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Whitewater Hill Vineyards & Winery. Courtesy of Whitewater Hill Vineyards & Winery

Behind the Vines: Whitewater Hill Vineyards & Winery

No Western Slope wine-tasting trip is complete without a stop at this laid-back winery, which won three of last year’s prestigious Governor’s Cup awards for its outstanding full-bodied reds.

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After years spent working as a software engineer in Boulder, Nancy Janes and her husband, John Behrs, decided to try their hands at growing grapes in Colorado’s Grand Valley. The couple spent two years commuting back and forth between the Front Range and the Western Slope, but finally decided to relocate to Palisade and wholeheartedly plunge into the winemaking industry. The result of their hard work is the rafting-themed Whitewater Hill Vineyards & Winery, which is well worth a stop on your next road trip west.

The Space: Perched atop its namesake hill, the winery has a commanding view of carefully pruned vineyards that sit in front of the dramatic Book Cliffs (which delineate the Grand Valley’s northern edge.) Housed in a modern warehouse, the tasting room is a casual space with a long tasting bar and a series of small wine-related merchandise displays.

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The Grapes: Behr, Whitewater Hill’s vineyardist, regularly grows seven or eight varietals, including Merlot, Riesling, Cabernet Franc, Chambourcin, and Chardonnay. Their land is so bountiful that winemaker Janes currently uses just 30 percent of the crop; the rest is sold to other local wineries.

The Wine: Whitewater Hill’s current tasting list ranges from dry whites to dessert sips, and the winery is best known for its reds, which have garnered four gold or double gold Governor’s Cup medals in the last two years. You can currently taste the 2015 vintages of several varietals, which Janes ages in either French or American oak, including a ruby-red Shiraz with plum notes and an earthy Cabernet Franc that pairs beautifully with lamb, venison, or portobello mushrooms, thanks to its spicy finish.

Buzzed Trivia: Whitewater Hill is one of the very few Colorado wineries that makes ice wine, a dessert wine produced from grapes that were frozen while still on the vine, to lock up the fruit’s water. Because the grapes are subsequently picked and pressed in extremely cold temperatures, this water isn’t released. The result is a limited amount of highly concentrated, sweet juice that is then fermented into wine.

Taste it: During summer, the winery is open daily from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. In the winter, it’s usually open on weekdays from noon to 6 p.m. and on weekends from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Tastings are free except for the ice wine, which costs $2. If you enjoy crisp whites, be sure to try the winery’s Dry Riesling, which has a lovely floral nose with hints of jasmine and a refreshing apricot flavor.

Take Home:  Sangria drinkers will like the 2015 Sweetheart Red. If you prefer full-bodied reds, treat yourself to a bottle of Whitewater’s 2014 Ethereal, a combination of classic red grapes—Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon, Shiraz, and Merlot—blended with a smaller amount of Chambourcin to create a harmonious and unique flavor.

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Visit: Whitewater Hill Vineyards & Winery is located at 220 32 Road, Palisade; 970-434-6868

Terri Cook, 5280 Contributor

Terri Cook is an award-winning freelance writer based in Boulder. More of her work can be found at down2earthscience.com.

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