Carbondale, Colorado, to Provence is 72 miles … respectively. Sure, the French Provence region is a little farther as a starling flies. However, if you want a taste of the Provence countryside that doesn’t require a passport or a trans-Atlantic flight in coach seating, set your auto pilot to Hotchkiss and Leroux Creek Inn & Vineyards in Western Colorado.
Yes. Western Colorado. One-time home to Ute Indians, pioneers, and outlaws like Butch Cassidy. Now domicile to chef Yvon Gros.
Gros (just Yvon please) was born in Annecy, a commune near the French Alps. How does one get to Hotchkiss by way of Annecy, you ask? For Yvon, it was through hotel school in Thonon les Bains along Lake Geneva, to working on a French cruise line, to becoming restaurateur of Chez Lautrec in Newport, California, to chef at Pepi Gransheimer’s Antler’s Room in Vail. (No surprise, really. The Rocky Mountains are refered to by some as the American Alps.)
It was in Vail that he met his heart-mate and future business partner Joanne Rekert. Joanne is a fashion designer from NYC. She owned an exercise apparel line that sold in most major department stores and spas throughout the U.S. and, after setting down roots in the North Fork Valley, developed a signature line of all natural grape seed oil “vine therapy” skin care spa products.
They moved to Hotchkiss in May 2000, having falling in love with the area because of its similarity to Haute-Provence. That is why their guests fall in love with Leroux Creek, too. That—the scenery and setting—along with Yvon’s authentic, French accent laden “Bonjour!” In 2002, they added a vineyard to the 54-acre inn property, planting hearty French hybrid grapes Chambourcin (red wine) and Cayuga (white wine) that they tend with organic practices. The winery came next in 2006. Over the years they have partnered with local nonprofits like the Black Canyon Regional Land Trust for “Taste of the Valley” and with Mountain Harvest Festival, hosting a benefit event featuring “The Scones” that included food, wine, and dancing. Just last year Trip Advisor awarded Leroux Creek Inn & Vineyards a “Trip Advisor 2014 Winner Certificate of Excellence.”
Today, guests roam the grounds glass-in-hand, accompanied by the resident canines and waddling flock of geese and ducks. When our “Western Colorado Fruit & Wine” book tour party of four visited, all luxurious rooms were reserved with people paring relaxation with (in our case) a game of pétanque.
The next morning’s breakfast table was a selection of French countryside fare, complete with fresh bread, cheeses, and meats, followed by eggs extraordinaire. The couple sharing the breakfast table with us were on their second visit. Becky and Larry stayed at the Leroux Creek Inn the first year Yvon and Joanna opened. For seventeen years of their eighteen-year marriage, Larry has planned a secret anniversary destination. He gives her a few clues, like the elevation, what to pack, and that’s about it. Every year has been a different place. Until 2015. “It’s a repeat,” Becky said, while we chatted over a fabulous cup of coffee.
Unfortunately, we had to bid adue. We would all rather have stayed around for a hike, a bicycle ride, or a soak in the hot tube while watching the western sky. The good thing is that this French countryside is only on the other side of McClure Pass from my home. Come autumn, when the aspens turn this section of the Golden Route of the West Elks Scenic & Historic Byway truly golden, I will be returning to the France that is only 72 miles from my doorstep. Au revoir readers.