Behind the Vines: Canyon Wind Cellars

Located on a carefully selected property beneath the dramatic Roan Plateau, Colorado’s largest estate winery produced the state’s first $100 bottle of vino.

January 7 2016, 3:25 PM

Canyon Wind Cellars is nestled beneath western Colorado's lofty Roan Plateau.
—Photo by Terri Cook

The Winery: Canyon Wind Cellars

The People: Geologist Norman Christianson traveled the globe hunting for precious metals and diamonds—but that’s not all he did during his travels. He also visited many far-flung wine-producing regions and, after deciding in the late 1980s to plant his own vineyard, he searched five continents for the ideal location, which he finally found just outside of Palisade. With the help of his wife, Ellen, and Napa Valley winemaker Robert Pepi, Norman established 35 acres of vines and a state-of-the art facility in the eastern Grand Valley. The winery is now owned and operated by Norman and Ellen’s son, Jay, and his wife, Jennifer, who also began her career as a geologist.

The Space: Canyon Wind’s location has many of the characteristics that distinguish famous wine-growing regions like France’s Côtes du Rhône, including gravelly, well-drained river benches, a dry climate, warm days, and cool nights. Wind, for which the vineyard is named, is also a key factor. Steady breezes blowing down De Beque Canyon keep the acreage up to 10 degrees warmer than properties just a few miles away, greatly reducing the threat of frosts. Norman’s careful siting allows the family to grow Bordeaux varietals despite the winery’s 4,710-foot-high elevation.

The Grapes: As an estate winery, all of Canyon Wind’s wine is made onsite from their own grapes. They are grown in both the original Riverside Vineyard, planted in 1991, and the adjacent Cliffside Vineyard, whose thicker, more clay-rich soils create grapes with more concentrated flavors. This is evident in Canyon Wind’s 2015 47-Ten White, part of their best-selling series named for the vineyard’s elevation. The pale-gold blend of Pinot Grigio and Sauvignon Blanc grapes is a fruit basket in a bottle, with strong grapefruit and lime aromas and a pleasant pear finish.

The Wine: Among Canyon Wind Cellars’ long and impressive wine list, the Anemoi series really stands out. Established in 2011 by Jay and Jennifer, this line of bold, dry reds is named for various Greek gods of wind. Be sure to try the 2014 Notus, a peppery blend of syrah and Petit Verdot named for the god of the southern wind, as well as the 2014 Lips. Named for the god of the southwest wind and composed entirely of Syrah, this outstanding wine features black pepper, tart cherry, and cocoa flavors with a smoky finish. The 2013 vintage tied for “Best In Show” at last year’s Colorado Governor’s Cup.

Buzzed Trivia: When Jay became the lead winemaker in 2007, he created IV, a red wine named for its four Bordeaux varietals. Although it turned out differently than what Jay had envisioned, when IV was released in 2009, it was pronounced “Colorado’s first $100 bottle” by wine guru Doug Frost. Made of the vineyard’s best fruit and carefully fermented in small batches in new American and French oak barrels, this silky wine is more complex than the others I tried, with hints of raspberry and tobacco aromas followed by the pleasantly intermingled flavors of chocolate, plum, and tobacco and a lingering, earthy finish.

Taste it: Canyon Wind Cellar’s tasting room is open from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily. The first four tastings are complimentary; additional samples cost $1 each. Be sure to try the 2012 Boreas, another wine in the Anemoi series named for the god of the brisk northern winds. Made from the same varietals as IV, the Boreas has a bold, spicy flavor that’s perfect for sipping in front of a blazing fire on a cold winter evening.

Take Home: Canyon Wind Cellars also offers gourmet picnic items and gifts, including Denver-made Primo blueberry-jalapeno preserves and Earth & Vine marinades and sauces. You may also want to pick up a bottle of Finley’s Red Paw, a dry red named for the winery’s lively Labrador Retriever. For every purchase, you receive an adorable stuffed Finley dog, and the Animal Rescue of the Rockies receives a $10 donation.

Visit: Canyon Wind Cellars is located at 3907 North River Rd., Palisade; 970-464-0888

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