Category Archives: Western Slope
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.
The history of Palisade peaches began with pioneers, explorers, and town builders who breached the backbone of the continent—the Rocky Mountains—in the Territory of Colorado. The question is how did they know in the 1890s that peaches would be a juicy contributor to Colorado’s $40 billion plus and growing agriculture industry of today?
They had vision, motivation, and a market.
Mining interest cut into the mineral-rich mountains of Western Colorado, extracting gold, silver, and coal. They laid out communities close to their mother lodes and far from their markets. Enter next the railroad companies like the Denver & Rio Grande (D&RG) and the Colorado Midland Railway (later Railroad) who set tracks within the precarious passes to export the precious commodities. The BLM’s Cultural Series No. 10 by O’Rourke, Frontier in Transition, explains:
“The construction of railroad lines in southwestern Colorado during the 1880’s and 1890’s was determined by the desire to connect gold and silver mining camps with the rest of the state, but was also motivated by the necessity of securing locomotive fuel from the many rich coal fields in the area.”
“It is uninviting and desolate looking in the extreme.” That is what the Denver Tribune wrote in 1880 of the Western Slope, as cited in Ingersoll’s legendary 1885 book Crest of the Continent.
Yet, elephant-skin colored cliffs and dusty, brush-covered terrain is not what Colorado agriculture and irrigation expert William E. Pabor saw. He writes in his twelve-year agriculture study Fruit Culture in Colorado, published in 1883, “We see, through the mists of the present, the fruit-lands of the future.” His extensive interviewing of fruit growers, coupled with his knowledge of irrigation opened his eyes to the possibility of a fruitful future in Western Colorado’s semi-arid landscape.
The world was moving west at a pace as fast as the railroad could lay tracks. Once the U.S. government relocated the Western Slope Ute Indians (again), the west was open for business. Town founders like George Crawford (Grand Junction) and Pabor (Fruita) set up orchards and communities. They, among others, recognized that the isolated Western Colorado was ripe for development. They untied their motivation with their vision to tap into the nearby market.
“The miners pay cash. The harvest gathered from the soil, under the genial influence of the sun and water, is as golden as that taken from the hills, whose supposed wealth attracts so many prospectors…. The mines furnish a very profitable market, and towns are springing up in every direction,” Pabor wrote, adding that food imported from California, Utah, Kansas, and Nebraska “ought to be raised at home.”
As so it was. In the 1880s, and as the end of the century neared, Harlow, Bowman (owner of the peach-picking sack patent), Blain, and Steele planted the roots of an iconic legacy.
This legacy is celebrated each year in August at the Palisade Peach Festival in Riverbend Park. The Palisade Chamber of Commerce, the Palisade Historical Society (run by chairperson Priscilla “Bowman” Walker), and author of Western Colorado Fruit & Wine: A Bountiful History will honor that history at the 2015 festival August 14 & 15th with a special “Palisade’s Peach Past” booth—a journey through the people, places, and tastes that have made Palisade a juicy destination.
The Grand River Diversion Dam—the irrigation icon of the Grand Valley on the Colorado River—turns 100 years old this June. To celebrate, the Palisade Historical Society is throwing one big, okay, dam big birthday party.
- Took roughly (figurative and literal) 20 years from start to finish.
- Provides H2O for five irrigation canals
- Innovative “roller” design at the time (1897)
- Affectionately called “Roller Dam” by locals.
The Palisade Historical Society (a.k.a. Priscilla Bowman Walker) is the historical source and tells the dam story best at the event. Activities include How the West Was Watered video by Larry Seibert (InFilms & Design, Inc.) and his photographer and editor, Scot Stewart. There will be speakers, an information booth (look for me and say hello!), historical photos, and more to add to the hydro-historic narrative. To wet your palette check out Melody Gonzalez’s news report, “Grand Valley Diversion Dam Celebrates 100 Years” on Westernslopenow.com with Fox 4 News television shout-out.
- When: Saturday, June 27, 2015
- Where: Veteran’s Memorial Community Center (8th & Main)
- More when: 9-5 “
- What else: “Dam Art Show,” Slice ‘O’ Life Bakery “Dam” birthday cake by Dorothy Carver Hines; Bookcliff Harmony Barbershop Chorus
Visit the Palisade Historical Society’s Dam birthday party site for additional programing details and activities.
May days on East Orchard Mesa above Palisade are lush with post blossom greenery. Verdant grapes on the vines are forming miniature clusters among the broad leaves. Even cherries—the first fruit of the growing season—are green.
Along the Palisade Fruit & Wine Byway, growers are nurturing peach saplings. Z’s Orchard is planting 500 strawberry and 800 raspberry plants to add to their established u-pick patch. Early kale, lettuce, arugula, radish, and rhubarb are ready to harvest for the spring table. Click here to Z’s Orchard on Facebook to see what else is happening. (Click here.)
Gardeners are loading up their cars and trucks with greenhouse bounty at Sage Creations Organic Farm. Lavender-lovers wanting to start their own farm can learn from the owner and propagating pioneer, Paola Legarre, at Sage’s “Plant to Market” class on May 22nd. Sign-up is limited to ensure personalized instruction. Topics covered:
- Preparing beds
- Harvesting (for optimum use)
- Post-harvest handling
- Cultivars and their marketability
- Introduction to lavender propagation
For those who would rather create in the kitchen, Sage Creations Organic Farm has a variety of lavender recipes on their website from various chefs and magazines. One I plan on trying is Bon Appétit Magazine’s Chocolate Lavender Honey Tart.
Chocolate Lavender Honey Tart
Author: (Bon Appetit Magazine, April 2008)
- Nonstick vegetable oil spray
- 9 whole chocolate graham crackers (about 5 oz.)
- 4 tablespoons (1/2 stick) unsalted butter, room temp, divided
- 1 tablespoon honey
- 1 cup whipping cream
- 2 teaspoons dried culinary lavender blossoms
- 12 oz. bittersweet or semisweet chocolate chips
- 1 tablespoon unsweetened cocoa powder
- Preheat oven to 350 F. Spray 9 inch diameter tart pan with removable bottom with nonstick spray. Grind graham crackers with 3 tablespoons butter and honey in processor until fine crumbs form. Press crumbs evenly onto bottom (not up sides) of prepared tart pan. Bake until set, about 10 minutes. Cool.
- Bring cream and lavender just to boil in small saucepan. Reduce heat to low and simmer 5 minutes, remove from heat. Place chocolate in medium saucepan. Strain hot cream mixture into saucepan with chocolate. Stir over medium-low heat just until melted and smooth. Add cocoa powder and remaining 1 tablespoon butter; stir until melted and smooth. Pour chocolate mixture over crust in tart pan. Chill at least 45 minutes (chocolate will be slightly soft after 45 minutes and firm after 2 hours). Cut into wedges and serve. Can be made 1 day ahead. Cover and chill. Let stand at room temperature 1 hour before serving.
Click here to learn more about cooking with lavender from Sage Creations Organic Farm.
Share photos of your culinary creations here at A Bountiful History’s virtual #farmtocommunitytable.
Palisade orchards might be six months from dripping with their famous ripe peaches, but that doesn’t mean it’s not busy around there. If you look down the rows, through the barren branches and across the fields you’ll see why. It’s pruning season.
Workers are giving fruit trees their seasonal trim. (A little off the top, please?) The sun is out again after a snow—a gift during a much too warm winter with little moisture. Workers set up the ladders or ride on flatbeds through the orchards, long scissor-like pruning tools in hand. They pile up the downed limbs and twigs, removing them from the rows lest insects find a cozy home for multiplication … and I don’t mean 2 x 2 = 4. Think 2 x 2 = zillions of pests.
Labor needs aren’t just in the summer and harvest season. It’s year round. Child and Migrant Services (CMS) in Palisade is a lifeline. They are a network for farmers to connect with those looking for work. Plus, migrant workers find community at CMS. Director Karalyn Dorn says orchard work takes a lot of knowledge, skill, dedication. As a result, farmers like to hire the same guys (or gals) each year. “It’s a win, win,” says Dorn.
Even with the pruning activity in February, the Palisade Fruit & Wine Byway is pretty quiet. Sure, only a few country stores are open. (If you’re low on lavender and olive oil stop into Sprigs & Sprouts on Hwy 6.) Roadside fruit stands say “Thank you” and “Closed.” The good news for winter agritourists, though, is many of the gates to wine tasting rooms are open. (Thank you, Maison le Belle Vie!)
Cross Orchards Historic Site is a historic fruit ranch brought back from the dead.
From 1896-1923, the Massachusetts-based Red Cross Land and Fruit Company ran one of the largest and most productive fruit ranches in Colorado. With 243 acres and over 22,000 trees—mostly apple—the site was alive with growing and harvesting. Then came the codling moth and other challenges for the offsite owners.
The ranch died a slow death.
In the 1980s, the ranch rose from the grave, up out of the “weeds as big as trees,” and twenty-four acres of the original ranch site were saved from being buried under demolition and sub-divisions. The community united around the project, with the Territorial Daughters leading the way.
Territorial Daughters are still preserving history…and apple butter.
Territorial Daughter of Colorado volunteers can be seen in era-appropriate costume making treats on the wood cooking stove for Fall Day on the Farm this October 18, 2015. Other historical demonstrations include blacksmithing, quilting, weaving, and pressing cider.
Cross Orchards Director of Operations says Fall Day on the Farm is “a celebration of the harvest.”
Cross Orchards Historic Site is an opportunity for our 21st Century culture to travel back in time. It is a generational experience: children, parents, grandparents, and even great-grandparents come together for the day. Walking into history—whether it’s the packing shed, the bunkhouse, or the summerhouse—is an opportunity for older generations to take youngsters by the hand and share their own walks down memory lane.
At Fall Day on the Farm history is very much alive!
Fall Day on the Farm:
Hours: 9 a.m. – 3 p.m.
Cost: Free to members, family groups – $15, Kids – $3.50, Seniors – $4, Adults – $5.
Click here for map.
Cheers! Today marks the first day of the four day 2014 Colorado Mountain Winefest in Palisade, Colorado.
Viticulturists, epicures, and designated drivers come from all over Colorado, her neighboring states (especially Utah), and even as far away as Australia and China to sip, stomp, and dine among the vines. Tourists who drive along the Palisade Fruit & Wine Byway visiting the wineries and farm stands are treated to a sight of lush foliage contrasted by a dry western horizon of the rocky Book Cliffs and the Colorado National Monument—fruit forward with a dry finish.
There are several events within the Winefest, including Festival in the Park, Wine, Dine, & Paint!, Winemakers Dinner, and Chocolate & Wine Tasting. Saturday morning kicks off early with the annual Tour de Vineyards bicycle ride for those who want to begin the day detoxing. Additionally, restaurants from Grand Junction and Palisade are offering special food and wine pairings.
Winefest is sponsored by the Colorado Association for Viticulture and Enology (CAVE), a statewide nonprofit that supports research and education of the Colorado wine industry. The event began with a grassroots effort in the late eighties, a few volunteers, and limited interest. CAVE Executive Director Cassidee Shull says organizers begged vendors to participate. The original vision has since grown from five winery participants to fifty in 2013, with upwards of 5,800 attendees for the festival.
Photographer Casey Hess and I will be among the press covering year’s Winefest. We’ll be along the Tour de Vineyards route, at the Chocolate & Wine Tasting, and in the park with our cameras. Some of the photos will be featured in A Bountiful Heritage (coming out June 2015, published by the History Press) and on social media. So if you see us, wave, raise your glass, and say Salute!