Hungry for summer? Salivating over plans for road trips and meetups and culinary celebrations? Marking your calendar with repeat favorites and wondering about new adventures inspired by Western Colorado’s crops?
From summer solstice on Tuesday, June 20, 2017 at 10:24 pm MDT to the autumnal equinox on Friday, September 22, 2017 at 2:02 pm MDT, mountain and Western Slope communities are serving up food and drink festivals that honor this season’s bounty. There is a smorgasbord of choices, so here is a little map to get you started on your gastronomic journey.
(FYI: I’m not including the Aspen’s 2017 FOOD & WINE Classic for three reasons. One, it’s before summer officially starts. Two, “Wines for Zillionaires” leaves out a lot of us. Three, they’re sold out.)
First up is the TELLURIDE FOOD & WINE FESTIVAL June 22-25. The event’s prestigious gathering is somewhat distilled from Aspen’s celebrity jamboree. The experts, however, are not chopped liver. World-renowned chefs with a sheaf of James Beard Award honors are a common theme. The event has imported California winemakers from Sonoma and Napa Valley AVAs. And sommeliers will be on hand to guide the palate through the tastings. Participation prices range from free, yes free (“Seminar: Introduction to Wine Tasting”), to $1600 for the whole four day shebang, aka “patron pass.”
PAONIA CHERRY DAYS FESTIVAL June 30 through July 4 has put cherry red in red, white, and blue for seventy-one years. This is a true community event that opens its arms to those beyond the North Fork Valley. The Paonia Lion’s Club began the festival in 1947 as a celebration of the cherry harvest in order to raise funds for the football field. Today it continues through the efforts of local service clubs and community members. Cherry Days is a true taste of life in Paonia. This festival expands its humble roots to current day status as a Colorado Creative Community through its unpretentious culture of arts, music, and agriculture. Will there be music? A symphonic yes (literally—Aspen Music Festival talent among the featured musicians). Will there be a three-legged-race, belly dancers, and a flag ceremony? Of course. Will there be cherry pie? Move over apple, there’s nothing more American on the 4th.
Do you see it? Can you smell it? Lavender farms are filling Western Colorado with the scent of Provence. The 2017 COLORADO LAVENDER FESTIVAL begins July 7 with two half-day motor coach tours of farms in Grand and North Fork Valleys. Visitors to growers like Lamborn Mountain Farmstead are treated to lavender cultivation expertise and culinary treats. Saturday vendors of all things purple sell their wares and lead workshops on wreath making, food preparation, and more in Palisade’s Memorial Park. Talon Wine Brands crafts a special lavender wine for the occasion under their St. Kathyrn’s Cellars label. Sunday farms are open for self-guided tours for those who want more of this beneficial plant.
CRESTED BUTTE WINE & FOOD FESTIVAL in the Upper East River Valley gets into the spirit of summer, adding, well “spirits” from distillers like Woody Creek (vodka, whiskey, gin) and Montanya (rum) to the venue’s offerings. Since this is Crested Butte after all, bring your canvases, hiking boots, and swimsuit. This schedule features painting, hiking wine picnics, and a stand up paddleboard lunch in addition to the eating, drinking, and educational seminars and suppers. The festival covers five days of summer, July 26-30, so pace yourself and save your pennies.
Map out your own route for the WEST ELKS WINE TRAIL August 4-6. An actual map is available at each of the West Elk wineries where your hosts also offer wine and food pairings. Cheers to the bonus events on the 7th at Azura Cellars and Black Bridge Winery where you can partake in remote control yacht racing or a barrel tasting (wine, not wood). Reserved wine trail dinners are already sold out, but Delicious Orchards keeps their doors open on August 6th with a BBQ and music and hard cider tastings. You are in for a treat if you have never explored this trail. So pack your camera and steer toward the North Fork Valley’s section of the West Elk Scenic Byway Loop if food, wine, music, and fun are your thing.
PALISADE PEACH FESTIVAL is the granddaddy of the Grand Valley’s festivals. The star of the show is the world famous fruit that built an industry and founded Colorado’s fruit farming heritage, one nourished by the Colorado River and preserved by the Palisade Historical Society. The fruit-forward activities begin on Thursday, August 17, with an old-fashioned ice cream social. Spend the next day touring orchards then head to historic Riverbend Park after 3:00 pm for music, chef demonstrations, and peach eating contests (no hands!). Saturday’s full day schedule is family fun under the sun with everything peaches.
“Que” up you grills for the PORK AND HOPS CHALLENGE September 8-9. Las Colonias Park and Amphitheater in Grand Junction will be smoking hot with professional, amateur, and kid BBQ competitions. This is a family event, to just beyond the event grounds—for twenty-one and older—an annual Beer Tasting quenches the thirst brought on by the BBQ winner tastings and food vendor fare. Whatever your personal preference in BBQ, sweet and tangy or spicy and savory, the winner from the People’s Choice tasting is the community, with 100% of the proceeds benefiting United Way of Mesa County.
COLORADO MOUNTAIN WINEFEST celebrates right at the source: The Grand Valley, Colorado’s largest grape-growing region. What began in 1987 as a grassroots collaboration with five wineries has blossomed into a destination celebration orchestrated by state supported trade non-profit CAVE (Colorado Association for Viticulture & Enology. Thousands come from across the U.S. to stomp grapes, savor chocolate pairings, tour the wine country, and learn why Colorado wines are winning national awards. Thirty years later, this year’s libation participants number over fifty—with hard cider and mead joining the party. The events begin on Thursday, September 14 with “Wine, Dine, and Paint,” and wine pairings at participating Grand Valley restaurants. Bus tours and a “Chocolate & Wine Tasting” at Palisade’s Wine Country Inn fill up Friday. Tour de Vineyards kicks off Saturday with a twenty-three or fifty-eight mile road ride past orchards and vineyards. Festival in the Park on Saturday is the main course for Colorado Mountain Winefest, with seminars and souvenirs, song and sommeliers.
Paonia’s MOUNTAIN HARVEST FESTIVAL straddles the solstice and equinox, but with one foot (tapping to the music) still in summer they just made the list … and what away to end the journey. The non-profit four-day festival September 21-24 is led by locals: local food, volunteers, winemakers, and Slow Food Western Slope. Saturday’s activities are in Paonia’s town park, with the full schedule of events still in the works. Based on 2016, merrymakers can anticipate a cornucopia of choices, including farm and winery tours, farm to table dinners, as well as music, music, and more music. Mountain Harvest Festival is a small celebration with a big heart. With Teens on Farms and collaborations with the Blue Sage Gallery, they “serve” the North Fork Valley by providing art and agriculture education that fosters the creative juices.
By no means is a complete compilation of Colorado’s gastronomic celebrations. (click here for Colorado Tourism’s list) The Front Range has a long list separate from the Western Slope. And in between, mountain communities know how to highlight the best of the state. Should you have a tendency to detour off the beaten path, here are two more Colorado mountain town food and wine festivals:
Breckenridge: Two is better than one in Breck. Take a “small bite” out of summer and wash it down with “unique” wines at the Breckenridge Wine Festival July 28-30 then go all out September 14-17 at the Breckenridge Wine Classic (details yet to come).
Steamboat: Does life taste better in the ‘Boat? Discover for yourself August 9-13 at the Steamboat Wine Festival. Here’s what they say you can expect: “Enjoy hundreds of food artisans, wineries, breweries, distilleries, epicurean purveyors and local producers at the ultimate food and wine experience.” I say: The town and the mountain are two locations so bring a designated driver – there is still plenty for non-drinkers to enjoy.