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Bottles of Apple Blossom (left) and American Riesling wine on display in the tasting room. —Photo by Terri Cook

Behind the Vines: The Winery at Holy Cross Abbey

Established by an order of Benedictine monks on the grounds of a historic abbey, this Cañon City establishment offers some truly divine wine.

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The Winery at Holy Cross Abbey

Opened: 2002

The People: In 2000, Father Paul Montoya, a monk of the Benedictine Order from Cañon City’s Holy Cross Abbey, visited Colorado’s Western Slope and learned about the region’s up-and-coming wine industry. When he returned home, Father Montoya convinced his fellow monks that their property would make an ideal location for a winery, which could help pay for the historic abbey’s expensive upkeep. The monks reached out to Sally Davidson and Matt Cookson, who moved from Sonoma to Cañon City to help them establish the Winery at Holy Cross Abbey in 2002. Although the abbey closed in 2006, the winery remains a thriving business that Davidson still runs, along with Larry Oddo, an accountant from New York City who relocated to Colorado after 9/11.

The Space: The Front Range’s largest winery is housed in buildings that once belonged to the abbey. The attractive tasting room is located in an old arts and crafts house, built in 1911 as part of the abbey’s boys’ school. The interior is a cozy space with a narrow, wooden tasting bar and eye-catching displays of colorful wine- and picnic-related merchandise.

The Grapes: Whenever possible, winemaker Jeff Stultz sources grapes from Colorado, including from vineyards the winery helped establish at one of the nearby state prisons. It’s an honor for inmates to participate in the prison’s farm program, where they produce many other products in addition to grapes, and the rate of recidivism for the participants is nearly zero, according to Davidson. In addition to Merlot and Chardonnay varietals, the prisoners grow Riesling grapes, which Stultz uses to produce the winery’s top-selling American Riesling, whose lilac nose and citrus notes complement turkey, ham, and goose, making it an excellent choice for holiday meals.

The Wine: The Winery at Holy Cross Abbey has won more than 100 awards in international wine competitions in the last three years, including the most gold medals by a single winery in the 2015 Taster’s Guild International. Their Apple Blossom wine, whose crisp, refreshing taste is only slightly sweet, has won a number of awards, including the Best of Varietal at the 2015 Jerry Mead New World International Wine Competition. Previous vintages of the winery’s full-bodied Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve have garnered many honors, and the 2013 version currently in the tasting room is likewise excellent, with hints of plum, mocha, and cherry and a silky-smooth finish.

Buzzed Trivia: The Winery at Holy Cross Abbey produces what Davidson believes is Colorado’s only community crush wine, made from a blend of grapes donated by backyard growers throughout Fremont County. The delicious result is the Wild Cañon Harvest, a fruity rosé that is released just before Thanksgiving and whose label lists the names of all the growers, collectively known as the Wild Bunch.

Taste it: The Winery at Holy Cross Abbey offers wine tastings daily. Except for reserve wines, which cost $1 apiece, the tastings are free. Be sure to try the 2013 Merlot, a mixture of Merlot and Syrah grapes aged for 18 months in American oak barrels. The earthy tones and bing cherry flavor pair beautifully with smoked gouda and other sharp cheeses, as well as game, pizza, and pasta.

Take Home: In addition to bottles and gift boxes of their wines, the Winery at Holy Cross Abbey offers a large selection of wine- and cooking-related merchandise, from pewter cork dogs and cookbooks to unusual wine bottle holders and sparkling holiday decorations. Be sure to take home a jar of Sweet & Saucy’s Denver-made cabernet fudge, the perfect complement to the winery’s Merlot Divinity, a classic port-style dessert wine with hints of berry and chocolate.

Visit: The Winery at Holy Cross Abbey is located at 3011 East Highway 50, Cañon City; 719-276-5191

(Read about more Colorado wineries in 5280‘s Behind the Vines series)

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