Colorado Wine Train Is Sold Out

AAA and visitors bureau promote twice annual wine tour

by Jane Firstenfeld
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Colorado's wine industry continues to thrive, in large part because of concentrated efforts to draw tourism to its spectacular winegrowing regions, like the West Elks AVA near Paonia, above.
Grand Junction, Colo. -- A twice-yearly wine train from Denver to Grand Junction is just one way the Colorado wine industry has managed to stay on track despite the derailed economy. Originally engineered by the Grand Junction Visitor and Convention Bureau, wine train journeys are now organized and promoted in cooperation with the Rocky Mountain AAA, whose president became so enamored of the concept that he'll serve as host for a scheduled run this fall.

According to Barb Bowman, division manage at the CJVCB, this year's first scheduled departure in April is already sold out, and the "president's train" during harvest is almost fully booked. Wine train passengers board a private AmTrak car Friday morning in Denver, along the railroad's most popular passenger route to Utah, spend the day viewing spectacular scenery inaccessible by automobile--and enjoy eight hours of wine education, food and jazz, joined two hours before their destination by two vintners from among the 19 now doing business near Grand Junction.

The railroad segment of the three-day, two-night itinerary ends at Grand Junction. Passengers then stay in hotels and visit three or four wineries daily--each provides food pairings while pouring its wines--before returning to Denver via motor coach on Sunday evening. Prices including lodging start at $279/double occupancy, with optional upgrades and car rentals.

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In a private car on an eight-hour segment of AmTrak's California Zephyr route, passengers learn about Colorado wines in scenic comfort before debarking in Grand Junction to visit its many wineries.
The wine trains have been wildly successful with residents from eastern Colorado's populous Front Range, as well as tourists from Nebraska, Florida and Texas. Bowman said the CJVCB and AAA would like to increase the schedule, but so far, only the "shoulder season" bookings have been available to them, due to heavy AmTrak travel during the summer.

The CJVCB first began to capitalize on its wine country position in 1999, Bowman said, when an intern looked at "What was unique about us." Since then, the bureau has joined with other wine regions in the state to receive an agritourism grant, working together to promote both Colorado wine and agriculture regionally, nationally and internationally. "We do a Colorado wine tasting at the ITB in Berlin, the world's largest travel trade show," Bowman told Wines & Vines. "Our international visitation has gone way up."

Although most of Colorado's grapes are grown on the more temperate, western side of the Rockies, where Grand Junction is situated, there is also a thriving wine industry on the Front Range, and the state now has 80-some wineries (they've been increasing so fast that, although the CJVCB website visitgrandjunction.com claims 19, the bureau's voicemail is still stuck on 16).

Doug Caskey is executive director of the Colorado Wine Industry Development Board (coloradowine.com). He agrees with Bowman that the locavore trend has been helpful to the state's industry, noting that most of the state's wine production retails in the $15-20 range, which has become increasingly appealing as disposable income becomes tight. "That's helping us," he said. "Virtually everything is sold in state.

Caskey noted that last summer saw booming turnouts at winery tasting rooms throughout the state, and that even during the normally slow winter months, many wineries were receiving unexpected volumes of visitors.

"Here, tourism traditionally was always connected to snow and whitewater," he acknowledged. "Now, our tourism office is broadening that view to include heritage and culinary tourism." With industry cooperation, clever promotion, and improving wines at reasonable pricing, "I think we're in a reasonably good position," Caskey said.
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