United by the vine | VailDaily.com

United by the vine

Caramie Schnell
Paonia, CO Colorado

PAONIA, Colorado –The drive between four wineries, one gallery and a sheep farm on Garvin Mesa in Paonia, Colorado takes less than 15 minutes. And there’s no jockeying for visitors among the owners, either – rather, a deep sense of interdependence pervades. If one winery is successful, it’s a pretty good bet the others will be to.

It’s with that idea in mind that the group gathered together this spring to talk about how to bring more visitors to their beloved mountain and the Garvin Mesa Wine Loop was born.

At the end of May I ventured to picturesque Paonia to travel the loop, which starts at Azura Cellars, an art gallery/wine tasting room owned by part-time Minturn residents Ty and Helen Gillespie.

First stop: Azura Cellars, 16764 Farmers Mine Road; 970-390-4251, http://www.azuracellars.com

The Garvin Mesa Wine Loop begins at Azura Cellars, which looks like it belongs in some Tuscan village, with its taupe terra cotta tiled roof, an observation tower with a narrow spiral staircase and wrought iron gates. Owner/artist Ty Gillespie handbuilt the gurgling “water-wall” fountain using a sprocket from a nearby coal mine that he rescued from a junkyard.

Ty and his wife, Helen, are artists, sailors (they spent seven years sailing around the world), and now winemakers. The couple started the Minturn Market in the late ’90s. It was then, nearly 10 years ago, that they first discovered Paonia.

They were driving around the state looking for farmer’s willing to trek to Minturn each weekend to sell their hard-earned vegetable bounty, Ty said.

“We were taken by the beauty of the place,” he said.

And with sweeping views of Mount Lamborn and the North Fork Valley, it is indeed a stunning spot.

The Gillespie’s spent the last few years building the tasting room and art gallery, and their adjacent home. They make their own wine from grapes grown nearby in Palisade.

Sip on their crisp and refreshing pinot gris (they also have merlot, cabernet franc and pinot noir) while wandering around the gallery, which is filled with Ty’s colorful sailboat hulls and Helen’s contemporary sculptures, including intricate kites made from bamboo and paper.

Second stop: Stone Cottage Cellars, 41716 Reds Road; 970-527-3444, http://www.stonecottagecellars.com

Just a few minutes down the road from Azura is Stone Cottage Cellars. The family-owned winery’s buildings are constructed of local fieldstone.

With a welcoming smile, owner Karen Helleckson greets visitors to the 4.5 acre vineyard, which was planted in the ’80s. The Helleckson’s took over in 1997 when they moved from Boulder to Paonia, calling themselves “urban refugees.”

During a tour of the cellar, complete with rows of oak barrels and a few fermentation tanks, Karen tells us bottling the wine is a family affair – they drag the kitchen table into the small, chilly room where her daughter washes the bottles, her son fills them, her husband, Brent, corks them and she labels them. They produce between 800 and 900 cases of wine each year and sell 80 percent of it out of the tasting room.

Inside the cool tasting cottage, Karen serves small sips of chardonnay, merlot, syrah, gerwurztraminer and desert wines. Later this summer, and for the first time, she’ll serve pinot noir for the first time.

Third stop: Terror Creek Winery, 17445 Garvin Mesa Road; 970-527-3484

At 6,400 feet, Terror Creek Winery is the highest-altitude vineyard and winery in the northern hemisphere. It was also the first winery on Garvin Mesa.

Owner Joan Mathewson trained in a wine school in Switzerland and together with her husband, John, planted seven-acres of grapes in 1989 and opened the tasting room in 1993. They produce about a 1,000 cases of wine a year, including a dry riesling, a gewurztraminer, a stainless-steel vinted chardonnay and a fruity, dry pinot noir.

The winery, Joan tells us, is named after Terror Creek, which runs through the east side of the property and is a “holy terror in the springtime.”

Fourth stop: Desert Weyr, 16870 Garvin Mesa Road; 970-527-3573, http://www.desertweyr.com

A braying donkey announces visitors’ arrival at Desert Weyr. Clusters of black sheep, including many tiny lambs, graze in a circa-1905 apple orchard while large dogs sit, watching over their flock.

It’s late May and that means its lambing season for owners Ken and Oogie McGuire. There are 30 lambs on the ground and another 36 to go, Oogie tells us. The couple raise rare black Welsh mountain sheep on their family farm. There are less than 10,000 of the specialized British breed in the world and at 160 sheep, Desert Weyr has the largest flock of the small-statured sheep in North America.

“I decided I have to like everything about the breed in order to raise them,” Oogie said.

And so far, she does. The wool is pure black, the meat – both the mutton and lamb – is tasty, and the animals themselves are reasonably easy to work with. Along with meat and wool, the McGuire’s also raise chickens and sell fresh eggs, usually just-plucked from the hen house.

Fifth stop Black Bridge Winery, 15836 Black Bridge Road; 970-527-6838, http://www.blackbridgewinery.com

Named for the nearby historic bridge over the north fork of the Gunnison river, Black Bridge Winery sells its own label wine as well as wine from Alfred Eames Cellar, S. Rhodes Vineyard and Stone Cottage Cellars. The winery produces about 350 cases of vino each year, just enough to sell in the tasting room.

The 80-acre farm grows mostly cherries and peaches and about 15 acres of grapes. Visitors to Black Bridge can pick their own fruit, which makes up a significant part of the company’s business.

“Lots of people come back year after year to pick fruit,” said Rob Kimball, Black Bridge’s winemaker.

What: Garvin Mesa Wine Loop, a self-guided tour of a few wineries in Paonia

Where: Garvin Mesa, Paonia

When: Through the end of October

Cost: All of the wineries sample their wine for free.

More information: The loop begins at Azura Cellars and there are signs on the road marking the loop. Visit http://www.azuracellars.com for more information

Aug. 1, 2 – West Elk Wine Trail; Eight wineries in Paonia are hosting a wine fest. Each winery will offer food pairings and if you visit five wineries you’ll recieve a free wine glass.

Aug. 29 – Garvin Mesa Day; Each of the stops on the wine loop will provide appetizers.

Along with the wineries on the Garvin Mesa Wine Loop, there are a handful of other wineries in the Paonia/Hotchkiss area, including Alfred Eames Winery (by appointment), Leroux Creek Vineyards and Liliputian Winery.

Visit http://www.paoniachamber.com for more information on these wineries as well as local events

High Life editor Caramie Schnell can be reached at 970-748-2984 or cschnell@vaildaily.com.

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