Grande River Vineyards: the gateway to Colorado wine countryDec 06, 2018 02:59AM ● By Melinda Mawdsley
Priscilla Ludwig, tasting room pourer; managing owner Naomi Shep-herd-Smith; and Kim Mueller, head of inventory. Photo by Melinda Mawdsley.
Naomi Shepherd-Smith was the proud owner of just one wine glass when she started working at Grande River Vineyards in the mid- 1990s. Back then, she could barely pronounce the different wine varietals sold through the winery.
It didn’t matter. Like many wines, Shepherd-Smith only grew better with age, slowly learning the ins and outs of the wine business from how grapes grow to the bottling and marketing of every wine produced by Grande River.
“I’ve never been the winemaker, but I’ve worked in nearly every corner of the business,” she said. “I love this place.”
For that reason, Shepherd-Smith said it’s bittersweet that she plans to retire at the end of 2018 as managing owner and general manager at Grande River after more than 20 years with the company.
Grande River, one of the first wineries in Mesa County, will remain under the sole ownership of founding owner Stephen Smith.
Although Shepherd-Smith didn’t come to Grande River with a keen knowledge of the wine industry, her lifelong interest in fine arts coupled with her nonprofit background as business manager for the Grand Junction Symphony Orchestra for a decade proved to be a perfect match for the Palisade winery.
In the late 1990s, Shepherd-Smith founded the Hear It Through The Grapevine Summer Concert Series, a family friendly event staged on the vineyard’s lawn during the summer months. Ticket sales from the popular concerts have benefited local nonprofits, such as Mesa County Partners, Child & Migrant Services and Mesa County Libraries.
“I’ve always felt community supports community first, and we have great partnerships within the community,” said Shepherd-Smith.
Earlier this year, Grande River teamed up with the Mesa County Library Foundation to produce a private label wine named Well Read, where a portion of sales from each bottle of the merlot goes to the library’s foundation.
But the concert series has never been just to the benefit of the participating nonprofits. Several of the winery’s employees said they’d be fine with the summer event lasting longer than just a few months every year.
“The whole concert series [Naomi] created is probably one of the most fun [events] we have,” said Kim Mueller, who’s been the winery’s head of inventory for the past 4 1/2 years.
Shepherd-Smith said she hopes the concerts continue in her absence.
For locals, the concert series is perhaps the most identifiable event Grande River offers, but for Palisade visitors, the location of the winery at 787 N. Elberta Ave., may be the lasting impression.
Easily visible from I-70, Grande River is usually one of the first stops people make when touring Western Slope wine country.
Tasting room pourer Priscilla Ludwig, who wanted to pour for Grande River because of its location, joked that the happiest people in the world walk through their tasting room doors at 3:30 p.m. daily.
Shepherd-Smith said it’s her team at Grande River Vineyards that she’ll miss the most.
She still plans to stop in and taste wine, however, she’s excited for the direction the winery can go with new leadership.
The vineyard’s tasting room is open from 9 a.m.-5 p.m. seven days a week. Stop in to taste Grande River’s award-winning wines, buy a bottle or two, and pass on your well wishes to Shepherd-Smith as she embarks on her next adventure.
“Every day is different,” said Shepherd-Smith. “That’s what I thrive on. It’s an opportunity to be creative.