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Drinking in Colorado

Tamara Miller

Colorado’s burgeoning wine industry has made serious strides over the years, thanks in part to growing interest in boutique wines and a greater zeal to support locally-grown produce.

Just two hours west of Vail is the epicenter of the state’s wine industry. With its high, arid climate that brings warm, sunny days and cool nights, the Grand Valley is sort of like the Tuscany of Colorado, producing around 80 percent of the wine grapes for the state.

Palisade, a quaint town just east of Grand Junction and surrounded by vineyards and farms, is the natural home base for the growing throng of agri-tourists who head here. But its ability to capture that business has been limited by an utter lack of sizeable hotels or inns in town.

That’s where Jean and Richard Tally have stepped in. The Tallys, who own property up Lake Creek near Edwards and have been visiting the Vail Valley for decades, aren’t exactly wine experts, but they are longtime veterans in the lodging industry, owning several hotels around the state. When Steve Smith, co-owner of the Grande River Vineyards, suggested the Tallys open a hotel near the winery, you could say the couple accepted the challenge, and then spent 10 years traveling to Europe and California doing the research that ultimately shaped the Wine Country Inn, which opened in August.

The Inn represents the “best of the best” of what the Tallys saw while visiting wineries during that 10-year period, Jean said.

“The ones that we were drawn to, that seemed the most welcoming, had adapted the Victorian style,” she said. “We tried to superimpose those features that we thought were so pleasing and appealing onto a regular hotel structure.”

With its peaked roof, porches and rocking chairs, the inn complements the Victorian architecture and farmhouse sensibility found elsewhere in the town of Palisade. But it’s still a sizeable hotel, with 80 rooms, meeting spaces, a gift shop, a courtyard with a pool and the “Vitner’s Guest House” ” a large building for weddings, retreats and family reunions with its full kitchen, living and dining rooms and bedrooms.

The hotel is a “family project,” Richard said, noting that son Greg and daughter Ann are fully involved in marketing and running the operation.

“This has Jean’s stamp all over this,” Richard said. “The decor and the feel and the amenities. This is her.”

The Wine Country Inn is the only wine-themed hotel in Colorado, but its proximity to Interstate 70 gives it a wider draw. The Tallys are focusing on the Front Range, but also the Vail Valley and other mountain resort communities.

“We are hoping that the mountain communities don’t have to go all the way to Napa to have a wine experience. It’s two hours from Vail, about the same from Aspen, maybe a little longer from Steamboat, such a doable drive,” Jean said. ” You don’t have to worry about passes being closed and that sort of thing …

“People are so stressed in the cities, and even in Vail, the people who are working there. They just have so much pressure on them to make a living and take care of family, there’s not a lot of time to decompress and enjoy yourself.”

Upon our arrival, we checked into a room decorated in the colors of wine, yellow and cream. The bathroom had a granite counter for the sink and a granite shower. An armchair with a desk was nestled in the corner and above it, a black-and-white photo of family gathering around a piano.

We made it out of our room just in time for the afternoon wine reception. Jim, the server, offered samples of Grande River Vineyards Chardonnay, Meritage White, Merlot and Meritage Red. These are the “house wines” for the Inn. I asked Jim how business was going so far and he pointed out that the hotel was booked the following weekend for the Grand Valley Wine Festival.

Most at the reception were favoring the Meritage White and the Meritage Red. My husband and I asked Jim to pour a full glass of the latter. I was pleasantly surprised by how much I like the Meritage Red, which is a blend of cabernet sauvignon, cabernet franc and merlot. While most of the Colorado wines I have tasted have seemed watery and immature, the Meritage Red is full-bodied and smooth.

Heather van den Aardweg, a Colorado Springs resident who was visiting the area with a few girlfriends, was drinking the Meritage Red at the wine reception, too. She planned to spend the weekend at the Inn, visiting the nearby vineyards and the orchards during the day.

“This place is great,” she said. “I’m really excited to be able to do something like this here in Colorado.”

My husband and I moved to the courtyard with our glasses of wine. Hotel staff were folding towels and placing them on the chairs around the pool. The Tallys were hoping to open the pool that weekend now that the wrought-iron fence around the perimeter had been completed.

The hotel sits just off I-70, but I heard little road noise. Instead, I took in the view of the green grapevines in the adjoining vineyard that contrasted the barren, bleached rocky mesas that fill the skyline.

My husband and I moved to the courtyard with our glasses of wine. Hotel staff were folding towels and placing them on the chairs around the pool. The Tallys were hoping to open the pool that weekend now that the wrought-iron fence around the perimeter had been completed.

The hotel sits just off I-70, but I heard little road noise. Instead, I took in the view of the green grapevines in the adjoining vineyard that contrasted the barren, bleached rocky mesas that fill the skyline.


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