Sip and Savor the Flavors of Grand Junction, CO
In Western Colorado, farm-to-table isn't just a buzzword. It's a way of life.
Colorado’s Front Range may have name recognition when it comes to the state’s food and drink scene, but don’t discount the vineyards, orchards, farms and ranches of the Grand Valley, which supply ultra-local, super-fresh fare to wineries, farmers markets and farm-to-table restaurants in Grand Junction, Fruita and Palisade.
Colorado might not be the first state that comes to mind when thinking of winemaking, but its first commercial vineyard was planted nearly 50 years ago in Palisade, which has since become a winery hub. Vines were planted on the land that was to become Colorado Mountain Vineyards in 1975. That winery was founded in 1978; its name changed to Colorado Cellars a few years later, and it is still making wine today.
A short but scenic drive away is Restoration Vineyards. Owners Linda and Gary Brauns originally intended to “fix and flip” the vineyard and farmhouse when they bought the property in 2012. But Linda connected with local winemakers and fell in love with both the community and with winemaking.
“Fellow wineries are not competitors,” she says. “We are all partners in this growing, thriving wine region.”
Farther down the road is Colterris Winery, which also operates an off-site tasting room that overlooks the Colorado River. And Maison la Belle Vie Winery is the perfect spot for casual or luxe gatherings, with its event venue, Amy’s Courtyard, a picturesque spot to sip one of the winery’s vintages.
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Finding Fresh at the Farmers Markets
Find just-picked produce and other local goods at seasonal farmers markets in Fruita, Grand Junction and Palisade.
The Fruita Farmers Market and Palisade Sunday Farmers Market run from June through October; Grand Junction’s Market on Main runs through September. Pick up kale, spinach, chard and other leafy greens early in the season before beets, cabbage, tomatoes, peppers and cauliflower show up. Of course, the crown jewel of the Grand Valley’s orchards, Palisade peaches, are eagerly awaited by Coloradans from the Western Slope to the Eastern Plains and arrive on shelves in late summer.
Farmers markets also hawk local eggs, jam, honey and hot sauces. Locavores who don’t want to stand over a hot stove turning all those gorgeous fruits and veggies into preserves will want to stock up on the salsas, jellies, sauces, syrups and fruit butters from Pear Blossom Farms, which supplies delicious condiments to many area restaurants and tasting rooms.
Cropping Up in Restaurants
With all of Grand Valley’s agricultural riches, it’s no surprise restaurants are taking advantage of local growers.
Josh Niernberg, chef and owner of Grand Junction’s Tacoparty, sings the praises of Farm Runners, a homegrown, regional food distributor that connects farms, ranches and restaurants within 100 miles of Hotchkiss, Colorado (60 miles east of Grand Junction).
“It’s the best thing in the entire universe,” he says. “We work with so many local farms through them.”
In addition to the corn, heirloom plums, squash (and more) that he gets in season, Niernberg considers finding ways to use local ingredients year-round – a crucial part of farm-to-table cuisine. His staff spends autumn months using various pickling, canning and drying techniques to preserve food through the winter months.
Breakfast and lunch spot Cafe Sol as well as fine dining establishment 626 on Rood, both in Grand Junction, also make it a priority to source local ingredients, with 626’s chef cooking up produce from his own garden.
Strayhorn Grill owner Aaron Smith took over the longtime Fruita restaurant in June 2022. While he remodeled the restaurant and updated the menu, he maintains a commitment to sourcing local ingredients that began under previous owners.
Smith grew up on a Grand Valley farm, raising and butchering his own animals. Lately, he’s even been sourcing tomatoes and zucchini from one of his server’s gardens. “We’re sourcing locally as much as we can,” he says.
Enjoy Fabulous Festivals in the Grand Valley
Festivals are a Grand Valley staple, with plenty of annual events for young people, families and seniors that are sure to spark your palate, make you dance and bring your friends together.
Perhaps the most famous – and quirkiest – celebration is a Mike the Headless Chicken Festival, held every May in Fruita. The event commemorates a Wyandotte chicken in Fruita that lived for 18 months after his head was cut off in 1945. The headless chicken eventually grew to almost eight pounds and went on to tour the country as a sideshow.
Palisade hosts a pair of community parties each year. The annual Palisade Peach Festival takes place for three days in August and will celebrate its 55th anniversary in 2023. Palisade is in the heart of Colorado wine country, and the Colorado Mountain Winefest takes place every September at Riverbend Park.
Grand Junction is the place to be for three annual festivals. Pork ‘n’ Hops Challenge takes place for two days in September at Las Colonias Park, with professional barbecue grill masters serving great food along with cold brews and live music.
Also in Grand Junction is a Downtown GJ Restaurant Week, with more than 20 restaurants preparing and serving a variety of special items for breakfast, lunch, dinner and desserts. Last but certainly not least is an annual three-day event in May called Rides & Vibes Mountain Bike and Music Festival, which features plenty of mountain biking, a beer garden and food trucks. It’s sponsored by the Grand Junction Sports Commission.
What’s on Tap
Did you know that the Grand Valley has more breweries per capita than Denver? Grand Junction’s breweries are thriving, including popular destinations such as Base Camp Beer Works, Foam & Folly Brewing, Gemini Beer Co. and Kannah Creek Brewing Co. Also enjoying success are Kannah Creek’s Edgewater Brewery, Ramblebine Brewing Co., Rockslide Brewery & Restaurant and Trail Life Brewing.
Grand Valley Grapes and Grains Adventures offers tours of breweries, including a Beers of Grand Junction tour that transports patrons to three breweries, with a pint or flight served at each location. Excursions also include behind the scenes tours, when available.
Get to Know the Grand Valley
Want to learn more about living and working in Grand Valley, CO? Check out the latest edition of Livability Grand Valley, Colorado.