains along the river, you can sip reds and whites straight from the vineyards themselves, or go to one of the many tasting rooms in the quaint downtown. If you plan your trip right, you can even attend the annual Colorado Mountain Winefest held in Palisade each year, drawing tens of thousands of people to the sunny stress for wine, food art and music!


Located in the heart of the West Elks AVA along the banks of the North Fork Gunnison River, Paonia is another well-known wine town that’s full of quaint storefronts, stunning wineries, beautiful parks and amazing food. 


Though Denver isn't located within any AVA borders, it’s not hard to find great selections of home-grown, locally-made, bona-fide Colorado wine near you

  • The Infinite Monkey Theorem Urban Winery in RiNo has a great tasting room that’s perfect for sipping on its revolutionary canned wines that took the market by storm.
  • Also in RiNo, Bigsby's Folly Craft Winery has selections from California, Oregon and Colorado, though the bigger attraction is its blending sessions where you make your very own wine blend!
  • Family-run Balistreri Vineyards is your one-stop-shop for natural wines in a peaceful garden setting. Book a tasting with some delicious food pairings, or host your wedding in their stunning event center.
  • With locations in Littleton and Downtown Denver, Carboy Winery has been leading the charge in craft wine-making with their innovative agriculture and sheer size. Their commitment to sustainability and holistic approach to resource management has only bolstered the success of their award-winning wines. 

If you live in or near any of our luxury Denver Apartments, be sure to check out a winery near you and try some of the locally-produced wines that Colorado is so famous for! You’re sure to find one you like that celebrates the state’s winemaking heritage!


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Featured photo by David Köhler on Unsplash

Author of Article

Colleen Ford is a South African who now lives on Oahu in Hawai'i. She loves to travel, camp, spearfish and hike. She's also part of a super cool canoe club and is pretty decent at it. Colleen enjoys Star Wars and also not being cold ever.

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