Grand Valley wine train program on track for statewide recognition

Phil Castle
Business Times

Debbie Kovalik
Debbie Kovalik

Grand Junction has earned statewide recognition for an effort that literally brings wine connoisseurs to the area by the trainload.

The Grand Junction Visitor & Convention Bureau (VCB) received the  Governor’s Award for Outstanding Community Tourism Initiative for a five-year program that brings “wine trains” from Denver to the Grand Valley.

The award, presented during a statewide tourism conference in Snowmass Village, acknowledges an activity, event or project undertaken by a community or region to promote tourism in Colorado.

Debbie Kovalik, a department director  with the City of Grand Junction who oversees the VCB, shared credit for the award with a number of partners that long have collaborated on the wine trains, including AAA Colorado, Amtrack and the Colorado Wine Industry Development Board. The list also includes the Grand Valley wineries, hotels and restaurants that participate in the program.

What started out as an effort to bring more visitors from Denver to Grand Junction aboard Amtrak trains, has far surpassed expectations, Kovalik said.

Since the inception of the program in 2005, a total of more than 1,300 people have come to the Grand Valley aboard 26 wine trains.

Counting hotel stays, restaurant meals and other purchases, the tours have contributed an estimated total of $530,400 to the local economy. Considering the average couple on a wine train tour purchases 2.5 cases of wine, a total of more than 19,500 bottles have been sold during the tours for another $195,000 in estimated business.

Grand Valley wineries, hotels, restaurants and shuttle companies all derive business from the wine trains, Kovalik said. “There are many, many layers of who benefits from this.”

Media coverage of the wine trains and word-of-mouth advertising from  participants turned enthusiastic ambassadors for the Grand Valley and its wine industry is worth even more, Kovalik said. “The buzz that we get is literally worth hundreds of thousands of dollars.”

Three wine train tours a year transport 54 guests each from Denver to Grand Junction aboard a special passenger rail car. During the trip, guests participate in a wine seminar, listen to live jazz music and taste wines from Grand Valley wineries. After arriving in Grand Junction for a weekend stay, guests ride shuttles to eight wineries, where they meet winemakers and partake in wine and food pairings.

Restaurants that participate in the tours offer special promotions involving local wines. The guests — along with they wine they usually purchase — return to Denver by bus on Sunday.

The tours cost more than if tourists were to simply drive from Grand Junction for a weekend, but offer a unique and exceptional experience, Kovalik said. “It’s total white glove treatment.”

The tours have proven popular, too. All 26 wine train tours have sold out, usually months in advance, she said.

The VCB organized the first wine train tour in 2005 in conjunction with a Denver radio station. The VCB later partnered with AAA Colorado to help promote the tours and handle registrations.

Kovalik said the collaboration means the VCB invests only a small amount in the tours — a couple of thousand dollars, mostly for staff time. But the return on that investment is “significantly high,” she said.

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