The Winery at Holy Cross Abbey
“Wine to me is passion, its family and friends. It’s warmth of heart and generosity of spirit.”, by Robert Mondavi “Harvest of Joy”. This passion is tucked away in a peacefully serene place which was once host to a Benedictine Monastery. It’s not Sonoma or in other well-known area of wines and wineries. It happens to be situated in the backdrop of the always spectacular Rocky Mountains of Colorado.
If you are in Canon City and if by chance you see the large beautiful Gothic Revival style building before you reach the main part of town take a moment and stop in. It’s The Holy Cross Abbey. The abbey was a once a vibrant community of Benedictine’s a monastic order of the Catholic Church. The monks arrived in the late 1800’s when it was still frontier territory. They established a community and founded a boy’s home. The community there lasted for roughly 100 years throughout various hardships, growth, and finally, dissolution. It is now the home of The Winery at Holy Cross Abbey.
In the beginning there were only two monks, but as the community grew so did the grounds and of course the Abbey was built. It fell into a little financial trouble during the depression era. It then came under the care of an abbot who helped to restore its financial situation. The boy’s home at its height housed roughly 250 young men. They came from all over the US and the world. The thriving community was at its height during the 50’s and 60’s and then started a gradual decline.
In the 2000’s, there were about 20 monks left in the community, mostly elderly. It is during this time that they founded an effort to provide income for themselves with an idea of planting a vineyard. They enlisted the help of a viticulturist for the production and then began producing wine the following year. The Benedictines opened The Winery at Holy Cross Abby with winemaker Matt Cookson. Not long after the abbey was sold to businessman Larry Oddo from the East Coast. The monks were resettled in other communities although Cookson remained as the winemaker.
It is here in the backdrop of monastic history and nestled next to the Wet Mountains, you will find The Winery at Holy Cross Abbey of today. What was started by the Monks was brought to fruition by the winery. The Winery at Holy Cross Abbey was originally started in July, 2002, and then went through transition to private ownership. Today it is a vibrant little winery.
The winery currently makes about 12,000 cases of wine per year. It still provides some financial returns for the monks who are paid for their initial vision and investments. Most of the fruit is purchased from the Western Slope of Colorado and some from Washington and California. A unique side note, though not surprising, is the purchase of grapes from a prison. The monks just followed a long history of Catholic tradition with its work in prison ministry programs. The Winery at Holy Cross Abbey developed a partnership with the Colorado Department of Corrections (CCI) Juniper Valley Farms in 2002. Part of of this program was the growing of grapes. This is not new to corrections, its agricultural practices began all the way back in 1874. It was set up as part of a program called Colorado Territorial Penitentiary inmate work program. Today it is reported that more than 130 years after the fact, CCI’s agricultural activities include dairies, farmlands, fisheries, goats, green houses, honey processing, recycling, and of course vineyards. The Winery at Holy Cross is the programs largest buyer to this day.
On the grounds of the abbey you will find a little building off to the left. It is here the winery has its tasting room. This beautiful little tasting room is filled with many things to catch the eye and wet the taste buds. The tasting room is open daily. The staff is excellent and most wines can be tasted complimentary. The reserve, which are some of the finest have a cost of one dollar to taste. They also offer a VIP wine and cheese tasting in the park, or my favorite, the tasting room terrace and the fee is 25.00 per person. This option needs to be reserved in advance.
The winery gets a wide variety of visitors, locals and numerous people coming through from out of the area. During my visit I managed to catch a Marine who was visiting with his wife. My husband is retired from the Marine Corps so I am always on the look out to thank those who have served. Semper Fi!
Shopping in the tasting room is a kaleidoscope of colors that remind you of Provence and Italy. Your senses are swept away by the exquisite wine you are tasting as well as the relaxing atmosphere of the tasting room. Both times I have been in the spring and weather has been beautiful but they do have a fireplace for the winter months.
What did I end up with? The 2012 Colorado Revelation. An excellent full bodied red Bordeaux style wine. The wine is aged in new American oak for 22 months and the winery reports it is one of the “biggest red wines they have ever made”. The winery suggest it needs some cellar time and you should enjoy it with a nice big steak. I will definitely have to try that.
Besides the winery and the tasting room there is a gift shop and tours are available of the Abbey. The annual Harvest Festival is held the last week of September. It celebrates with wine of course and the year’s grape harvest. Music, food, and the arts are all part of the celebration.
From its humble beginnings as a monastic community, to the inception of the Abbey, to the first grapes planted and pressed The Winery at Holy Cross is a unique and colorful part of the landscape of Colorado. Whether you are a history buff, a tourist, or a wine enthusiast you will enjoy The Winery at Holy Cross Abbey. The Passion of family and friends and spirit of generosity lives on at The Winery at Holy Cross Abbey. If you stop by tell them “Travel with T” sent you.