Colorado Blend: Revolutionary Winery Uses Western Slope Grapes
By Kyle Kirves
At a crossroads in the Colorado high country, where u.s. highways 50 and 285 intersect, there’s a quiet revolution going on in winemaking.
Here in Poncha Springs, Vino Salida is creating award-winning wines from Colorado grapes with community-sourced effort. Crushed, pressed and bottled in Chaffee County by a small staff and community volunteers, the winery is reshaping perceptions about Colorado wines.
“When most people think of Colorado wine, they generally think of sweet wines,” says Jessica Shook, sales and marketing director for Vino Salida. “But we focus on mostly dry red wines and blends, wines that are expressive and that stand out for a good body structure and are just really great bold reds.”
Consider, for example, Vino Salida’s best-selling wine, a red blend of Zinfandel, Cabernet Franc and Merlot dubbed Vino Rosso di Salida. It’s a rich but balanced wine in the style of Italian table reds, and it pairs well with just about anything. Jessica describes it as a “crowd-pleaser.” And avid cyclists and oenophiles around Colorado know it not just for the rich flavor, but the bottle art that features an antique photograph of turn-of-the-century bicyclists in period clothes in downtown Salida.
Like all great wine, Jessica says it starts with the grapes. Sourcing all of their fruit from Palisade, Vino Salida takes great pride in shining a spotlight on agriculture within the state.
“The local growers on the Western Slope in Palisade are really the heart and soul of the operation,” she says. “That includes grape varieties you can only find there, like hybrids that are resistant to cold temperatures.”
Founder Steve Flynn’s vision has always been to create 100-percent Colorado offerings. An artist whose energies eventually found a new creative outlet in winemaking, Flynn’s mission is to make wine that is really expressive of Colorado and the Palisade area where the grapes are sourced.
“Steve wanted to use wine to connect our locality with agriculture statewide. He tries to highlight the quality of fruit that growers produce,” Jessica says. So much so that the buttes of Palisade feature prominently on Vino Salida’s label art, which was painted by acclaimed regional artist Susan Mayfield. “Our labels are important to Steve. We want them to be evocative of Palisade.”
So why Poncha Springs and Salida? Why not, say, Vino Palisade?
“People know about the quality of grapes and fruit from Palisade. But we also want to expand the reach and presence of wine producing in Colorado,” Jessica says. “Having a presence in Poncha Springs and Salida that really highlights our area and our mountain way of life is part of our mission, too.”
Community support and Colorado focus is woven into the very fabric of Vino Salida. But it’s more than just a fan base, it’s a family of investors who came together to make Vino Salida happen. Jessica explains that “we’re a unique model. We are community supported and sponsored. There were no huge investors making this happen. A lot of very dedicated area people came together, made small investments, and still continue to give us their time as volunteers.”
Recognizing that wholesale distribution is not a good fit for them, Vino Salida made the conscious decision to make their wines available as retail offerings via the winery and its website. But that should be fine with most wine lovers — Vino Salida is a destination worth seeking out, or it may already be “on the way” if you’re traveling to Monarch, Gunnison, Taos or Durango. The welcoming venue is family (and dog) friendly and offers a full menu and stunning views of the Collegiate Peaks and the Sawatch Range.
True believers may be hard to come by outside of the state — it remains a challenge for Colorado wineries, including Vino Salida, to overcome French and Californian bias. But then the people of central Colorado know all about uphill struggles, right? And in the meantime, local and state support remains instrumental in Vino Salida’s steady success, something Jessica recognizes and is grateful for. “Our local response has been really positive. We have a lot of support out of the local and state communities. And our already big wine club continues to grow.”
Kyle Kirves drinks beer, plays guitar, runs trails, and manages projects – all with varying degrees of success. While not a craftsman himself, he is quite content writing about the Colorado artisans who create such wonderful things and memorable experiences.