Plan a perfect weekend in Colorado’s Secret Wine Town (Denver Post)

Jamie Siebrase
May 13, 2024
Lamborns from Stone Cottage

Quaint lodging, farm-to-table dining, art galleries, live music, and award-winning wine await in the North Fork Valley

North Fork ranchers move their stock between pastures in early summer, so don’t be surprised if cowboys are leading cattle drives the very same weekend local winemakers are kicking off their 2024 season with North Fork Uncorked, a series of viticultural events held June 8 to 9.

Colorado’s North Fork is a federally designated American Viticultural Area (the West Elks AVA) fed by a tributary of the Gunnison River. Cattle ranches, organic orchards, and vineyards do equally well in the area’s fertile valley, where a sophisticated art scene also thrives. In an era marked by political divisions, it’s this unexpected melding of seemingly incongruous offerings that makes the region so intriguing.

Colorado’s North Fork Valley consists of three main towns — Crawford, Hotchkiss, and Paonia — that form a triangle on the Western Slope. The largest town, Paonia, is known locally as “the Boulder of the West,” explains Nathan Sponseller, a spokesperson for the North Fork Chamber of Commerce and the owner of the Stone House Inn in Crawford.

“Everyone says the North Fork is a hidden gem. Um, no — we’re just a gem,” says Steve Steese, who co-owners a boutique Hotchkiss winery, The Storm Cellar, with his wife Jayme Henderson.

Colorado’s climate, elevation, and soil produce one-of-a-kind grapes, and wine enthusiasts are starting to notice as they seek out novel wine-tasting experiences. Many area wineries — The Storm Cellar included — incorporate all elements of winemaking into the customer experience, from growing and harvesting to processing, aging, production — and tasting, of course.

Paonia houses five of the area’s 13 wineries, making the eclectic town a good home base for a summer getaway. Take note: North Fork wineries are open seasonally, Memorial Day through October or November, and most owners take appointments outside posted operating hours. The hours listed below offer guidelines, but it is always best to call first.

Friday Night

On your way into town, pull into Stone Cottage Cellars, 41716 Reds Road, open daily 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. It’s the first winery after McClure Pass, and offers an idyllic setting for a post-drive charcuterie plate and glass of wine — maybe the barrel fermented Chardonnay — on a patio overlooking snow-capped peaks of the West Elk Mountains. If you plan far enough in advance, you might snag the vineyard-winery’s hand-built, two-bedroom cottage, available on Airbnb, conveniently located between the vineyard and a large garden where guests are more than welcome to pick their own salad for dinner.

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