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The Winery at Holy Cross Abbey
Kathy Sullivan

Summary: The Winery at Holy Cross Abbey currently produces 13,000 cases of wine. Although some grapes are from the immediate area, Matt Cookson purchases grapes from the Palisades area of Colorado and California. An indication of how good the wines are is the fact that their wines always sell out.

As one of the largest wineries in Colorado, The Winery at Holy Cross Abbey was a winery we did not want to miss visiting. Our first experience with wines from the winery was on the train ride through the Royal Gorge. We enjoyed these wines and looked forward to our visit to the tasting room later in the day.

The Winery at Holy Cross AbbeyHistory plays an important role in The Winery at Holy Cross Abbey. In the 1870’s, the population of Cañon City was 250,000. Cañon City was the “fruit basket” for the miners. The Benedictine Monks established the abbey in 1926. However by 2000, their high school had closed and they were looking for other ways to sustain themselves. Going back into history, they realized that grapes had been growing here in the 1800’s. The Benedictines decided to begin vineyards and a winery. Eventually Matt Cookson, who had been consulting, was invited to come to the winery permanently. The Benedictines however sold the winery and were also forced to sell the Abbey. Fortunately Sally and Matt Cookson along with Larry Oddo purchased the winery.

The Winery at Holy Cross AbbeyOutside of the winery, trees provided shade for picnic tables. Near the main doors to the winery, a small vineyard and Holy Cross Abbey are in view.

The Winery at Holy Cross AbbeyWe met Sally and Matt Cookson. Sally is in charge of sales and Matt is the winemaker and general manager. When browsing the giftware, it quickly becomes apparent that Sally is careful in her selection of fine items for the tasting room. Whether looking for wine or other gifts, there is a wide selection. Not many tasting rooms have the selection of books that Sally has chosen to display. A lovely display of wine stored horizontally adds a lovely ambience to the room and is designed to show the spectacular wine colors. Some shelves display pottery including Polish pottery embellished with grape bunches and a blue outline. Corinthian bell chimes are available as well as numerous wine bottle holders. Grape bunches, large and small made from polished stones are displayed throughout the room. In the middle of the room is a fireplace, perfect for a cold day.

Sally has a brochure available with pictures and descriptions of wine gift sets and some of the items available in the tasting room. With an order form, it makes it easy to order from the winery even when at home. It’s also nice to be able to order a wine accessory for those in states that do not allow the shipping of wine to homes.

The Winery at Holy Cross AbbeyMatt kindly gave us a tour of the winery where he has many American oak barrels. He likes using American oak and believes that American oak achieves very good results for his wines. As Matt showed us the winery building near the tasting room, he talked about producing red wines. He uses bin fermentation and punches down the must three times a day. This process gives him more ability to experiment with different yeasts. Red wines are aged 14 to 16 months.

Most unique of his wines is the Wild Cañon Harvest. The community contributes grapes for this wine.People who bring 20 pounds of grapes or more to the winery will have their name placed on the back label of the bottle. People with only one or two vines contribute grapes as well as any one with more vines. The resulting wine has tones of Concord and Niagara and always sells out. Matt is interested in researching what grapes grow well in this area and keeping track of the grapes donated by the community helps with this research. Despite the name of the winery, the people of Cañon City think of the winery as "their" winery.

The Winery at Holy Cross AbbeyOn the train and at the winery, we tasted several wines. The 2007 Sauvignon Blanc Reserve had a tropical fruit nose and taste. There was just a hint of grass and the wine offered a crisp finish. The 2006 Monterey Chardonnay presented an apple and tropical fruit nose and taste. Riesling had a fruit flavor and nose with a great taste. Apple Blossom wine, the only fruit wine produced at the winery, had an apple taste and nose with a crisp finish.

The 2006 Colorado Merlot offered a black cherry nose and taste with a slightly hot and crisp finish. The Reserve Merlot 2006 had a red cherry nose and taste. It was crisp with tannins on the finish. The Colorado Cabernet Sauvignon had a blackberry nose and taste. The finish was crisp and had balanced tannins.

As we tasted the wines, Matt mentioned, that people are “still at the point of discovering Colorado wines.” It is nice to observe a community embrace a winery. You can spend some time at the Winery at Holy Cross Abbey and also taste their wines at several local restaurants or on board the Royal Gorge Route Railroad.

The Winery at Holy Cross Abbey
3011 East Highway 50
Canon City, Colorado 81212

GPS N 38°44.938' W 105° 19.852


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