Although it’s surrounded by sandstone rock formations, sagebrush, and high mesas, Grand Junction is no desert when it comes to food and wine. (Any Palisade peach will prove that.) The red rock canyons and mesas tower over a vibrant green landscape, rich in fruit, vegetables, and ranch land that provides an Eden-like environment for creative culinary and wine endeavors.
Colorado’s Wine Country
Colorado’s Western Slope wine scene is one of the best-kept secrets on the grapevine. Grand Junction and nearby Palisade are home to more than 20 wineries and tasting rooms, not to mention a booming agricultural industry with farms specializing in everything from fruit and vegetables to microgreens, hops, and herbs.
Some wineries are French-inspired in production, scale, and facilities, with conference centers and upscale lodging. Many of the wineries in the area have won multiple awards, with some even reaching gold medal, 90-point-plus status with the likes of the Beverage Testing Institute.
Wine tastings are generally free and make for a deliciously educational means to spend a day. (If the tasting isn’t free, be sure to ask if the cost can be applied to the purchase of a bottle.) Add adventure to the mix if you choose to pedal between wineries via the Fruit and Wine Byway, a well-signed, 25-mile long system of paved roads weaving through several of the Grand Valley’s farms and vineyards. While Rieslings are perhaps the most famous export, many grapes thrive in this environment, including Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Syrah, Merlot, Bordeaux, Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Gris, to name a few.
The area also produces standout fruit wines, dessert wines, and is home to Peach Street Distillers—regularly churning out a tasty whiskey, vodka, gin, brandy, and others.
Many of the orchards and farms are also worth a stop for picking or sampling, some producing mind-blowing sips and nibbles. Certain products, like the sweet and juicy Palisade Peach, are renowned throughout Colorado and beyond, but others are embraced mostly by locals. Take Dad’s Jalapeño Sauces, for example. Made with fresh jalapeños and other high-quality ingredients, Dad’s sauce can’t be beat on eggs, burgers—anything, really.
Naturally, the concept of farm-to-table hits a new high with the goods growing in the backyard. Some of the world’s most innovative chefs have flocked to Grand Junction to capitalize on this proximity of fresh ingredients.
If Bin 707 Foodbar owners Josh and Jodi Niernberg aren’t harvesting heirloom carrots and tomatoes or aged goat cheddar from neighboring farms, they’re mixing the world’s most flavorful meatball with Colorado Wagyu beef and herbs grown right in their office. Boasts a seasonally fresh menu that is almost exclusively (save a few seafood items) comprised of local and Colorado-grown ingredients, the menu at Bin 707 features dishes like duck breast slow-cooked in boudin blanc, elk carpaccio with a juniper crust and melt-in-your-mouth beet salad with a hint of orange.
Another fine dining option is 626 on Rood, which also offers an always fresh menu of locally sourced dishes including tender Colorado lamb enhanced with cherry wine reduction, asparagus salad with mint vinaigrette and silky, house-made ricotta alongside vegetarian-friendly mung bean croquettes. You’ll find 626’s patio and lounge lit up every afternoon with an enthusiastic happy hour crowd and menu offering tapas and drink specials ranging from tequila to wine flights.
For the ultimate elegant wine-and-dine experience, head to The Winery Restaurant. Housed in a 100-year-old building that was once a fire station, think gas lamps, vines crawling up the walls, and stained glass windows. It’s the perfect place for a romantic date night or anniversary dinner, just make sure you top it all off with their signature dessert—a five-layer chocolate mousse pie with an Oreo cookie crust, chocolate crownie, chocolate ganache, chocolate mousse, and white chocolate drizzle.
Il Bistro Italiano is the most authentic Italian cuisine you’ll find on the Western Slope, maybe in all of Colorado. Opened in 1998 by Chef/Owner Brunella Gualerzi, hailing from Northern Italy, this spot features traditional (and delicious) Italian recipes made with house-made pasta. Sticking with the European theme, Grand Junction is also home to Le Rouge, a French restaurant, wine bar, and martini bar. Le Rouge offers a variety of seafood (try the bouillabaisse served with aioli toast) as well as a half-pound burger made with local beef, and authentic French galettes.
If you want something quick, grab a fresh salad or panini from Cafe Sol, or a couple slices from Pablo’s Pizza (rated "Best in the West in 2005"). Cafe Sol is also one of the best places in town to get a breakfast burrito before heading out to explore the area’s trails.
As with most of Colorado, you don’t have to go far to throw back a world-class craft beer. The grain-focused beverage makers are just as passionate and skilled as the grape growers in these parts. There are seven breweries blending refreshing combinations of hops and grains that can be found across the state. Edgewater Brewery, situated conveniently off of the Colorado Riverfront bike path, is a great place to plop onto a picnic table on the lawn and sip a Broken Oar IPA while sister brewery Kannah Creek is a major after-class hub for Mesa State College beer lovers.
Rockslide Restaurant & Brewery features seven microbrews daily, as well as a full menu, two (!) daily happy hours, and trivia nights. Your fourth option in town is the Ale House, with handcrafted ale and food pairings that will make your mouth water. Try the Brie apple chicken sandwich and Agave Wheat combo, or a Colorado bison burger with a heavy stout—you really can’t go wrong here.
Up the road in Fruita, Suds Brothers Brewery is a great place to refuel after a hard-charging mountain bike ride, specifically, with an orange honey wheat brew and a plate of pulled pork tacos. The Copper Club Brewing Company down the way is a beer-only joint, complete with beers made from local hops, board games, darts, and taps constructed out of bike parts.
In the other direction, you’ll find the Palisade Brewing Company, creating beers with a twist since 2010. The Hula Hoppie Session IPA is a light and citrusy creation made with Colorado-grown hops, while their flagship brew, the Dirty Hippie Dark American Wheat, has a chocolate and caramel malts flavors with a hint of orange.
While sporting a charming historic exterior reminiscent of the Wild West (including buildings dating back to that period), Grand Junction’s Main Street is a bustling festival of culture. The flower-lined Main Street is rife with lively bars, restaurants, galleries, fountains, live music venues, and the largest antique store between Denver and Las Vegas. A Robin’s Nest of Antiques & Treasures has been in business since 2011 and quickly became a favorite stop for locals and out-of-towners alike. The shop has a wide selection, featuring more than 75 vendors selling both antiques and vintage pieces from the 50s, 60s, and 70s!
Thanks to the town’s Art on the Corner movement, a project launched by local artists in 1984, a unique sculpture graces every street corner. Wrought from bronze, steel and in a few cases, a hodgepodge of materials, the masterpieces include a giant, studded bicycle that looks like something straight out of Mad Max, a buffalo made from hundreds of shiny silver pieces and a large ant eating a gigantic, incredibly realistic-looking apple core.
Exploring the trails, parks and rivers might be at the top of your list when you come to Grand Junction. But clearly you’d be missing out if you didn’t block out some extra time to tap into the area’s drinking and dining opportunities.
Originally written for Grand Junction Visitor & Convention Bureau.