What’s so special about Aspen Food & Wine?
The Food & Wine Classic kicks off in Aspen, Colorado today. As Food & Wine festivals go, this is pretty much ‘the’ festival to attend. However, after living in Aspen for two years and not attending one festival…I ponder what’s so special about it? The Food & Wine Classic began in Aspen started in 1982 on a much smaller scale – and no magazine involvement – then it is today.
If you’ve ever craved a good bottle of wine in Aspen, you’ve probably ended up at Grape & Grain just off the corner of East Hopkins & Monarch, angled slightly below Jimmy’s Restaurant (get the mac n’cheese, better know as Jimmymac). When you enter the small wine shop, you are greeted – often by name – by one of the four men that rotate time recommending wine to the store’s loyal following. Often the shop is filled with younger shopkeeps, but the store’s owner and founder – Gary Plumley – is the key to the boutique’s success…and Food and Wine’s. In the early 80’s, Aspen’s food and wine scene was just starting to explode and Mr. Plumley had a vision of a ‘wine tasting on the side of a mountain’ which was held in nearby Snowmass Village. After a few years, the publisher of Food & Wine Magazine (an avid wine collector) got involved and the festival officially changed names and was moved to Aspen.
Since the move, the festival has evolved – but not grown in terms of size that much. If you’ve ever visited Aspen, you’ll know that part of its allure is the privacy and small town feel. There are a finite amount of hotel rooms and flights to accommodate travelers, which dictates often an overwhelmingly high travel cost to access the city during the winter and big summer weekends. When it comes to big summer weekends nothing tops Food & Wine. Hotels and restaurants are booked far in advance often for double the rate you will see the rest of the summer. The Aspen Chamber Resort Association estimates the festival alone brings in well over $3 million in direct economic impact to the city, a boost that is surely appreciated in the summer. Add the increased travel, lodging and food costs to a ticket of about $1500 and you are talking about one expensive weekend. A weekend that is completely sold out.
So, I return to my question…what’s so special about it? I have a feeling that mostly it’s the location. Aspen is, in my humble opinion, one of the most beautiful and truly magical places in the world. It’s my second love (behind my husband). Add a superior food and wine festival to that town and it’s really an event that is hard to pass up. Food & Wine has done an unbelievable job recruiting some of the top chefs and wineries while being able to also feature hot new-comers year after year. With the added publicity from the top-rated show, “Top Chef” and there’s probably not a similar festival that comes close to it. To give you an idea, here are just some of the chefs/speakers featured this year: Lidia Bastianch, Mario Batali, Richard Blais, Michael Chicarello, Thomas Keller, Mark Oldman. And tastings? Try these: Champagne Salon, Colgin Cellars, Sassacaia, Hundred Acre.
So what’s so special about the festival? Just about everything, so start saving now.