Native son Alder Yarrow returns
June 12, 2008
ASPEN In the 26-year history of the Food & Wine Magazine Classic in Aspen, there have been hundreds of speakers. Perhaps none of them has looked forward to coming to the event as much as Alder Yarrow, who will be presenting a pair of wine seminars at this weeks Classic.Yarrow is coming home. I havent been back to Aspen since 1994, he said recently over coffee at Caf de la Presse in his current hometown of San Francisco. Im really looking forward to going to my old neighborhood and looking for a stand of aspen trees we planted when I was a kid. Today, Yarrow is a cog in the digital machine, running a global consulting business that advises major companies on how to improve the customer experience. But in the 1980s and early ’90s he was a resident of the Smuggler trailer park and an overachieving student in the Aspen school system. So what, you ask, qualifies him to conduct seminars at the countrys premier food and wine event? Yarrow has a both an affinity for and a deep understanding of wine, and he has capitalized on his passion and knowledge by creating an award-winning wine blog called vinography.com. Over the last four years, vinography.com has helped change the landscape of wine criticism. Nearly every day, Yarrow posts comments, reviews wines, tells stories, offers praise, voices opinions, and rants on his blog, which is accessed by oenophiles throughout the world who respond to his likes and dislikes.Recognizing the impact that blogs in general and vinography.com in particular are having on the wine world, the editors of Food & Wine asked Yarrow to be a speaker at this years Classic. Surely a first for the blogging community.He will be leading two tastings and, as a testament to his wine and spirits acumen, neither will focus on blogging. The first, scheduled for Friday, June 13 at 10 a.m., will introduce Napas Next Superstars, featuring wines that have yet to hit the general radar. Ranging in price from $50 to $300, the two wines Yarrow will pour will be making their debut at a public tasting, and there will be a mystery wine as well. The tasting will be repeated on Saturday morning at 10:30.The second tasting, scheduled for Friday at 2 p.m. and then again at 3:30 p.m., is called Sake for Wine Lovers. While living in Japan on a stint with a global technology firm, Yarrow developed a taste for the fermented beverage made from polished rice. Today there is a surge in sakes popularity in America, and Yarrow will address the styles and different varieties of Japanese sake in this presentation. These will be some of the worlds best sakes, all super premium from Japan, and people should not be drinking sake from anyplace else, he admonishes.So how did Yarrow get from here to, well, here? It all began when his mother moved to Aspen with the toddling Alder in tow in the late 1970s. My folks were classic counter-culture, he says with pride. Mom lived in a commune in Northern California, where I was born, became certified as a masseuse, and came to Aspen because she heard it was a wonderful spot. We lived in a tepee for a while and then moved to Smuggler.The young Alder was an excellent student, first at the Wildwood School, then the Woody Creek Community School, and finally in the Aspen public schools. A timely gift from a friend of his mothers set his future in motion. Around 1985, my mothers boyfriend gave me an Apple II computer, and it just fit, he recalls, as he was captivated by the technology.When not studying, Yarrow was building a rather lengthy job resume in many of Aspens most beloved institutions. His employment history will resonate with ’80s Aspen residents like a pleasant flashback. Lets see, he says nostalgically, I tied flies for Chuck Fothergill, sold The Aspen Times, worked at Laurettas (a fondly remembered Mexican take-out restaurant), at Clarks Market, and the Aspen Rod and Gun Club. Oh, and I worked at the Classic for Peter OGrady, who was catering.After graduating as the salutatorian (thats second in the class to the valedictorian, who was/is Alders good friend, Marjorie Lucks) of the class of 1992 at Aspen High School, Yarrow matriculated at Stanford University to study film and fine art. While a Stanford student he spent a year abroad at Oxford, and it was there that he developed a taste for wine. The food was so bad that I began to cook. I figured if I was cooking then I should have wine with dinner, he recalls. His first experience was hardly first growth Bordeaux. Pink wine from Portugal was the natural gravitation, he laughs.But when he returned to Palo Alto, the outstanding wines from Californias 1994 vintage were hitting the shelves. It was when I was making money for the first time, and I began notating the wines I was dinking, he says. I began keeping notebooks and visiting vineyards. I got to know Merlot, and soon my friends began to ask me, Hey, what wines should I buy, and what do I drink with this?The die was cast. In 2004, Yarrow googled the words wine blogs and got nothing in return. He begin in January of 2004 to write his blog, and this year it received acclaim as the Best Overall Wine Blog and Best Writing in the 2008 American Wine Blog Awards. Perhaps even more significantly, if you google the words wine blogs today, youll get something on the order of 1,720,000 results.Yarrow says that he puts in about 15-20 hours a week on vinography.com, which, though making a profit, will not see him through to retirement. Its more than a hobby, but less than a vocation, he says. It is clearly a creative outlet that lets me indulge my passion.And it also will bring him, at long last, back home to Aspen.