Ben Parsons, perhaps best known locally for heading up the Wine at the Mine party — town’s most sought-after Food and Wine soiree — has announced his departure as CEO of the Infinite Monkey Theorem. We caught up with Parsons off of the Food & Wine high about making wine in Colorado, canning it and debuting it in a defunct silver mine.
Time Out: What makes good wine in Colorado?
Ben Parsons: Palisade in particular has always been a great place to grow fruit. Pre-prohibition, Colorado was one of the top 10 grape-growing states in the U.S. Colorado has some of the highest elevation vineyards in the world. With that comes particular challenges of a short-growing season and late-season frost, but also tremendous opportunity because you have this huge temperature shift from daytime to nighttime and it gives the vines a chance to shut down and rest, [which] means you can retain the acidity in the fruit. So that’s my take on Colorado, you can grow good fruit that is well-balanced and if you start with good fruit you can make good wine.
TO: Let’s talk about the name of your winery, The Infinite Monkey Theorem, because it sounds like you are actually very methodical, but you named it after total chaos.
BP: So the infinite monkey theorem is an old mathematical theory, you set a monkey at a typewriter and give it an infinite amount of time it will write the entire works of Shakespeare. To me, really, it was all about creating order out of chaos because you think about growing grapes in Colorado at 4,500 feet with 165 day growing season compared to Napa which is 195 days, you think of all the challenges that go with high elevations like harsh winters and hail storms, you think about all the decisions you make when you are growing grapes, like where you plant it the soil types, the spacing between the rows. And then we started an urban winery in downtown Denver, like what’s more chaotic than a city? And then you get the grapes into a winery, there are so many decisions to be made, you know, there are 3,000 different yeast strains you could ferment with it, there’s different barrels, there’s so many variables.
It’s the job of the winemaker to create order out of this infinitely chaotic system. So to me the name of the winery was very relevant to who we were, where we were making wine, how we were approaching it, even into our packaging choices and out fun somewhat irreverent attitude to it.
TO: That’s another dichotomy, because you are an urban winery but your packaging specifically, being in cans, is perfect for the backcountry.
BP: That was why we decided to put wine in a can because we live in Colorado and everybody is hiking and camping and skiing and floating and climbing. That was definitely intended for an outdoor community, but when you think of it because of the packaging you can take it to Red Rocks, you can dance with it at a nightclub, you can sit on a rooftop deck, you can take it to a swimming pool or the golf course. I think the creativity and innovativeness of the packaging lends itself to the whole story in that we are a winery that chose to locate within a city and embrace the city instead of [putting] of a Tucson-style facade on the walls.
TO: What’s it been like creating wine in a beer state all these years?
BP: When you have breweries you have resources, you have people that can fix refrigeration on tanks, you have people available to help in construction projects. Wineries and breweries basically function very similarly, but you also have people to discuss ideas and concepts. The beer industry is way ahead of the wine industry in terms of its branding and marketing and its accessibility. In many ways when you look at our brand, we borrowed from the craft beer industry. We have tap rooms, we put our wine in kegs, we can out wine. We started to do crossover products, and every used barrel that we get rid of, we sell to a brewery. In many ways, it’s a symbiotic relationship between wineries and breweries and distilleries too. It’s great to have Colorado be known for alcoholic beverages in general, when they all come together, I think you can create something special.
TO: And finally, did you know you were going to be the guy to create to coolest party in Aspen, Colorado?
BP: (laughs) Well, when I first went up to see the site in 2010, I was like, ‘Wow this is pretty unique.’ Really, what makes that party cool is its location. The beauty of it and the sunsets over it. And really bringing together a bunch of like-minded people and chefs. I really love the mine; I think it’s underutilized and maintaining the history and heritage of it is super important. We really had no idea; I think the first year we got 52 noise complaints and got shut down at 11:30. We chalked that up as successful. It’s grown, it’s become bigger and there are more brands involved but at the end of the day it’s still a party in an old mine, which is very unique compared to all [of] the other parties in Aspen during Food and Wine.