We had no plans to attend. We didn’t even expect to be in town so we made no effort to get press credentials for the Aspen Food and Wine Classic 2012 until it was far too late. But the best times, as we learned, can happen with a total lack of planning…but always include wine.
Since one of our sons was home from college working at his restaurant management internship, we decided to cut our travels short and return to Denver earlier than expected. Over the previous two weeks a number of kind wineries and winemakers had sent invitations to your humble bloggers for off-site Aspen parties. So after a little effort we booked a small condo in Snowmass, 8 miles away, and decided “who needs the fancy tents anyway…we have wine parties to attend!” In all honesty, next year I really want event tickets after seeing what I could from afar.
We drove from Denver across the beautiful though sometimes harrowing Independence Pass between Leadville and Aspen in time to check in and hit the town. I lived for 10 years in Breckenridge, Co which if you haven’t been there is a real mountain town. Aspen is a mountain fantasy, complete with women sporting cocktail dresses and men in expensive casual loafers and sport coats. We were just a touch under-dressed for the whole trip, but what the hell, we were there for the parties, not a fashion show.
Our first event was a casual affair put on by Gloria Ferrer and Freixenet sparkling wines. As we reached the top of the stairs at Jimmy’s Restaurant I looked to my right and about ten feet away was Giada De Laurentiis looking even lovelier than on television. Quick note to self…quit ogling, your wife is on your left. Next to her was Bobby Flay and his actress wife Stephanie March, looking beautifully boho along with a bunch of other Food Network folks I didn’t recognize. But alas that was not our party so we headed over for some bubbly. We had the opportunity to spend a lot of time with their talented and pony-tailed winemaker, Bob Iantosca. Before this event we had not experienced the upper-end wines of Gloria Ferrer and Frexinet. Let me just say, we were impressed. Winemaker Bob is the man…the guy definitely knows his stuff.
Friday started slowly enough after a big night just knocking around Aspen restaurants and night clubs. We jumped on the public bus for the 30 minute ride into Aspen proper. Arriving in time for lunch we found a nice patio, some light Italian paired with a beautiful Raptor Ridge Pinot Noir thus fortifying ourselves for another day in wine and food fantasy land. The Jordan Vineyards “White Party” was our first stop. We did call ahead to inquire if we were to wear white, since it was billed as the “White Party.” But no, the party was all about white wines. Jordan Chardonnay was, of course, center stage but they also offered a number of delish white Burgundies and other wines to compare. Set mainly in the courtyard of a private home, complete with waterfall and quaking aspens, we enjoyed some wonderful food; the spicy shrimp paella was a personal favorite. Literally wine flowed like water in celebration of the winery’s 40th anniversary. The folks from Jordan always do an elegant job from winemaking to entertaining. So we lolled away the afternoon under the aspens, making new wine friends and sipping some great juice.
Later in the evening we met Italian winemaker Alessandro Gallo from Castello D’Albola in the courtyard at Casa Tua for a conversation on Italian wines and Prosecco. After a delish dinner at The Wild Fig we once again ran into Gloria Ferrer winemaker Bob. Donna then made an executive decision and called it an early evening. It was a pronouncement I did not agree with at the time, but was thankful for in the morning.
Saturday was our “big day.” We hit Aspen a little before noon and wandered near a few of the many white tents that make up the Food and Wine Classic. As we sat on a park bench waiting for our lunch partner Kurt Beitler of Bohème Wines to arrive, the vision also known as Giada, in a black flowing dress, ambled past…note to self…stop gawking, your wife is sitting beside you.
Earlier in the week I had been posting on Twitter about heading to Aspen. I was contacted by Kurt’s brother Aaron who suggested we should meet. So I did my research and learned that Kurt is the grandson of one of my winemaking idols, Charlie Wagner, the founder of Caymus Vineyards. Needless to say, I was excited. As we sat on the bench gazing as Giada passed by, Kurt rode up on his mountain bike. He had driven from Sonoma to Aspen so he could get in some quality mountain biking along the way. Kurt is like many young California vintners, engaging and contagiously passionate about the art of winemaking. We enjoyed a two hour lunch and chat at Casa Tua. With Kurt I shared a photo taken in 1983 of me and his grandfather standing in the kitchen of Charlie’s home. Kurt seemed to enjoy the memory. He was raised by his mom, Charlie’s daughter, and dad in Oregon, so it is no surprise that his wine passions lean toward Pinot Noirs.
Bohème, based in Occidental on the Sonoma coast, specializes in hand-crafted single-vineyard Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. A small winery making fewer than 2,000 cases a year each wine speaks with its own unique voice. Kurt has full control of the vineyards and the overall quality is abundant. Unfortunately, due to Colorado’s archaic no-corkage law, I would have to wait until later in the evening to experience these delicious wines instead of at lunch…with the winemaker… a grandson of one on my early winemaking heros.
Next on the agenda was the opportunity to interview the enthusiastic and charming Jean-Charles Boisset of Boisset Family Estates. As we waited for his arrival beside the outdoor restaurant at Little Nell, where celebrity chef’s Mario Batali and Ming Tsai held court over lunch, the goddess Giada passed by not once, but twice… note to self…keep your butt on the bench…stalking is often unwelcome. Soon after our final Giada sighting, Jean-Charles appeared in super-chic black casual threads. Off we headed to the St. Regis for a quiet interview spot.
Boisset Family Estates is the largest wine producer in Burgundy, started by father, Jean-Claude Boisset. Jean-Charles however chose to study in America and begin the family’s acquisition of the 11 California wineries and labels they now own. Each of Jean-Charles’s winery acquisitions has a historical significance, as do many of their Burgundy properties. The interview was to cover their recent purchase of Buena Vista Winery. Founded in 1857, Buena Vista Winery stands as California’s oldest premium winery. The interview, which can be read in a later post, ended up being much more far reaching and frankly, fascinating.
As we sat in the outdoor atrium of the St. Regis it is hard not to be consumed by Jean-Charles’s infectious enthusiasm for life, wine and California wines in particular. Amongst his winery holdings are Raymond Vineyards, DeLoach Vineyards, Lockwood Vineyard and Lyeth Estate. As I mentioned Jean-Charles does cut a dashing figure and on two occasions I spied smiling women on the other side of the window eagerly pointing him out to friends. Thinking back, what I saw was a unique and powerful blend of Old World sensibilities and New World enthusiasm. Jean-Charles has deep respect for history and the California wine industry demonstrated by his choice of acquisitions.
6:00PM rolled around and it was time to get back into party mode. As we sat sipping a Sauvignon Blanc at an outdoor eatery, I slipped into a public bathroom (round-trip to our condo was at least a one hour bus slog or $100 cab ride) to change into a dress shirt I’d kept folded in my messenger bag so to better fit in with the chic Aspen crowd. But later in the evening, as you will learn, I was rebuffed due to my still inappropriately casual attire. We’ll get to that later.
We knew the evening was off to a great start as we walked up the stairs of a lovely row house to the West Sonoma Coast Vintners party. With CCR’s Born on the Bayou blasting on the stereo, this was no stuffy wine sipping event. These folks are about as close to the Pacific coast as you can get and still grow grapes. Many of the vineyards are very cool-climate and produce predominantly Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. The winemakers were young and enthusiastic as were the festivities. There we met up with Kurt Bieler of Bohème Wines again and finally got to taste his wares. Because of the cool-climate, these wines are not as jammy as some Pinots from more inland areas and a bit higher in acidity. Kurt offered three single-vineyard Pinots and a single-vineyard Chardonnay, each unique and delicious. Some of our other new found favorites were Peay Vineyards, Freeman Vineyards and Littorai but to be honest all the selections were quite good. I’d be remiss not to mention the food. The grass-fed beef spicy meatball sliders rocked as did the BBQ ribs but maybe the most impressive was the huge fresh bone-in prosciutto sliced razor thin and served in mounds.
Sad as it was to leave the revelry of the West Sonoma folks, we had one more event to attend before a night of Aspen night clubbing, ultimately cut short…by my shorts. Walking down the quaint streets of Aspen, we affixed our ski passes as tickets into the casually posh Jordan Winery 30/40 Party. Celebration of the 40th anniversary of Jordan Vineyards combined with the 30th anniversary of the Aspen Food and Wine Classic was the theme. Cute girls dressed in white après ski attire served as much Jordan Chardonnay and Cabernet as your little heart and liver could handle. By now it was getting later and the party energy was slowly amplifying. We would witness the crescendo later in the night. Like all Jordan events we’ve attended, it was a great combination of casual elegance and merriment. The food again was to die for though we were still awfully full from the earlier soirée. We did have the pleasure of sitting and chatting with Wichita wine radio personality and wine educator Guy Bower (AKA Good Life Guy). A big funny fellow with a “radio voice” when Guy isn’t drinking wine and or hosting The Good Life radio show he flies an Airbus A300 for FedEx. I’m pretty sure he doesn’t mix his hobbies with his work….
As we sat enjoying the company and Jordan hospitality I received a text from our Napa friend, John Anthony Truchard of John Anthony Vineyards in Napa. The John Anthony Tasting Solon in downtown Napa is a must visit. Anyway he suggested we meet him and his wife at the 39 Degree Bar in the Sky Hotel. Can you say SWANKY? A big city night club in a tiny mountain town. The room was pack and there was a cue to get in. I told Donna to stick close as we passed the line, walked up to the doorman and in my best 6’3” Texan voice said, I’m with them, pointing to an unrecognized yet very well-dressed group of people …it worked. Soon however we found friendly faces in The Count of Buena Vista (actor George Webber – still in costume and character) and a few others from Boisset Family Estates, sans Jean-Charles. We talked and drank (enough wine…time for bourbon) for a while before John and Michelle Truchard arrived.
Billed as “Aspen’s most indulgent nightclub,” the Caribou Club was our next destination. But I would never experience Aspen’s epicenter of indulgence because I was turned away at the door for wearing shorts…in a mountain town…Really? John suggested Michelle and her friend go on in and he joined us for one last drink around the corner where my attire did not pose a problem.
Alas our evening and the Aspen Food and Wine Classic were quickly coming to an end. We left John as he headed back into the Caribou Club and sauntered off hail a cab. It was then we witnessed a scene that captured all the fun and excess that is Aspen Food and Wine. A stylishly dressed man, his feet on the ground and butt on the wall of a brick flower box, lying spread-eagle on his back, passed out in the flowers…smiling. Now that’s a party! That’s the Aspen Food and Wine Classic!