When You Want to Visit Napa

… but your wallet says ‘staycation,’ fill your wine glass at Palisade, Colo., instead

A sun-soaked valley surrounded by towering red mesas makes for an alluring Utah road trip. While the quaint town of Palisade, Colo., boasts a rich agricultural history—especially when it comes to grapes and peaches—the town is a pinkies-down foodie destination with ample opportunities for wine tasting and sampling the region’s farm-to-table cuisine.

Palisade is a mere four hour’s drive southeast of Salt Lake City, making it an ideal weekend getaway for Utahns in search of a change of scenery. With beautiful landscapes, down-to-earth proprietors and endless recreation opportunities, it’s worth the trip—and the four episodes of murder mystery podcasts your spouse might make you listen to on the way there.

Wine With a View
Located within the Grand Valley appellation, Palisade is home to two-thirds of Colorado’s vineyard acreage and more than one-quarter of its wineries. The region’s microclimate of sunny days, dry air and cool nights results in hearty grape harvests that are transformed into award-winning wines.

With nearly 30 vineyards to choose from, there’s no wrong way to go wine tasting in Palisade. But if you’re looking to sample more than a couple of glasses of wine, opt for an alternative mode of transportation. Rent bikes at Rapid Creek Cycles and Paddleboards (239 Main St., Palisade, 970-464-9266, RapidCreekCycles.com) to cruise the scenic Fruit and Wine Byway (VisitPalisade.com), book a chauffeur and slick ride through Absolute Prestige Limo (1351 Q Road, Loma, 970-858-8500, APLimo.com) or ride between vineyards in a horse-drawn carriage through JR’s Carriage (2125 J. Road, Palisade, 719-671-7145, JRsCarriage.com).

Carlson Vineyards (461 35 Road, Palisade, 970-464-5554, CarlsonVineyards.com) describes itself as a vineyard that doesn’t treat wine as a “nectar of snobs.” Here, you can sample an assortment of dry, semi-sweet and sweet wines on a shaded lawn leading up to acres of grape vines. Kick things off with a dry wine—the dry gewürztraminer with notes of tropical fruit and roses is fantastic—before sampling the winery’s fruit wines, made with peaches, plums and cherries grown less than a mile away. “The biggest thing with semi-sweet and sweet wines is having that acidity backbone to balance the sweetness,” owner Garrett Portra says.

A few minutes down the road, Restoration Vineyards (3594 E. 1/2 Road, Palisade, 970-985-0832, RestorationVineyards.com) is churning out a small-yet-memorable selection of wines produced by Gary and Linda Brauns. After leaving the corporate world, the couple started a new career on a once-struggling vineyard that now offers sweeping views of the Grand Mesa and Bookcliffs, a luscious grassy lawn for tastings and a selection of old Mercedes Benz on display that Gary restores. “Restoration has several meanings, from how we were able to bring back the vines and the cars I restore, but I also think it restored my wife and my spirit in business and having fun with it,” Gary says.

The vineyard’s sémillon is slightly sweet with notes of Mandarin orange, while the much-loved barbera is complex with spicy notes and a smooth finish.
Round out a day of wine tasting with a stop at Meadery of the Rockies (3701 G Road, Palisade, 970-464-7899, ColoradoWine.com/winery/meadery-of-the-rockies) for a selection of meads and dessert wines made with raw orange blossom honey and a variety of fruits. The cherry honey wine is a satisfying blend of sweet and tart, but for a real indulgence, sample the chocolate raspberry honey wine.

Creative Dining
Palisade’s agricultural influence extends beyond the glass; the region’s products find their way onto the menus of the eclectic eateries centralized in the historic downtown.

For a delicious farm-to-fork lunch, dine alfresco on the patio at The Palisade Café 11.0 (113 W. Third St., Palisade, 970-464-2888, PalisadeCafe11.com) under a canopy of hops. The café’s menu features dishes like jamon and manchego, served with juicy tomato slices and drizzled in a pesto vinaigrette; the Gunny grilled cheese, made with three varieties of cheese from nearby Rocking W Cheeses (5644 CO-348, Olathe, 970- 323-9322, RockingWCheese.com); and the brisket cheesesteak, crafted with 12-hour-roasted brisket on naan bread with swiss cheese, horseradish aioli, caramelized onions, mushrooms, red peppers and local greens.

To satisfy your sweet tooth, walk two doors down to Slice O’ Life Bakery (105 W. Third St., Palisade, 970-464-0577) for a piece of decadent cinnamon honey cake with layers of orange curd, raspberries and orange whipped cream—or any of the dozens of pastries made by owner Mary Lincoln for the last 40 years.

Around the corner, Inari’s A Palisade Bistro (336 Main, Palisade, 970-464-4911, InarisBistro.com) —named for the Japanese spirit of rice, agriculture and industry—is an upscale dining experience best reserved for dinner. Inari’s seasonal menu is a cultural hodgepodge, with a Southern-inspired dish like grilled sea scallops resting atop cauliflower grits, applewood smoked bacon, corn and sweet pepper relish gracing the same table as a chile relleno and Southwestern risotto with black beans, corn, golden raisins, squash, ranchero sauce, salsa and crema. At the bistro, Utahns can also rejoice over a gin martini that actually fills the glass, not just wets the bottom.

While cruising Palisade, keep an eye out for an RV-turned-food truck serving up authentic French crêpes. After several decades working as a chef in Florida, Frenchman Eric Favier retired to travel around the country with his wife, Kathleen. But the desire to cook persisted, and the couple decided to convert their home on wheels into something new. Chez Pierre Crêperie (850-508-1636, Facebook.com/ChezPierreCreperie), which can usually be found parked at Restoration Vineyards on weekends, offers savory crêpes (ratatouille and shrimp and zucchini, for example), but their sweet crêpe with chocolate ganache and bananas is the real winner.

Something’s Abrew
There’s more to drink in Palisade than wine and oversize martinis.
Palisade Brewing Company (200 Peach Ave., Palisade, 970-464-1462, PalisadeBrewingCompany.com ) is cranking out American-style craft beers, which, if you can still button your pants at this point, pair well with their pulled-pork nachos covered in beer queso and pickled jalapeños.

The Dirty Hippy dark wheat ale is one of the brewery’s most popular beers. Coming in at 5.3% ABV, the ale is made with chocolate and caramel malts that are enhanced with the help of an orange slice. The hop-forward Off Belay American IPA (7% ABV) is a staff favorite with its bold flavors of orange zest, grapefruit and pine.

For something a little stronger, head to Peach Street Distillers (144 Kluge Ave., Palisade, 970-464-1128, PeachStreetDistillers.com) to sample a dizzying array of gin, whiskey, vodka, brandy, eau de vie, d’agave, grappa and amaro made from produce grown in Palisade and other nearby Grand Valley towns. From the tasting room, the housemade bloody mary garnished with pickled okra, pepper and celery is a go-to for locals. After a distillery tour, grab a bottle of the mix and Goat Artisan Vodka as a souvenir.

For a mellower experience, head to the coffee and wine shop Pressed Coffee and Wine Bar (392 W. Third St., Palisade, 970-464-2090) and savor a lavender almond milk matcha latte with CBD-infused honey. Extracted from hemp grown on co-owner Jaime Cox’s nearby farm, the CBD is also available for sale as extracts and even infused jams.


All Hail the Peach

Every August, the town of Palisade celebrates its agricultural mascot, the peach. The four-day Palisade Peach Festival (PalisadePeachFest.com), held Aug. 15-18 this year, features a market of vendors selling all-things peach, peach eating contests, ample live music, a peach-themed chef cook-off, orchard tours, a parade, foot races and a car show.

For the real peach-ophile, snag tickets to Feast in the Fields held on both Friday and Saturday night of the festival. Guests will enjoy a gourmet four-course meal, centered around Palisade’s harvest and paired with local wines, in the middle of an orchard. Past menus have included dishes such as peach burrata salad, pork tenderloin stuffed with Palisade peaches and cherries, and seared scallops with a peach balsamic drizzle. Tickets are $110 per person.

A weekend family pass for the entire festival costs $20, though individual weekend and day passes are also available at varying rates for adults, seniors and children.


Edible souvenirs

Stop at Anita’s Pantry and Produce (625 37 1/4 Road, Palisade, 970-985-2282, AnitasPantry.org) for fruit pies, fresh produce and locally made oils, vinegars, jams and salsas.

Check out the shop at Sage Creations Organic Farm (3555 E. Road, Palisade, 970-623-9556, SageCreationsOrganicFarm.com) for all-things lavender, including lavender-spiced jams, edible lavender for cooking, wreaths, sprays, soaps and more.

For a soft, Palisade-made hat, rug or yarn—plus some QT with adorable animals—go to SunCrest Orchard Alpacas and Fiber Work (3608 E. 1/4 Road, Palisade, 970-464-4862). Listening to owner Mike McDermott talk about alpacas with passion and knowledge is a treat in and of itself.


Get a room!

Accommodations in Palisade are limited, but what is available is unique and worth booking early.

Spoke and Vine (424 W. Eighth St., Palisade, 970-464-2211, SpokeAndVineMotel.com) is a newly remodeled motel in the heart of Palisade featuring hip decor. The dog-friendly motel (they even offer beds and bowls) is just a short walk from restaurants and even offers bike rentals for its guests.

The Victorian-style Wine Country Inn (777 Grande River Drive, Palisade, 970-464-5777, ColoradoWineCountryInn.com) is located among 21 acres of vines. The grapes are harvested and used to create the inn’s signature wines, which guests can sample at the afternoon tastings. The inn serves classic cuisine at its Caroline’s Restaurant and Tapestry Lounge.

Palisade Basecamp (985 N. River Road, Palisade, 970-462-9712, PalisadeBasecamp.com) is a camping and RV park resort located along the Colorado River. The resort offers hookups for RVs and trailers, tent camping, cabin rentals and country home suites.

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