Bar Talk: Night at the Gala in the picturesque North Fork Valley
About two hours away — and a favorite quick getaway for Aspenites — sit Paonia and Hotchkiss, in the picturesque North Fork Valley, filled with working farms, orchards and vineyards.
From picking fruit fresh off the tress to finding the perfect pumpkin in the patch to enjoying tastings at local vineyards, there is plenty to do — especially in the world of food and drink.
I took a recent weekend getaway to Delta County to soak up fall warmth, colors and harvest time. In terms of the harvest, my friends and I couldn’t have timed it better, as all the vineyards we went to were in peak harvest when vintners scoop up all the grapes they can gather to start the process of making this year’s vintage.
However, I am far from a wine expert, and this is not the WineInk column; this is Bar Talk, so I was excited to discover what was happening outside of wine.
One of everybody’s favorites, where you’re almost assured to run into other Roaring Fork Valley locals, is Big B’s Delicious Orchards. Big B’s makes a wide variety of hard ciders from the fruit grown in its orchards. There are old cider standbys, such as the dry Orchard Original, seasonal specials like Snow Daze, and often new additions to the list, even non-alcoholic ciders and juices. So, there are plenty of options to find your new favorite.
Every October, Big B’s hosts CiderFest, a three-day event celebrating all things cider; it includes live music, food, tastings, and more.
The event has rapidly evolved from its single day, all-you-can-taste beginnings featuring cideries from across Colorado, as Big B’s has skyrocketed in popularity; but. the 2022 iteration, Oct. 29-30, seems like it’s going to be an extra-festive Halloween weekend event that’s appropriate for the whole family.
Beyond Big B’s, just 16 minutes down the road in Hotchkiss, is Mesa Winds Farm & Winery.
A working farm and vineyard, Mesa Winds also has a café that takes full advantage of local goods and produce, as well as the expansive views from its perch atop Roger’s Mesa.
While Mesa Winds has a full-time sommelier on staff who will build you a wine-tasting flight paired perfectly to your palette, it also offers local Colorado beer, spirits, and cocktails.
As any good farm-to-table eatery, the menu changes depending on season and what produce is available; but, while I was there in October, there were three cocktails on the menu — all made with local or Colorado-based ingredients.
I opted for the Night at the Gala cocktail, which, if you couldn’t guess from the name, features fresh gala-apple cider. In addition to the fresh apple cider, the drink features Idlewild Rum, distilled in Winter Park, an orange twist, fresh thyme from Mesa Winds, and a spiced brown-sugar rim served in a rocks glass over a single, big, round ice cube.
The cocktail is as appealing visually as it is delicious. It has the aroma of a savory apple pie thanks to the addition of thyme, and you can really smell and taste the fresh apples used in the cider. On the tongue, it is rum-forward but ends with the spices and has a lingering apple flavor after the sip is long gone.
You might think it would be heavy, as fall drinks sometimes can be; however, it was light and bursting with flavor, perfect for the over 70-degree day I was enjoying. The Night at the Gala is also not too sweet, despite the sugar rim, which adds more of a textured crunch than sweetness, as it’s nicely balanced with spices you’d expect to encounter in an apple or pumpkin pie.
Another cocktail I can whole-heartily recommend — while not explicitly on the menu but recommended by our waitress, who is also the sommelier — added Golden Moon Gin, out of Golden, to a glass of Mesa Winds’ house-made lavender lemonade.
It was dangerously good, as the freshness of the lemonade was the dominate flavor, and the lavender notes of the gin blended seamlessly with the lavender in the lemonade. It was floral in taste and fragrance but not to the point of being bitter or soapy.
Although Paonia and Hotchkiss are well-known for their ever-expanding collection of wineries, this recent trip proved that there is plenty to drink beyond just wine that also highlights the area’s produce prowess.
On my next go-round, I’m excited to try the two breweries in downtown Paonia: Chrysalis Barrel Aged Beer and Paonia United Brewing. I, of course, will report back once I do.