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Who needs Napa?

Special to the Daily/ Jorel Cuomo
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=============================To get there:Take I-70 west to Glenwood. From Glenwood, take Highway 82 east to Carbondale. The Village Smithy (970-963-9990) is located at 26 South Third Street in Carbondale. Continue on Highway 133 to Redstone, Marble and eventually over McClure Pass and down into Paonia. =============================================================To learn more, check out these web sites:www.villagesmithy.comwww.redstonecolorado.comwww.marblecolorado.netwww.paonia.org

http://www.stonecottagecellars.comwww.blackbridgewinery.comwww.alfredeamescellars.com==========================================================Accomodations:There are a handful of bed and breakfasts located in Paonia and neighboring Hotchkiss, but we opted to camp at the Bogan Flats Campground, 25 miles south of Carbondale, near the town of Marble. Located next to the Crystal River, the campground was clean, quiet and very scenic. For reservations, call (970) 963-2266.==============================

My summer resolution is simple: see more, do more. Whether that translates to finally summiting Holy Cross, or to visiting small towns on the other side of old, winding mountain passes, I’m game. My boyfriend and I chose Memorial Day weekend to head out on our first adventure. Our final destination was Paonia, a small agricultural town just over 100 miles southwest of here.Deckside diningA couple of friends recommended the Village Smithy restaurant in Carbondale for breakfast, served until 2 p.m. Located in the town’s downtown district, the restaurant resembles an old house, but the tablefuls of people on the deck made clear we had the right place. Though the deck was full, it took just a few minutes before a group left and we scored our patio side seats. A predominant quote on the menu made me feel at ease: “In cooking, as in arts, simplicity is a sign of perfection.” And indeed the food wasn’t super fancy but quite tasty. The fresh-squeezed lemondade was get-you-in-the-back-of-the-throat tart and a steal at $2 with all of the refills. We turned the smiling waitress away three times before we finally decided on the Santa Fe Cakes ($5.95), three cornmeal pancakes baked with bacon, green chilies and cheddar cheese and the McHuevos ($8.95), two eggs with mushroom, green onion, homemade salsa, cheddar cheese and sour cream piled over a bed of hash browns. Our nearly spotless plates were a good indication of our satisfaction. You can check out the whole menu for yourself on http://www.villagesmithy.com.The ‘Ruby of the Rockies’The car grew silent as we got back on Highway 133 heading south alongside the meandering Crystal River. As rain began to sprinkle down, the sight of the verdant fields and old ranches with Mount Sopris towering above consumed our attention. You might be tempted to skip Redstone, population 92, but I don’t recommend it. The small town, nicknamed the “Ruby of the Rockies,” has its own entrepreneurial charm – the weekend we were there, card tables filled with jewelry, lamps, clothes, books and other odds and ends lined the street in honor of the townwide yardsale. Swiss-style cottages, bed and breakfasts and cafes dot the town’s main street. Look to your right as you turn off the highway – the beehive-like structures buried in the hillside are Coke Ovens, built in the late 1800s to transform raw coal into the high-grade “coke” used in the production of steel. The town’s landmark is the Redstone Castle, a 42-room Tudor-style home that was originally a hunting cottage (at 24,000 square feet, that’s some “cottage”). Tours of the castle resumed this month after being on hiatus for two years while it was being remodeled. Call (970) 963-2526 for more information.Far from terrifyingAt just over 8,700 feet, McClure Pass is one of the few passes in Colorado that’s open nearly year round. In late May, the drive was beautiful and I hear come September, it verges on spectacular. The whole mantra for the weekend was simple: whatever sounds good. And even though my past experiences with Colorado wine wasn’t every outstanding, a nice glass of white wine sounded good.



The sleepy town of Paonia is home to a handful of wineries, including Black Bridge Winery, Terror Creek Winery, Stone Cottage Cellars and Alfred Eames Cellars, among others. We followed signs to Terror Creek Winery, located at the top of Garvin Mesa. The narrow dirt road winds up the hill, gaining elevation quickly. At 6,400 feet, the mesa is home to some of the world’s highest-altitude vineyards. We rang the bell and owner Joan Mathewson steped out of the main house, greeting us with a kind smile. Trained in a wine school in Switzerland, Mathewson and her husband John opened Terror Creek 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. Before every sip, I steeled myself, not sure what to expect. To my surprise, though, the wines delivered, and the dry riesling and the hard-to-pronounce gewurztraminer tied as my favorites. The pinot, priced at $29 (everything else cost $15) seems to be Mathewson’s favorite – “It’s a wonderful pinot, we’ve been making it for 6 years.” The winery she tells us is named after Terror Creek, which runs through the east side of the property and is a “holy terror in the springtime.” “Though some people say it’s because of the road,” she says with a wry smile on her tanned face. Bottling the family businessAt Mathewson’s urging our next stop was just down the road at Stone Cottage Cellars. The family-owned winery features buildings constructed of local fieldstone. Owner Karen Helleckson and her son and daughter were waiting to greet us as we got out of the car. The 4.5 acre vineyard was planted in the ’80s. During a tour of the cellar, complete with rows of oak barrels and a few fermentation tanks, she 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. Inside the tasting cottage, we met Brent to try Stone Cottage’s chardonnay, merlot, syrah, gerwurztraminer and dessert wines. While their most popular wine is the chardonnay (which resides on the wine lists at Pinon’s in Aspen, Larkspur here in Vail and the Flagstaff House in Boulder), our favorite was the merlot and we left with a bottle in hand. Over the course of the wine tasting, the couple’s story emerges: the family of four moved from Boulder (where Brent had worked as an aerospace engineer) to Paonia in 1997. They call themselves urban refugees and speak of pinching themselves when they look across the valley at Mount Lamborn and think about their lives in this small, vineyard filled community.”It’s 30 miles to the next fast food restaurant and that’s just fine with us,” Karen said, smiling at Brent.Caramie Schnell can be reached at 748-2984 or cschnell@vaildaily.com.


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