Coming from the East, a drive out West is like no other. The vast open highways, the arid landscape, the monolithic mountains and rock formations that look like they could be home to the giant from Jack and the Beanstalk. We arrived in the charming tourist town of Moab mid-afternoon on a Saturday and while I had always planned to spend the next full day trotting around Arches National Park, I wanted to do something right away. And that’s where Utah’s Scenic Byway 128 came in.
Believe it or not, the state of Utah is actually home to not one but two wineries. I know, you’re thinking, “wineries…in the desert?” But you know what? They work. And Moab is actually host to both of them, Castle Creek Winery and the Spanish Valley Vineyard and Winery. While they both seemed nice, I settled on Castle Creek Winery since it was located on Scenic Byway 128 (Spanish Valley is more right in the town of Moab). And even though driving to Castle Creek meant slightly more time in the car, it was driving on an enchanting highway. State Scenic Byways “help to recognize, preserve, and enhance selected roads throughout the United States based on their archeological, cultural, historic, natural, recreational and scenic qualities.” I found multiple sources recommending that a trip to Moab should include a drive along at least one byway so with the winery being located where it was, it was a perfect instance of killing two birds with one stone.
As soon as you turned off of U.S. Route 191, the scenery got even more gorgeous, if that was possible. The route runs along the Colorado River gorge and begins at the Colorado River Bridge which is on the north end of Moab (unfortunately we ran out of time to go back and cross the bridge). For the first 13 miles it parallels the Colorado River (never did I think I’d be seeing a river as famous as this one which greeted so many brave pioneers) within a narrow section of the gorge, and offers one breathtaking view after the next (trust me when I say there’s no shortage of them).
I just want to say that I’m eternally in love with the red sandstone cliffs…gray rock just seems so drab in comparison. And with the sun starting to set as we were driving by them, they only seemed more spectacular, more ethereal.
The Castle Creek Winery actually sits on the grounds of the Red Cliffs Resort, which is a historic working ranch. As we would learn, Moab is the perfect climate for growing grapes, and works for producing wines like Pinot Noir, Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Chenin Blanc and Chardonnay. Currently the winery produces over 6,000 combined gallons of wine.
The tasting room is small yet intimate and quaint. Had we arrived earlier/had more time (we were somewhat tired and still had to drive back to Moab for dinner once finished) I would have loved to emjoy the grounds more. The employee who was working was extremely pleasant and just nice to talk to.
You could sample three wines (mixing and matching from the white and red wine list). Being Utah (until recently a very strict state where alcohol is concerned), the samplings were extremely small but as I’m not a huge wine fan, that was perfectly fine for me. I ended up trying three whites; D went with one white and two reds. He liked the Well Rounded Petite Syrah “Outlaw Red” the most while I preferred the dessert wine, the Late Harvest Gewurztraminer. As we were flying home, we only bought one bottle of wine to take back with us. However, there were also plenty of other non-wine products you could purchase, including beautifully crafted stands/racks for holding wine bottles (the horseshoe wine holder was terrific). We did end up buying a small carafe with the Castle Creek insignia on it. It was undoubtedly the most striking location of a winery that I have ever visited and most likely ever will.
(We ended up turning off of U-128 when we arrived at the Winery (this was around mile 14). However, the full round-trip route on the Upper Colorado Scenic Byway 128 is about 44 miles.)
I don’t think anyone in today’s world can imagine what the pioneers from the 18th and 19th centuries went through. They embarked on a journey that, reading about in books today, still seems like it was fiction and yet it wasn’t. They really crossed raging rapids, endured diseases that spread like wildfires, and journeyed unimaginable distances on horse and wagon. And yet one look at those gorgeous mountains, those perfectly red hued sandstone cliffs and you can (somewhat) understand why they did.
For more information suggested driving routes for the three scenic byways in the Moab area click here.
Free wine tastings at the Castle Creek Winery take place daily from 12PM-7 PM.