Colorado's grape growing regions range in elevation from 4000 to 7000 feet and are thus among the highest vineyards in the world. The high elevations result in hot days accompanied by cool nights. Day to night temperature variations typically range from 25 to 30 degrees during the grape maturation months of August and September. The long, warm daylight hours of intense high altitude sunlight mature the fruit completely and build the natural sugars. The cool evenings and nights cause the grapes to retain the acids so vital to premium wine making.
Vineyard acreage in Colorado has grown tremendously in the past decade. A 1983 census recorded 20 acres of grape vines under cultivation in the state. Today Colorado boasts 80 vineyards totaling 380 acres of vines with 30 acres of new vineyards being planted during 1995. Nearly 75 percent of the acreage is located in Mesa County's Grand Valley. Adjacent Delta County and its North Fork Valley of the Gunnison River accounts for another 20 percent of the state's vines. Virtually all of the grapes in Colorado are produced for winemaking. The 1995 harvest was composed of 30% Chardonnay; 18% Merlot; 10% Cabernet sauvignon; 8% Pinot noir with the remainder consisting of Cabernet franc, Riesling, Gewurztraminer, Sauvignon blanc, Viognier and other varieties. Colorado now hosts 410 acres of wine grapes with 193 of those acres of bearing age. Yield of the bearing acres averaged 2.92 tons per acre in 1995.
Five Palisade wineries (Mesa County) tallied nearly 24,000 visitors during the summer of 1995. Wineries estimate that this represents a 200 to 300% increase over 1994. Market research conducted by the Grand Junction Visitor & Convention Bureau concludes that the Grand Valley wineries are now second to only the Colorado National Monument as the leading destination for Front Range-based visitors to the Grand Junction area. As consumer awareness of Colorado wines continues to grow, so too will the economic impact of winery-oriented tourism.
The Colorado legislature created the Colorado Wine Industry Development Board in 1990 to promote the state's growing wine industry. Since that time, the number of wineries in Colorado has increased from five to fifteen.