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Continental Divide Winery's downtown Breckenridge tasting room is a popular spot for relaxing and learning about wine. Photo by Jeffrey Maltzman

The World’s Highest-Altitude Winery Is Right Here in Colorado

Head to Continental Divide Winery’s tasting room in Alma or Breckenridge for a crash course in high-elevation vino.

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Sure, altitude can make a big impact on baked goods, but did you know that it can also affect the winemaking process? Just ask Jeffrey Maltzman, winemaker and co-owner of Continental Divide Winery. The brand has tasting rooms in Breckenridge and Alma, but it produces its wine at the latter location. According to Maltzman, Alma’s lofty elevation of 10,361 feet makes this the highest-altitude winery on the planet, beating its closest competitor in Chile by about 30 feet.

According to Maltzman—who also owns California’s lauded Navigator Wines and Gold Creek Vineyards, along with his wife Ana—the dearth of oxygen means the wine retains more of its distinct character. (Oxygen is necessary for proper fermentation, but once the wine is ready to bottle, oxygen degrades its aromas and can alter the color.) Continental Divide loves to highlight these differences by showcasing the same varietals grown on opposite sides of the Continental Divide, which, if you need a refresher, is the chain of high terrain that separates water that drains eastward into the Atlantic Ocean from water that flows westward into the Pacific. East meets west at the Alma winery: Co-owner and Colorado resident Kent Hutchinson uses Colorado-grown grapes, while Maltzman uses California-grown grapes to create Continental Divide’s unique line of wines.

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This is evident in side-by-side tastings of the impressive selection of Continental Divide reds, which currently includes a merlot made with grapes from the Grand Valley American Viticultural Area (the grape-growing area surrounding Grand Junction), and a Paso Robles, California Cabernet Sauvignon, both of which are delicious. Whereas the California red has a more peppery aroma, the Colorado version offers more complexity thanks to Grand Valley’s hotter and shorter growing season, according to general manager John Bellncula. The winery also has a comparable Merlot pairing, the Colorado version of which boasts stronger floral aromas than the California variety’s more berry-rich nose and cherry flavor.

Continental Divide also offers a number of whites, including a 2017 Reserve Albariño, which the winery just started pouring a couple of weeks ago. Hutchinson used a special whole-cluster press to produce this crisp wine, which offers great texture and lively tropical notes. And although I’m not normally much of a rosé drinker, I enjoyed the 2017 Haulin’ Ass rosé, which is made from three Colorado-grown grape varietals. Named in honor of Burro Days, South Park’s signature summer festival), this rosé has a refreshing flavor and slight sweetness is so easy-drinking that Bellncula likens it to “adult Kool-Aid.”

In addition to a sunny, welcoming tasting room, the Breckenridge facility also has a cozy outdoor seating area that’s shielded from traffic noise. This is an ideal spot for sipping the afternoon away, especially when you pair your favorite bottle with a mouthwatering cheese board from the Cheese Shop next door.

If you go: Continental Divide Winery’s tasting rooms are located at 505 South Main Street, Breckenridge; 970-771-3443 and at 331 Highway 285, Fairplay; 719-838-2349

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