It was one of those picture-perfect fall days, the early morning sunshine warming our shoulders as we pedaled through downtown Palisade toward the Colorado River. Our ride along North River Rd. was a nice warm-up, for shortly after we crossed the river, we came to 38 Road, a substantial hill that climbs up to Orchard Mesa – by far the most physically challenging section of the Tour. This is where the route got crowded, with cyclists slowing and many dismounting their bikes to walk. Once atop the mesa, groups spread out again, some stopping to take pictures as they came upon an apple orchard with stunning views toward Mt. Garfield. We ditched our bikes, too, wandering through the roadside orchard, swelling with almost-ripe apples.
Back on our bikes, our route continued along mostly quiet country roads through acres and acres of quaint fruit trees and vines, all dripping with fruit, and set against dramatic views of Grand Mesa.
Palisade has the state’s highest concentration of wineries and orchards, growing everything from grapes, apricots, cherries, apples, pears, and plums to the famous Palisade peaches. The combination of the area’s semi-arid landscape, the Colorado River, long hot summer days and cool nights produces ideal growing conditions for wine grapes from which many Palisade-area wineries have fashioned award winning wines, including Plum Creek, Garfield Estates and Carlson Vineyards (our halfway rest stop), to name a few.
As we pulled into Carlson Vineyards I got a full picture of how many people participate in this annual event – hundreds, but the winery was perfectly set up to accommodate all of us. Riders were met with freshly cut Palisade peaches, energy bars, water and sports drinks. IDs in hand, we headed out back behind the gift store for a wine tasting, where several stations provided samples of Carlson’s Laughing Cat Riesling, Cougar Run Shiraz, and Tyrannosaurus Red (T-Red), among others. They even had fruit wines – Palisade peach, plum and cherry (the latter served in an Enstrom dark chocolate-rimmed glass, a Carlson specialty).
A quick stroll around the vineyard (they have sweeping views of the Grand Valley) and we were back on our bikes, continuing our journey through summer’s bounty. Winding our way down off the mesa, we then zigzagged along flat roads back toward downtown Palisade, stopping here and there to peek at perfectly trellised vines and their gorgeous bunches of green and purple grapes.
Most of Palisade’s wineries and vineyards are open to the public, offering free tastings and tours of the grounds and grape production facilities. And many of the orchards feature fruit stands, where passersby can sample the harvest, and even take some fruit home.
We decided our journey would not be complete without our own personalized wine tasting, so we stopped in at Maison la Belle Vie (House of Beautiful Life), beckoned by its picturesque landscaping and farmhouse tasting room. Chef/owner John Barbier hails from France’s Loire Valley, where his family has a more than 150-years history in wine making. Maison la Belle Vie’s 4.5-acre vineyard currently produces four varieties of wine: The King, Syrah; The Queen, Rosé; The Jack, Merlot; and The Musquetaires, vintner’s blend. We tasted all four, comparing notes between sips and found that we all preferred the French Bordeaux-like Musquetaires, with its spicy blend of Merlot, Cabernet, Petit Verdot and Syrah. And while we resisted the Rosé, its sweetness proved to be well-balanced and light – perfect for drinking well-chilled on a hot summer day.
A s we approached the Tour de Vineyard’s cut-off time (riders are urged to finish by 11:30 a.m. to avoid Festival in the Park traffic congestion), it was time to pedal the last stretch of flat road back to Peach Bowl Park. With our souvenir Maison la Belle glasses safely packaged inside April’s pannier, we glided into the park just in time for a bit of pasta salad and lemonade. And while most of the Tour’s participants headed over to Riverbend Park for Colorado Mountain Winefest, we affixed our bikes to the top of the car and headed straight to the nearest fruit and vegetable stand to buy cases of apples, peaches and tomatoes for our next day’s girls’ weekend adventure – canning.
To sign up for the 18th Tour de Vineyards, Sept. 17, 2011, visit tourdevineyards.com. Entry is $40 in advance or $50 the day of the tour. Riders receive a commemorative T-shirt, along with a course map, aid station refreshments, and a post-event lunch. “Please don’t drink and ride,” says the event brochure, urging riders to save their wine tasting for the post-race Festival in the Park.
This year’s Tour brings riders by Canyon Wind Cellars, DeBeque Canyon Cellars, Amber Ridge Vineyards, Colorado Cellars, Carlson Vineyards (aid station), Garfield Estates Winery, Rocky Mountain Meadery, Plum Creek Winery, St. Kathryn Cellars, and Grand River Vineyards, among others.
Alternatively, self-guided bicycle tours of Palisade’s wine country are easily navigated using a color-coded wine and orchard map and following the bright blue Colorado Wine Trails signs. To obtain a map, contact the Palisade Chamber of Commerce, 970/464-7458 or visit their website, palisadecoc.com.