When Garrett and Cailin Portra first discovered western Colorado while on a brief “Ryder truck” adventure, they had no intention of staying. But much to their surprise, they discovered that they loved the region and soon decided to settle here. While Cailin worked as an occupational therapist, Garrett, who has degrees in both biology and environmental science, became immersed in the wine business, working for five years as Carlson Vineyard’s cellar manager before purchasing the business from industry pioneers Parker and Mary Carlson last year.
The Space: Because the vineyards are located on an old apricot orchard, the winery is housed in a quaint fruit-packing shed, whose cozy, wooden interior is dominated by a large, polished-stone tasting bar. Free tours of the facility, when available, include a look at the separate production room in the back of the shed, where you can see the fermenting tanks and equipment that Garrett and Parker still use to bottle the wine by hand.
The Grapes: Winemaker Garrett uses locally produced fruit, including a few acres of grapes that he grows himself, to craft his wine. Carlson’s best-seller, the semi-sweet Laughing Cat Sweet Baby Red, is a “purrfect” blend of eight different grapes, including Merlot and Syrah, whose composition, color, and flavor vary slightly each year, reflecting that season’s bounty.
The Wine: Renown for both dry and sweet wines, Carlson Vineyards is best known for its Palisade Peach, which won a coveted double gold medal in the 2015 Governor’s Cup Competition. Made entirely from fermented Grand Valley peaches, this dry wine tastes just like fresh-picked peaches; serve it chilled with chicken and fruit salads and Havarti cheese for an idyllic, lazy summer afternoon picnic.
Buzzed Trivia: In 2000, Carlson’s Tyranasaurus Red, which is made from Lemberger grapes, was served at the unveiling ceremony for SUE, the largest and most complete Tyrannosaurus rex skeleton ever found when—after a long custody battle—it finally went on display at the Field Museum in Chicago. A lighthearted label and a short time on oak give the 2015 vintage a playful feel, with an earthy nose and tantalizing hints of spicy black pepper.
Taste it: The winery is open daily from 10 a.m. to 5:45 p.m. There is no charge for tasting, so be sure to experiment with something new, such as Garrett’s refreshing Dry Rosé. Although it’s made from the same Lemberger grapes as the Tyranasaurus red, the rosé is lighter-colored and less peppery because its juice was skimmed off the skins after just 24 hours.
Take Home: Don’t leave Carlson’s without trying their “Cherry ‘n Chocolate” combo—a cup of their mouthwatering Cherry Wine, made from Montmorency pie cherries, with a dab of melted Enstrom’s dark chocolate on the rim. Since the cherries’ tartness also pairs beautifully with smoked meat or cheeses such as Gouda, it’s a great choice to purchase a bottle or two to bring back home.
Visit: Carlson Vineyards is located at 461 35 Road, Palisade; 888-464-5444