The Colorado Wine Festival Circuit
Summer is on the rise. You can’t quite see it yet for the steep ridges above town, but the festival season is revving up. That includes the libacious wine festival season, and in the next few weeks I’m going to focus on some great events that are happening.
As has been reported, the Aspen Food & Wine Classic sold out in advance this year (for the first time since the recession bleached the economy). Maybe tickets were a bit pricey for your tastes, or you have “been there, done that.”
Well, don’t fret, get your wheels in gear and check out these outlying “other” Colorado wine festivals. I’ve chosen a few, from the urban confines of the Front Range, to magical settings in the mountains, not too far from us. None will quite match the star power or scale of the Classic, but will offer diverse samples of urban settings, art, history, gorgeous views, mountain-town strolls and exquisite musical pairings.
The fun starts June 2, at the Manitou Springs Wine Festival (www.manitousprings.org/2012-wine-festival ). Manitou Springs — jewel of southern Colorado — is a historic gold-mining town set at the base of Pike’s Peak. It’s a thriving artists’ community full of galleries, set amidst tourist-trinket-and-taffy shops and an ancient penny arcade, with a dozen or so natural cold mineral springs bubbling up through artful sculptures. Ute tribal leaders once came here in summer for the healing waters, as did worldly English and even George Washington and his peers. (This intrepid wine writer lived there in the mid-‘90s). On Saturday, 25 Colorado wineries will pour into Memorial Park. A must-do is dinner at Adams Mountain Café in downtown Manitou.
Staying along the Front Range, the next stop is downtown Denver. The city is host, on Saturday, June 9, to the Colorado Urban Wine Fest, held in the Performing Arts Center’s Sculpture Garden (www.coloradowinefest.com/denver ). The event — put on by the same organization that has been staging the Palisade’s Mountain Winefest — features more of Colorado’s best wines. Channel the vibe of Ben Parsons’ urban Infinite Monkey Theorem or stumble to nearby Domo for country-style Japanese in their breathtaking Zen garden.
A week after the Aspen Classic (and a veritable world apart) is the Telluride Wine Fest (www.telluridewinefestival.com/events ). The 31st annual event takes place June 27-July 1 in the famously awe-inspiring box canyon. (It gets even better with a wine buzz). At this comparatively quiet and small festival, the vibe of the town reigns. Master sommeliers and star chefs will lead seminars and tastings, but the highlight is definitely Saturday’s grand tasting event: the Toast Of Telluride. Instead of a being herded through a giant tent lined with a maze of tables, festivarians stroll along downtown T-Ride’s historic main street, Colorado Avenue, where shops and storefronts become individual tasting venues. Do dinner al fresco at the fabulous Rustico (where I once drank a ‘61 Barolo with the owner).
On the weekend of August 1-5, head north to Steamboat, where cowboys and ski bums will be swilling chardonnay and pinot noir alongside oenophiles and — you guessed it — chefs and sommeliers (www.steamboatwinefestival.com/Personalities.php ). Local fave Damon Ornowski, M.S., will be on hand to guide and color your experience. The “Boat” promises something for everyone — from food and wine tastings, to seminars and cooking demonstrations, to outdoor adventures with food and wine influences. Be sure to break away and head up to the Strawberry Park Hot Springs at some point for a spiritual dip in a beautiful setting.
Finally, the summer season ends with choices. Over the weekend of September 16-17, Snowmass Village holds it 8th annual event (www.snowmasswinefestival.com ), while the Colorado Mountain WineFest takes place down in Palisade, under colorful desert cliffs along the banks of the Colorado River (www.coloradowinefest.com ). The 21st annual festival features events in Grand Junction, and, of course, the grand tasting on Saturday in Palisade’s River Park. Take in the best of Colorado’s wineries and wait for the wine of the year to be announced, while enjoying music, food and local wines from Cortez to Grand Junction to Paonia to Boulder and beyond.
The obvious last choice would be to amble four hours south to the old mining haunts of Lake City and its Uncorked Wine and Music Festival (www.lakecityfestival.org ), held on September 15, nestled under the towering San Juans. Taste and unwind to bluegrass and old timey music with the likes of Russ Chapman, 18 Mile Radius, Blue Canyon Boys and Honey Don’t; then dance your wine-soaked ass off to Euforquestra and the old-school grooves of Buckner Funken Jazz.
That should be enough to fill your schedule, and your glass. Cheers! Remember, wine reveals truth.
Drew Stofflet lives in Carbondale. Correspond with him at firstname.lastname@example.org