It was that time when your relatives come in from Stockholm, Sweden, and announce that they’d like to tour some of the local wineries.
“Colorado is dry,” said Anders, mid-40s, 6 and a half feet tall, in that clipped way that comes from English being your second language and Swedish being your first. “There are mountains.”
“There should be good wine,” said his wife, Mari.
“What do you think, Johannson?” I asked their 14-year-old son.
“He has his headphones on,” said Anders.
This was true.
“Are we all going to fit into one Subaru?” said my wife, Katherine. “With the dog?”
“We’re from Europe,” said Anders. “In Sweden, this is an SUV.”
“It’s a plan,” I announced.
Though I’ve lived in Colorado Springs for more than 15 years, though I consider myself something of a cognoscenti when it comes to all things Colorado Springs, and though I love wine, the truth is that I have never explored the wineries around Colorado Springs, though most certainly I had heard about them. Being the intrepid reporter I am, I got Googling and soon came up with a modest itinerary that would take us to three wineries, all of which were not much more than a 45-minute drive from our city.
Stop One: Bugling Elk Vineyards & Winery, Penrose
We started off at Bugling Elk Vineyards & Winery, which is about a 35-minute drive down Nevada Avenue, which turns into State Highway 115, toward Cañon City. As we drove I took the time to survey the Swedes to find out a little about their wine preferences in advance of actually tasting any.
“Beer,” Anders told me. “And if not beer, snaps. And if not snaps, wine.”
“Red or white?” I said.
“I am for the red,” said his wife, Mari.
“How about you, Johannsen?” I asked their 14-year-old.
“He’s 14,” said my wife.
“I don’t know how it works in Stockholm,” I said.
“It doesn’t work like that,” said the 14-year-old.
Run by Shawn Kauffman and his wife, Alexis, Bugling Elk Winery is housed in a sprawling wood-paneled space which Shawn, a former Green Beret, built himself. “Except for the concrete floor,” he admitted.
We sat down in the corner of the room and Shawn offered to arrange a tasting for us, which would cost each of us $5. This seemed more or less standard at the wineries we visited, and for the budget conscious among us is one of the key reasons to recommend the experience: It’s affordable.
We were the only ones there, perhaps because it was noonish on a Sunday and the rest of Colorado was either still asleep or not on, well, as European of a timeline as we were.
After supplying us with a tasting menu, Shawn began bringing out wines for us to sample, as well as a killer charcuterie platter which he constructed himself with lightning speed in between bringing us glasses of wine.
Though they serve a winning gewürztraminer and riesling from Palisade, Colorado, the standouts for us were Bugling Elks reds, particularly the Crimson Cabernet which Shawn told us had been aged in whiskey barrels procured from Axe and the Oak right here in the Springs. We all took home a bottle. ( For the budget conscious, it’s $7 a glass or $22 a bottle.)
Stop Two: Pop’s Vineyard, Penrose
Our next stop was about 10 minutes away at Pop’s Vineyard, which is run, as you might imagine, by Pop and his family — there’s a plaque above the door with the names of the whole family. It’s housed in a welcoming, lodge-like space with a terrific outdoor seating area. Pop greeted us warmly, made a couple of jokes about how the secret purpose of the winery is to give his kids a reason to come home, and offered us a tasting for $5.
He began with lighter, fruity wines and moved toward the reds. There were a few other parties there, one of them being a trio of women who seemed to have ridden their horses there.
“Seriously?” I asked.
“There’s the horse,” one of them told me.
We all looked at the horse.
“This is very Colorado,” said Anders.
Which is exactly true — it is very Colorado to ride your horse to a winery. And that seems to me another important reason to undertake a journey like ours. It’s a relaxed, low-key way to show visitors from out of town the beauty and impressive expansiveness of the Centennial State.
And also the wine is very good.
Pop admitted a preference for sweeter wines. His Just Sweet Enough Red is a standout, as was the cabernet-merlot blend, which features a picture of Pop and his son on the label from a few years earlier — back when Pop was still working for the Department of Corrections and was about 30 pounds heavier. “I’m the fat guy,” he said, pointing to himself on the label.
When I went inside to buy a bottle, it seemed as if most of Pop’s family was there, and they let me know that if you buy a bottle of wine, they waive the price of the tasting. “I’ll take a bottle of the red with the fat guy on the label,” I told them.
His son knew exactly the bottle I was talking about.
Stop Three: The Winery at Holy Cross Abbey, Cañon City
Our final stop of the day was at The Winery at Holy Cross Abbey which is located in the middle of Cañon City and is one of the most celebrated wineries in Colorado. This is clearly a bigger operation than the other family-run operations that we had visited, and we sat outside in an expansive seating area with a clear view of the historic abbey next door. Compared to the extremely serene surroundings of Pop’s place and Bugling Elk, the Abbey seemed to me positively urban.
“This is nothing compared to Stockholm,” pointed out Anders. “That is urban.”
“And the wine is fantastic,” said Mari.
About this there is no question. Though The Winery at Holy Cross Abbey offers a VIP tasting option for $40, we opted to construct our own experience. We selected our own set of reds and whites, making sure not to miss their truly high-end, award-winning bottles: the 2019 Revelation and the impressively robust 2021 Cabernet Reserve. The bottles themselves were at the top end of our price range, but the tasting experience offers a chance to experience some of the best in Colorado wines. If you have folks in from out of town who aren’t necessarily up for multiple stops, the Abbey is the place to hit.
We returned home around 5 p.m. after an amazing experience that frankly did not break the bank. And yeah, we know we missed some wineries. But this was our Part One. If you’ve got a favorite place or want to send us somewhere to taste the wine, let us know. Please.