Colorado is a state in the American west, bordered by New Mexico to the south and Wyoming to the north. Colorado's vineyards are among the highest in the world, reaching altitudes of 7000ft (2135m) in the Rocky Mountains. This rivals even the famously lofty Andean vineyards of Argentina.
Wine grapes grown at this height produces wine with vibrant, intense colors and aromas, created by the intensity of the sunlight and cool nights. The better Colorado wines are made from such grape varieties as Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Riesling and Chardonnay.
The state covers just under 105,000 square miles (270,000 sq km) of land between latitudes 37°N and 41°N, ranging from the Rockies to the lower-lying ground in the east. The climate in Colorado is typically continental; the nearest large bodies of water are well over 500 miles (800km) away. This results in warm, dry summers, as well as in cold winters, particularly in the higher areas. The cold poses significant risks to less-hardy vines.
Most of Colorado's wine industry can be found along the state's western border with Utah, in the Rocky Mountains. Here, the altitude helps to moderate the climate, and the rocky, sandy soils have proved well suited to viticulture. Low annual rainfall in these parts of Colorado allows growers careful control over vigor and yields through the sparing use of irrigation.
Winemaking in Colorado dates back well over 100 years; wine production was first recorded here in the 1880s. By 1909, the state was harvesting grapes from more than 1000 vineyards. This burgeoning industry was interrupted when Colorado adopted Prohibition in 1916 – four years earlier than in many other US states. Many of the vineyards were replanted to peaches, now one of the state's most important crops.
It took Colorado's wine industry half a century to begin to recover, in the mid-1970s. This was driven by government-aided viticultural research by Colorado State University. Now there are around 100 wineries across the state. Their vineyards are planted with a combination of well-known vinifera varieties as well as hybrids. Most of these were purpose-made to endure the harsh winters here. The majority of the vineyards are in the Grand Valley, the first of Colorado's two AVAs, inaugurated in 1991. The state's West Elks AVA is home to the northern hemisphere's highest commercial winery, Terror Creek. This is located at 6400ft (1950m) above sea level.
The local industry has the support of the Colorado Wine Industry Development Board. This is a semi-independent office in the Colorado Department of Agriculture set up to encourage research and experimentation and promote Colorado wines. It also integrates wineries within the state's tourism program. The state offers several wine trails and numerous spectacular tasting room locations.
Beer and Spirits
Colorado whiskeys and beers are more widely distributed outside of the state. The Coors Brewing Company was founded in the state in 1873. It operates the largest single brewing facility in the world at Golden, where tours are offered. The state is also home to a thriving craft beer industry.
The number of distilleries in Colorado has grown quickly in recent years and has now passed the fifty mark. This includes urban plants in Denver, sites in the Rockies, and rural sites in the Eastern plains, close to their raw materials. Spirits age well in barrel in the continental climate, with warm days and cool nights.