Sip & Savor
More than two million pounds of eagerly awaited Colorado peaches are now being harvested, about 90 percent of them produced in and around the fruit-growing community of Palisade, ten miles east of Grand Junction on the Western Slope. This is the season for folks who treasure the experience of eating perfectly ripe, sweet, chin-dripping juicy peaches.
A dot on the Colorado map, Palisade has been a famed fruit growing region for more than a century. More recently it has built a reputation for agritourism as thousands of visitors flock to orchards, farm stands and wineries to sample the potpourri of products this special horticultural world has to offer.
Among the top destinations in Palisade is High Country Orchards and Vineyards, where former Denver residents Theresa and Scott High produce 100 percent Palisade peaches on their estate grown orchards. They have been growing and harvesting them for 17 years and today have 31,000 peach trees growing on 71 acres of land. This season they expect to sell more than 660,000 pounds, about 10 percent of Palisade’s total production.
The Highs believe their peaches are the sweetest and most flavorful in the country. That’s why “America’s Best Peaches” is printed on their shipping carton. It’s the right combination of soil, climate and proximity to the Colorado River that make this area ideal for growing this delightful fruit.
“We are blessed with the high altitude. At 4,800 feet our peaches are closer to more intense ultraviolet light, which contributes to the concentrated sugars and rich complex flavors that allows us to grow premium peaches,” Scott says. “Temperatures are also key. Our hot days and cool nights are ideal for bringing out natural sugars.”
Whole Foods Markets has been the exclusive distributor of High Country’s harvest for more than a decade. From early July through Labor Day, at the entrance to their stores is a large display loaded with hundreds of perfectly ripe peaches, a palette of red, golden and deep crimson skin tones that delight the senses and beckon shoppers.
“High Country Orchards have a great loyal following and strong brand recognition. Their attention to details, high quality production and 24-hour tree-to-market delivery make them the top sellers of all our local seasonal farm-grown products,” says Kenny Meyer, local products coordinator for Whole Foods Rocky Mountain Region.
High Country’s peaches don’t appear by magic at Whole Food Markets. Great peaches, like good wine, come through hard work, commitment, tenacity and talent.
The Highs are passionate, even evangelical in their pursuit of the perfect peach. For example, they have turned picking and packing into a digital art form.
Peaches are a perishable thin-skinned fruit and must be handled with TLC, especially in the picking process. Scott designed and created plastic totes which protect picked peaches from bruising. The fruit is then placed on a conveyor belt, manually sorted and defective fruit removed. For tighter controls, the Highs have added an expensive but effective technical screening process.
Paparazzi photograph stars and High Country’s star peaches get the same treatment. Theresa invested in a French-designed customized digital packing process that involves the fruit passing through a digital photo booth which provides a 360-degree view of each peach by taking seven images.
From a screen in the control room peaches are examined, analyzed and graded for size, color, weight and condition. The system catches any “bad apples” missed by manual sorting and ensures premium quality standards.
With the digital packing system, the fruit can stay on the tree longer. An extra week or so allows the fruit to be picked at the highest maturity which means riper, sweeter peaches.
The High’s family business is best known for its peaches but it is wine that attracted Scott and Theresa to each other.
The story began in France when Scott proposed. “He promised me a vineyard if I would marry him,” Theresa recalls, but the promise wouldn’t soon be fulfilled. They were both in the wine industry in Denver. Scott, a Denver native, started a distribution company, Classic Wines. Theresa moved to Denver in 1985 and was in wine sales.
In 1999 the Highs purchased a 10-acre peach orchard in Palisade. “Wine is what we came to do but it was peaches that got us here. The peaches generated the income so we could purchase more land,” she said.
In 2006, 21 years after the marriage proposal, their longtime dream of owning a vineyard was realized when the Highs planted 20 acres of Cabernet Sauvignon grapes. The first bottle was released in 2010. Matthew, their oldest son, came up with the winery’s name, Colterris, which is short for Colorado and the Latin word terris, meaning “from the land.”
Last August, the Highs doubled the number of acres for growing grapes when they acquired a 20-year old winery in Palisade. The purchase also included production equipment and tasting room.
“We bought a turnkey operation and we can now do everything, including bottling on site. This expansion makes Colterris the largest Colorado winery producing 100 percent Colorado wines from our own grapes,” Theresa said.
Scott notes that the recent purchase adds four new grape varieties. “This expansion fulfills a lifelong dream to produce and bottle estate-grown world-class wines in Colorado,” he said.
Colterris wasted no time in hiring an experienced winemaker to join their wine team. Bo Felton, a Colorado native and CU graduate, spent almost a decade learning the trade in California, and comes from Duckhorn Vineyards in Napa.
“It’s exciting to be back in Colorado and I’m especially proud to be the winemaker at Colterris,” he said. We control the wine we make from the field to the bottle and can.”
Can? This year Colterris will introduce rose, white and red canned wines that will be available in 4-pack carrier boxes. “We are calling it ‘wine in a can from the Colorado land,” Felton said. “It’s targeted to millennials and we believe its convenience and accessibility is a good match with the outdoor Colorado lifestyle.”
Another good match is Bo’s working relationship with Theresa and Scott. “They are dreamers who put their dreams into action. They have a vision and execute well,” he said. “Everything is in front of us as we strive to grow better grapes and produce better wine.”
That also applies to the crop that brought the Highs to Palisade, “America’s Best Peaches.”
Special festivities celebrating Palisade’s agriculture heritage are held in August. Taste peaches, tour orchards and sip wine from the source at these popular events:
Aug. 17-20 — Peach festival in the park, farmers markets, music, ice cream social, feast in the field dinners, guided orchard tours, Lions Club pancake breakfast, parade, chef demos and venders.
Sept. 14-17 — Colorado Mountain Winefest Festival. See why TripAdvisor recently named Palisade as “A top10 best wine destination in the US.” Sample wine from dozens of Colorado wineries, enjoy live music, chef demos and grape stomps.
High Country Orchards
3548 E. 1/2 Road
Palisade, CO 81526
Colterris Tasting Rooms colterris.com
Charlie Brown is a former Colorado state representative and Denver city councilman. The Brown and High families lived in Observatory Park and met when the neighborhood association president tried to stop the Highs from selling peaches in their front yard. The councilman demanded the president resign but the offense was not impeachable.
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