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Mountain Mayhem: Welcome, W Aspen

The highly anticipated opening of the W Aspen and the Sky Residences at W Aspen met guests’ expectations at its grand debut on Thursday, Aug. 29. Festivities kicked off with a ribbon-cutting ceremony followed by a spirited celebration throughout the property’s myriad gathering spots. The W brand’s second offering in its “Mountain Escape” category features an 88-room hotel along with 11 residences available for fractional ownership.

On the afternoon of the opening reception, locals lined up to partake in the party and tour the various venues, which include the Wet Deck lounge and cabanas on the rooftop; the Mine Shaft, the living room and the outdoor terrace on the second level; 39 Degrees nightclub and the welcome desk on level one, and more. If you plan to meet friends at the W, it’s safe to settle on a specific spot ahead of time or you may be on a scavenger hunt to track them down. 

It truly did take a village to bring the W Aspen and The Sky Residences at W Aspen to life over the past few years. The property is owned by Northridge Capital of Washington, D.C.; managed by Marriott and co-developed by Northridge and local partner Sarpa Development. The design was a collaboration by interior design firm Nemaworkshop, Aspen- and Denver-based architects Rowland + Broughton and the W’s design team.

Free Range Kitchen & Wine Bar invites diners to meet farmers and ranchers at the table

Kate McBride devoured the fresh pasta so fast that she can’t remember what it looked like, but she can definitely describe the star ingredients: “José Miranda’s water buffalo meat and water buffalo milk for ricotta, and Erin Cuseo’s vegetables. (Chef) Chris (Krowicki) prepared the same product I so loved and turned it into something where I licked every morsel off every plate,” she enthuses.

The three-course “meet and celebrate our local farmers” dinner at Free Range Kitchen & Wine Bar earlier this month was such a success that owners Robin and Steve Humble will reprise the event on Sept. 26. This time they invite McBride — proprietor of The Other Side Ranch in Old Snowmass — as a featured purveyor. McBride will provide organic, pasture-raised, GMO-free lamb, with one request: that Cuseo, of Erin’s Acres Farm, supply her “sublime” produce, too.

“We both raise our products with such care that we do know everything that goes on … attention to minutiae is important,” McBride says. “It’s important that people get to know farmers because there’s this tremendous insulation from who you are and how you live your life in this world of immediacy, including what you eat. You can’t trust (food labels) any more. If you can get to know your farmer or grower, you’re guaranteeing that risk is not there.”

McBride was even more impressed with Free Range when, in discussing the upcoming prix-fixe menu, chef Krowicki indicated that “he doesn’t want the prized French rack or premium cuts,” she says. “He said no — he wants to use a more common cut and work his magic there. Talk about Mr. Midas Touch!”

Cuseo echoes this sentiment. Though this summer’s challenging growing season with lots of early rain meant many unknowns from week to week, Krowicki seems in his ultimate creative element on the fly.

“I felt really comfortable knowing that if I got a frost, (Krowicki) would made it work,” Cuseo says of the last celebration. “He’s going to bring it.”

The Sept. 26 dinner at Free Range allows participating farmers and ranchers to share their personal backstory with potential customers. McBride will no doubt discuss The Other Side’s raw dairy share program and full-service equine fitness and rehabilitation program — both launched as a means to care for her sick child, now 14. (As raw milk products are prohibited from direct sale by Colorado law, those will not be on the menu.)

Cuseo plans to launch a six to eight week winter CSA share from Erin’s Acres Farm, featuring fresh greens, sunflower shoots, radishes and hardy vegetables. Subscribers, who purchase a share of food in advance to help offset Cuseo’s operational cost, will receive a box of bounty weekly until mid-January.

“I’m planting fall greens: kale, spinach, Asian mustard greens, lettuce, microgreens, to keep those flowing,” she says. “All the farmers in the valley would agree that there’s a huge market for fresh greens — that’s what gets people hooked. It’s hard to go back to the grocery store.”

Connecting consumers with Colorado food has been Free Range owners Steve and Robin Humble’s mission since they opened the restaurant in downtown Basalt three years ago this December.

“We’ve finally touched on what the community wants; my focus was always cleaner food, hormone- and antibiotic-free, as un-sprayed as possible, more sustainable practices, because of cancer,” explains Robin Humble, who endured 14 rounds of chemo in the year prior to starting Free Range.

That commitment has led the Humbles to seek ingredients from thoughtful area producers including Rock Bottom Ranch, Two Roots Farm, and Farm Runners — the latter, a delivery service, “pivotal in keeping us true to the local-as-possible thing,” Humble says. In the hands of masterful chef Krowicki (alum of The Little Nell and Roaring Fork Club), Free Range “had a record-breaking, epic summer,” she adds.

A casual, camaraderie-focused format and gentle price point — $48 for three courses — that involves direct access to folks growing food defines Free Range, Humble continues.

“‘Farm-to-table’ isn’t what this is; it’s ‘meet and celebrate the farmer.’ It’s an opportunity to open up relationships and educate those who want to be educated.”

As area farmers’ markets approach autumn closure, the Roaring Fork Valley is entering a phase best described by Cuseo as “the last hurrah” on summer crops such as tomatoes, cucumbers and peppers. Soon it’ll be prime time for storage crops: potatoes, garlic, onions. Cuseo, who also raises water buffalo with partner Miranda at Rocking TT Bar in Carbondale, is looking ahead to a trip to California, where the couple will acquire a fresh herd of ranch animals. While there, they’ll stay on a friend’s vegetable farm, natch.

“It’s funny,” Cuseo says, “when farmers take vacations they visit other farms. I’m excited to experience that and see what other people are doing.”

Meanwhile, the average diner enjoys rare opportunities for such connection. Few local restaurants invite area farmers to participate in-house, though proprietors or chefs are increasingly keen to select certain ingredients to highlight in menu specials.

McBride remembers when, years ago, Rustique Bistro in Aspen featured The Other Side Ranch pork chops from her heritage pigs.

“They ordered enough for the week and went through it the first night,” McBride marvels. “It was a testament to the population seeking out the local, organic, pasture-raised product — people are understanding that that means something. It’s synonymous with quality. I commend Free Range, Steve and Robin, for choosing to highlight what is important in making good health choices. They take the time to get to know their providers, and now they’re sharing it with the public.”


Libations: It’s the freakin’ Snowmass Wine Festival

Full disclosure: I do not consider myself a wine person.

My mom is. My grandma is. Some of the people I hung out with in college were. But ever since I stole a few sips in my early teens to see what the big deal was, I vowed to keep my distance. Wine was NOT anything remotely related to the Welch’s grape juice I drank every morning before school. It was bitter acid water I wanted nothing to do with.

But kids grow up and on Sept. 14 about a decade later, I broke my childhood vow and went to the 17th annual Rotary of Snowmass Wine Festival.

Maybe it was the desire to try something new or to meet new people in my new home or to just see if all wine festivals are like the freakin’ Catalina Wine Mixer.

Whatever the reason, I found myself in Snowmass Town Park at 1:45 p.m. gripping a brand new wine glass in one fist and my reporter’s notebook in the other, ready to give wine a chance.

Here are some of the kinds I tried according to my notebook. I’m not even going to try to pretend I know what “full-bodied” or “blended” means when it comes to wine, so consider this a full-blind tasting:

• Chardonnay from Napa Valley California (Smells like wine, tastes like cider)

• Pinot noir from Monterey Wine Country, again from California (I like this I think)

• French Bourgogne (Sweetish? Mostly tasteless)

• French Canard-Duchene Champagne (Super fizz)

• Another Napa Valley wine, this time red, called the Lion Tamer. (Kind of spicy)

• A pinot noir called “Fog’s Reach,” again from Cali (Cool name)

• Francis Ford Coppola pinot grigio (Kind of into the grigios)

• “Dueling Pistols” Petite Sirah and cabernet sauvignon (Cool name, cooler label)

• A Kobrand wine called Les Cassagnes (My handwriting gets really sloppy here)

• A wine from Italy where grapes were mixed in with wine made two months earlier so it was double-fermented.

• Some sort of white wine called “True Myth”

• At least two or three or more indecipherable and undocumented varieties

As painfully clear by my wine list, I had no rhyme or reason to the tasting choices I made. I mostly looked for distributers who seemed like they had a story to tell and picked out pretty-labeled bottles or cool names that made me feel sophisticated when I said them. And I’m not going to pretend I didn’t get sick after trying them all, either. Sorry, RFTA.

Overall, the Snowmass Wine Festival was everything an ignorant wine person could have ever hoped for. The weather was beautiful, the people-watching fantastic (I met a man with a paintbrush tucked in one of the button holes of his shirt just because and saw more than one couple dressed to match), delicious food everywhere and the wine was, well, pretty good for someone who knows nothing about the adult beverage.

So to anyone out there who doesn’t believe in fermented grapes, give the Snowmass Wine Festival a try. You might surprise yourself and end up becoming a wine person after all.

Aspen History: ‘Bring streets back to people’

“Malls bring streets back to people,” proclaimed The Aspen Times on April 12, 1979. “The question of the spring is whether Aspen needs a larger mall in the downtown area. Jim Reents and Karen Smith of the City Planning Office, and Nolan Rosall, mall consultant from Boulder’s Gage Davis and Associates, got together to explain why they think Aspen needs malls. Malls bring the streets back to people … back to relaxing in evening to the sounds of street musicians, and back to places where locals and tourists alike can enjoy a downtown. The (Aspen) community has already made a strong commitment to an auto disincentive program, in which pedestrians are more important than cars. And Aspenites have made a commitment to the acquisition of open space in the downtown area. ‘Malls are just another kind of open space,’ he explains, ‘along with parks and playgrounds.’ The planners stress, however, that overall downtown beautification and improvement is what is important, and mall expansion is just one small part of that plan.” This image shows planners Karen Smith, Nolan Rosall and Jim Reents discussing the future of Aspen’s malls.

This photo and more can be found in the Aspen Historical Society archives at aspenhistory.org.

WineInk: Winemaking 101

I’ve written 600 columns in this space and we have never explored the basics of winemaking. So, this week let’s look at the process from field to bottle. Winemaking 101, if you will.

We all know it’s harvest season. In vineyards throughout the Northern Hemisphere, workers are cutting clusters of grapes, either by hand or by machine, from the vines and they’re filling large bins before racing to get them to wineries. There is a romance and excitement to this time of year and, for most people, the perception of harvest season is that all of the action happens out there in the vineyards.

But for winemakers, getting grapes to the crush pad is just the first step in a process. While it is true that the call to pick is the most critical decision made in making great wine, once at the winery, an entire level of decision-making and labor begins anew.

Let’s start by saying that wine, technically, can make itself. Crush a few grapes and leave them be for a while and nature will take its course. Fermentation will take place as the sugars interact with wild yeasts and turn to alcohol, and eventually, voilà, you’ll have wine. That is how the first wines were created. But today there are a wide of range of techniques used to create different wines. Modern winemakers have tools available to them that allow them to make wines ranging from natural wines, which receive minimal intervention, to fully crafted wines that fit a style and vary little from vintage to vintage.

The first thing that happens in the winery, once the clusters arrive, is that they are sorted to get rid of impurities and bogus grapes. Some wineries still use the human eye to pick out grapes that are deemed not worthy. But at major wineries, computer-operated optical sorting machines view each grape individually on a conveyer belt and toss out the rejects. After they have been sorted, the grapes will go through the crusher/de-stemmer, rolling through a machine that pops the grapes and allows the juice to run free, while keeping the skins in with the juice from the grapes.

For white wines, the juice is then “pressed,” separating the wine from the seeds and the skins before fermentation. A bladder press is a device which uses an air-filled bag that inflates and presses the grapes in a cylindrical tube, gently releasing the juice before it is moved to a fermentation tank.

Red wines, however, rely on contact with the skins and stems to absorb color, flavors and tannins so they will sit together, allowing the juice to absorb those properties during fermentation. The must, juice and skins, are transferred to either steel or wood (or occasionally concrete) vats. The sugars in the grapes are naturally converted to carbon dioxide and alcohol.

Winemakers make a whole host of decisions during the fermentation process that will affect the wines they hope to produce. These include things like determining whether to add yeast and what types of yeast they might introduce to stimulate the fermentation process. For red wines, cap management is a critical element. They will choose to either “punch down” the cap of sediment that rises to the top of the tank each day or “pump over” wine from the bottom of the tank to defuse the cap. They will also make decisions on how long to let the process continue.

Once fermentation has reached the desired point, the red wines will be pressed and racked, removing the solid products like seeds and skins, to clarify the juices before aging, or élevage (the term defines the period of time between fermentation and bottling).

Aging brings another set of questions for winemakers. If the wine is to be barrel-aged, then decisions about what kind of oak to use and its origins come into play. Will the wine be better if aged in new or old oak? How about American- or French-derived oak? How about Slovenian? Should the barrels be neutral or will the wines respond better in a “toasted” barrel? Maybe the choice with a white wine is to use no oak at all and to simply let it age within the more neutral confines of a steel tank. Then there are decisions about blending wines that have been aged using a different method or barrel regimen.

Finally, there comes a time when the wine is ready to bottle. For some wines — say a fresh sauvignon blanc — that may be just a few months after the grapes are harvested. For others, like an Italian Barolo Riserva, the wine may sit in-barrel for up to five years, and then in-bottle for another 24 months before it is ready to buy and enjoy.

Pick. Crush. Ferment. Press. Age. Bottle. That’s the process to get wine ready for your glass.

Lifestyles of the rich and shameless: Aspen’s top fake Realtors

Do you know what Aspen’s first profession was? Wrong. Librarian. Which was second? Realtor. He sold a house to the librarian and made her with child (not at the same time). They named that baby Hyman in commemoration of the avenue on which he was conceived, which is how we know it by that today. In honor of whomever that visionary was, this week Ben and Sean are in the right place at the right time trying to earn commission by pitching attractive properties in Aspen.

Club Commons

SB: Looking to live and work in Aspen — well technically Snowmass — this winter? Here at Aspen Skiing Co. we follow the ethos of “Inclusion, commit, togetherness, honor your corporate overlord.” If you want to rekindle your hatred for dormitory housing, lack of privacy and life, come spend a season living with three strangers while working for slightly more than minimum wage.

While we can’t help you live here permanently, we can give you a taste of America before sending you back to whatever South American country you came from. It’s not that we don’t like a foreign workforce, we just don’t want to hire you year-round because then we’ll have to give you a raise on top of our generous starting pay. We don’t even let our most tenured employees live at Club Commons permanently.

Only a 15-minute walk to public transportation, getting to and from the grocery store, liquor store, dispensary, nightlife, anywhere with a pulse past 5 p.m. offers the opportunity to build up your tolerance to winter weather and improve your patience.

To apply for Skico’s temporary workforce and suboptimal housing, email exploytees@skico.com today.

Off-Downtown Condominium

BW: Half Airstream, half fake Colorado mountain lodge, this pseudo-lavish, 2,200-square-feet condo includes built-in shelves and a fireplace (don’t forget to open the flue). That figure is estimated; I just multiplied imaginary basketball hoops around the perimeter of the apartment. I sort of know how long that is because I used to be able to almost touch the rim.

Pretty sure no ghosts live here but sometimes you’ll find insects wandering around. I don’t mind giving a spider a warm, enclosed home in a jar until it dies of natural causes (way longer than you’d expect), but when it pisses and shits all over the floor, I find that really inconsiderate to its host.

The decor is exactly what you thought you wanted when you graduated college and found your first apartment, except by the time you could afford such luxuries as a leather pull-out couch and laser-engraved Maroon Bells panoramic, it’s no longer fashionable.

The place is furnished, so you gotta store the old couch in your downvalley girlfriend’s garage until it becomes infested with mice and you break up so her roommates have to drag it off to the ReStore (or whatever they did with it).

Also you’re free to keep my … I mean, uh … the mattress. Lots of people have said it’s the comfiest thing they’ve ever slept on. Yeah, well, try being on it for 15 years. Just order one of those beds you hear about on podcast advertisements and figure it out. #NotMyProblemAnymore

Sorry I’m so sweaty. How does $3,000 a month sound?

Taj Ma-Aspen

SB: In this extraordinary 17-bedroom, 19-bathroom Aspen home you will be able to buy solitude amid the madness of the Roaring Fork Valley. Sick of those annoying songbirds and that infuriating brook that refuses to stop babbling? Among the 10 outdoor sitting areas big enough to host three weddings simultaneously is the ability to stop/divert the water — and don’t worry about your water rights as the excess runoff will be used to waterboard your staff to make sure all NDAs are honored and all leftovers are being thrown out and not eaten.

The grounds also are fitted with radar sensors designed to keep out hungry bears and nosy vagrants. And instead of alerting authorities, the new Bruin Ruin system vaporizers the culprit leaving no mess and no cleanup. This quaint home comes furnished with all-animal fixtures such as zebra-skin shower curtains, bear-bone bidets, rhino-horn railings among other endangerously decadent pieces.

For the cost of an Infinity Stone, this home can be yours. Contact Thanos Realty to set up your walkthrough today.

Burlingame Ranch Home

BW: Welcome to the original suburbs of Aspen! We’re only 15 years away from having our own city council. Chancellor Bates’ plan for fortification will surely qualify this outpost as a “gated community.”

His house is decorated for most of the year; it’s kind of weird (I’m so good at semicolons as well as … and ellipses — blame a weird childhood with a lot of grammatical exercises involving “Little House on the Prairie” and “Clockwork Orange,” for some reason).

Did you see ol’ Norm’s Halloween exhibit last year? Really took “Midnight Cowboy” literally. I have a feeling he’s never actually watched that movie.

Like a Juul pod, these homes’ colors come in every condiment flavor that kids love: mustard and ketchup, chipotle and mayo, ranch and areola.

Every third weekend we have a block party where you can wonder, “Oh my God, when did all these kids move in?”

Dread running into your neighbors at the honeycomb-shaped mailbox during a random Wednesday off when you’ve started drinking at 10 a.m. and get caught wearing swimming trunks and a ripped T-shirt that says “Outcasts of Sobriety” (OOS represent).

Anyway, sometimes it’s like the Hong Kong protests out there, so maybe board up your windows. $950,000

Restaurant space

SB: Beautiful 600-seat restaurant space featuring dry-aging room, sausage production area, sacrificial altar and seven deep-fat fryers available for rent. At $125,000 per month, this gorgeous, second-floor space is perfect for a high-end Italian bistro, high-end seafood, high-end alpine fare or a high-end French bistro.

Serve vats of piping hot fondue for $625, use the sausage production room as a brothel, worship Satan in hopes that he frees you from this lease — we don’t care. We ruined a promising local’s retail career to build this dining hall thinking it would be filled by a celebrity chef before he got caught up in a #MeToo scandal and have been desperately seeking tenants ever since.

We even tried selling bacon on a clothespin for $75 a slice. Nothing is working. These rich assholes keep going to Matsuhisa. Please, save us from our ill-advised development. (Just make sure you can pay rent.)

sbeckwith@aspentimes.com bwelch@aspentimes.com

High Country: ‘Fantastic Fungi’ brings the magic of mushrooms to Aspen Filmfest

Magic mushrooms are having a moment.

Earlier this year, a historic decriminalization vote in Denver and the passage of a similar bill in Oakland have resulted in a rebirth of the psychedelic movement. And just this month, Johns Hopkins University announced it will be launching the nation’s first-ever research center devoted to psychedelic substances.

For award-winning filmmaker Louie Schwartzberg, the timing of the festival release of his latest documentary dedicated to the mysterious subterranean world of mycelium and its fruit is fortuitous. More than a decade in the making, “Fantastic Fungi” takes audiences on a vivid, 80-minute journey into the often-overlooked organism that has connected humanity and the natural world for 3.5 billion years, providing the world with nutrition, brain health and environmental well-being.

As one of the pioneers of time-lapse, high-speed and macro cinematography techniques, Schwartzberg captured photography for the project over the course of 13 years. The visual feat is intrinsic to the film’s storytelling along with talking head interviews with subjects from renowned scientist and mycologist Paul Stamets to best-selling authors Michael Pollan, Eugenia Bone and Andrew Weil.

“Fantastic Fungi” celebrated its world premiere and in June at the 20th Maui Film Festival, where it received an Audience Award for Best Documentary Feature. Schwartzberg was also honored in Hawaii with the 2019 Visionary Award (last year’s recipient was the Dalai Lama). The cinematographer has been shooting time-lapse 24/7 continuously for well over three decades in his Los Angeles studio.

Ahead of the 40th anniversary Aspen Filmfest, which runs September 23-29, I went behind the scenes with Schwartzberg to talk about his emotional and powerful exploration into the biological blueprint thriving beneath us.

Katie Shapiro: How did this film first come to fruition?

Louie Schwartzberg: The journey started when I heard Paul Stamets give one of his first presentations at the Bioneers Conference. By that time, I had already been seduced by the sensual beauty of flowers and had been time-lapsing them nonstop for more than 30 years. Part of that effort included time-lapsing mushrooms. After Paul’s presentation, I showed him some of the videos of mushrooms I had on my laptop. In that moment, the mycelium network successfully made its intentional connection. That is what the mycelium network does: It connects living beings so life can flourish and so we can live in harmony with the Earth.

KS: The connection between the interviews and imagery in the film is awe-inspiring!

LS: I just love the idea that nature’s imagery can be a healing modality … vision is the most important sensory receptor we have. My filmmaking technique is very time-consuming. And people say it’s gorgeous, but I feel that, instead, I’m channeling nature’s energy because what I’m showing you is real. And that’s why I think it’s more mind-blowing than something like a special effect in a sci-fi movie where you blow up a building. You see it, but it doesn’t affect you because you know it’s fake. The level of connection we created is part of the story and I hope it helps inspire audiences to expand their consciousness and feel the truth and beauty of the mushroom kingdom and the relationship we have to it.

KS: What is your perspective on the psychedelic shift we’re seeing in society today?

LS: Look what happened with cannabis. Look how fast it became mainstream. And you know, Colorado has been the leader in getting rid of these draconian laws that don’t belong anywhere. It’s a non-violent activity … making people feel better, or hopefully even shift(ing) their consciousness in a positive way. Why would that ever be a crime?

KS: How close do you think the country is to legalizing mushrooms?

LS: It’s hard to predict the timing, but what I can predict is that it’s going to happen faster than we think. Like cannabis, the first step is decriminalization. The second step is medicinal use under a doctor’s care, and then eventually, it will open up to being completely legal.

KS: Has psilocybin played a role in your own life?

LS: I’m not embarrassed at this point to say that psychedelics have had a major impact on my life and the trajectory of my filmmaking journey. I took mushrooms in college and I think that it definitely made me want to show things that the human eye can’t see. Making the invisible visible and unveiling the mystery. What’s amazing is I didn’t do them for decades after that, yet now, since making this film and learning more about the medicinal application and benefits, I’ve been able to experience it in a completely different way. I’ve recently participated in a couple of sacred circles where a small group of people come together and bond through taking a deep journey. It’s beautiful. And I am older and wiser now, so my perspective is so much more powerful.

Katie Shapiro can be reached at katie@katieshapiromedia.com and followed on Twitter @bykatieshapiro.

Could Holy Cross Energy go 100% renewable?

Holy Cross Energy, the electrical utility that serves parts of Aspen and the rest of the Roaring Fork Valley, announced goals in September 2018 that at once looked cautious and ambitious. Directors said they aimed to achieve 70% carbon-free electricity by 2030. They were — and still are — at about 39% clean energy.

But Holy Cross in late August announced affirmatively that its 2030 goal would be met for sure by 2021 and possibly even by 2020. It will take this giant leap with completion of a new wind farm about 120 miles southeast of Denver.

Customers of Aspen Electric, the city utility, can be excused for yawning. After all, the city was able to hit 100% renewable energy in 2015, one of the first few utilities in the nation able to make that claim. It did so by bulking up on wind power from the Great Plains, specifically the panhandle of Nebraska, but also hydroelectric power from the big dams of the West, a bit of local and regional hydroelectric, plus a tiny amount of landfill gas. The gas is burned to generate electricity.

Ah, but it’s Aspen, some have scoffed. People there can afford to pay high rates for renewables, they say dismissively. What that misses are the semi-annual surveys by the Colorado Association of Municipal Utilities that finds Aspen Electric’s rates consistently among the lowest in the state.

The city utility meets about one-third of the demand within the city’s emissions inventory boundary, according to the city’s climate action plan.

If Aspen Electric can hit 100%, why is it such a big deal that Holy Cross Energy now is on the verge of getting to 70%?

Holy Cross Energy is larger and, until last December, it was tethered to a coal plant, Comanche 3 in Pueblo. It’s one of the nation’s newest coal plants, approved in 2004 when many — including the panel presided over by then-Vice President Dick Cheney — thought electrical demand would continue to soar and renewables would remain costly. The Front Range coal plant went on line in 2010.

Coal was the easier answer, although natural gas had been coming on in a significant way. That Front Range coal plant went online in 2010. Holy Cross owned 8% of its 750-megawatt production.

What the former vice president’s panel did not foresee in its call for many more coal plants early in the administration of George W. Bush was how rapidly the prices of renewables would tumble and the success utilities would find in integrating them without sacrificing either prices or reliability.

A case study for this pivot is Xcel Energy. It supplies more than 60% of Colorado’s electricity and is the full owner of two of the coal plants at Pueblo and primary owner of the third, Comanche 3. In 2004, the company spent millions to persuade Colorado voters they should not impose a mandatory 10% renewable portfolio standard. Too risky, too problematic, the company said. Given the mandate, the company set out to comply and found it easier than expected.

Then, in 2017, Xcel officials announced that they wanted to close the two older coal plans. That power would be replaced by renewables. This would push the utility’s power generation to about 55% in Colorado.

That was interesting. The shocker came just after Christmas 2017, when the bids were unveiled. Prices for wind had plunged to well below coal, and solar prices had dived, too. The new package will even include still-pricey battery storage, at this time set to be the largest storage outlay in the country. It was a new world in energy, and in September 2018 Colorado regulators approved Xcel’s plan. By 2025 it will be at 53% renewables.

Last December, Xcel delivered another bombshell. Using existing technology, it said, it planned to be at 80% reduced greenhouse gas emissions in its power supply by 2030 as compared with 2004 levels. Furthermore, it planned to get to 100% emissions free by 2050. It just didn’t know how. It believes continued technological evolution will deliver the answers.

Given this backdrop, what to make of the 70% goal adopted by directors of Holy Cross Energy last year?

Bryan Hannegan, the chief executive of Holy Cross, acknowledges that it was cautious. “We wanted to make sure that we had time to complete our goals and that we met the cost test. Remember that our Seventy70Thirty goal was premised on not increasing the cost of power supply. But we also had more access to new resources in the last year than we had expected.”

That “Seventy70Thirty” goal called for 70% clean and renewable energy with a 70% reduction in carbon levels as compared with 2014 levels by 2030.

A new wind farm being developed by Nereo GC Lincoln will deliver 100 megawatts of power to the 53,000 members of Holy Cross, a co-operative, in Snowmass Village, Vail, and other communities along Interstate 70 in Western Colorado. The wind farm will be located at the east end of Xcel Energy’s $1 billion, 300-turbine Rush Creek wind farm, which began operation last year. Holy Cross has rights to use Xcel transmission capacity but also owns some of that capacity.

Prices of the wind power were not disclosed, but Holy Cross described them as comparable to the bids received by Xcel Energy in its 2017 solicitation. Those jaw-dropping prices, $11 to $18 per megawatt-hour for wind generation, drew national attention.

Holy Cross has ambitions to go higher with its renewable energy, including more local sources. Wind is blessedly absent in the Aspen and Vail areas, except on mountaintops. The valleys are sunny, though. Solar farms near El Jebel and at the airport at Rifle, 70 miles west of Aspen, take advantage of the abundant splash of light.

Now, Holy Cross aims for more: a 5-megawatt solar farm near the Aspen-Pitkin County Airport. It has drawn opposition from residents of Woody Creek and Brush Creek Village who object to the visual clutter of the 18,000 panels. Speaking for Aspen Skiing Co., Auden Schendler in July called for approval based on broader considerations. “We at the Aspen Skiing Co. believe our community can no longer say: ‘We support clean energy, just not here.’ Climate change is already creating impacts far beyond the visual and, if left unaddressed, will only grow worse.”

Holy Cross has another reason for wanting to see local generation of electricity. Imported power has its own problems. During the Lake Christine Fire of 2018, three of the four transmission lines that deliver power to Snowmass and Aspen went down just before the Fourth of July weekend, and one of the wooden poles for the fourth line was starting to burn when firefighters arrived. If a solar farm is not the full answer, it’s at least part of the solution.

With only one dissension, the Pitkin County Planning and Zoning Commission recommended approval of the solar farm in early August. Pitkin County commissioners are scheduled to take up the proposal on Sept. 25.

Is it too soon to start talking about 80% for Holy Cross? No, and internally those discussions have started. But the pathway is not yet clear, said Jenna Weatherred, the utility’s spokeswoman: “I think you will see us come up with a plan to get to 80% fairly soon. We know we will get there. We just don’t know exactly how we will get there.”

But can Holy Cross get to 100% emission-free energy?

Hannegan likened his utility’s quest to that of climbing a tall mountain, an apt comparison given the utility’s namesake, Mount of the Holy Cross, a 14,009-foot summit near Vail. It feels pretty good to get this far, he said.

“But we know we have the rest of the summit to tackle,” Hannegan said in an interview moments after a session sponsored by the Colorado Public Utilities Commission titled “Getting to 100% Renewable Energy.” “The hard part is the last face, the last 20%. If you’re a mountaineer, that’s the challenge that you live for.”

One takeaway from the PUC session, articulated by Mark Dyson of the Rocky Mountain Institute, was to not get hung up on how to achieve the last 2% to 3% of renewable energy. Better, said Dyson, to decarbonize other sectors of the economy, especially transportation and buildings.

At a recent retreat, directors of the co-operative sized up its next steps. Staff members have what Hannegan described as “tough homework assignments. They’re also interesting homework assignments in the sense that they tackle some new issues that only become pressing once you have reached 70% or 80% clean energy.”

Holy Cross needs greater flexibility, “in all shapes and sizes,” including increased storage, he said. “I think batteries will play a big role.” Colorado’s largest energy storage project, he added, is a pumped-hydro storage project near Georgetown, 45 minutes west of Denver. It can produce up to 324 megawatts of generation.

Many utility managers have also mentioned the need for broadening energy markets, including creation of a regional transmission organization, something that the West lacks despite its abundance of renewable generation.

New uses of electricity in both transportation and buildings should provide flexibility to achieve emissions-free energy. Market and prices will determine just how much flexibility for Holy Cross.

Asked about what state and federal incentives will be needed to displace fuels that produce emission, Hannegan instead directed attention to the grassroots.

“I think it is up to each local jurisdiction,” he said. “If it has a strong climate action plan, it will start to move away from those things that require fossil fuels. It will be up to Holy Cross to be ready and available to help those jurisdictions tamp down their emissions footprint by increasing use of emissions-free electricity.”

All three counties — Pitkin, Eagle, and Garfield — and each of the individual municipalities from Aspen to Glenwood Springs have a climate action plan.

Delivering the electricity to Holy Cross will be Guzman Energy, a relatively new wholesale supplier that got its start in 2016 by assuming deliveries to Kit Carson Electric in Taos, New Mexico. It reached an agreement for delivery swaps with Holy Cross in December that made the 70% goal attainable.

The bottom line here is that the electrical supplies for Aspen and the Roaring Fork are rapidly being cleansed of greenhouse gas emissions. Transportation has started to come on rapidly. The much tougher nut to crack will be buildings. That, however, is another and even longer story.

Allen Best did climb Mount of the Holy Cross four times but failed in four attempts of Capitol Peak. He writes about energy, water and other topics from a base in metropolitan Denver. He can be found at mountaintownnews.net. This is adapted from a story originally published by Energy News Network.

WineInk: Finding the right words to describe wine

Admit it. The most intimidating thing about wine is talking about it. Well, maybe other than the price.

We all feel like we are at a loss for words sometimes when it comes to describing what a wine smells or tastes like. And that can make the process of enjoying a glass of wine somehow less about what is in the glass and more about feeling inadequate about our ability to discuss it. That’s a bummer.

It’s kind of like going to a cricket match and not knowing the rules as the crowd goes crazy for a wicket, or sitting down with a 12-year-old and talking about social media. It’s hard to articulate something when you feel ignorant about it.

But the difference with wine is that you do know something. If you can get over your trepidation and pay an ounce of attention you’ll realize rather quickly that, by simply calling on language you use every day, you can not only have a reasonable conversation about wine, you can actually enjoy yourself in the process. Intimidation can turn to education before you even take a sip.

Start by looking into the glass that sits in front of you. What color is the wine? If it’s red or white, note that. You have just identified the single most important thing that one can say about a wine. Tip the glass and take a second look. What shade of color is the wine? Is it opaque? Can you see through the red in the glass and read a wine column below? Or is it dense and dark? If the wine is white, is it really white or is it tinged a greenish color, or perhaps golden?

Note what you see and describe it like it is. “That red wine that is almost purple, must be a big California cabernet or maybe a syrah. Too dark for a pinot,” you might relay. Or, “That wine is the color of straw — maybe it’s a white Burgundy.” See, now you’re talking the talk with just a quick glance.

That may seem pretty basic, and it is. But the key is that you have turned concerns about what you don’t know into words about what you do know. The next step is to smell the aromas of a wine and to stay within your comfort zone. If you smell flowers and grass in that greenish wine, say so. If the fruit smells like lemon or citrus or the grapefruit that you had for breakfast, then that is your descriptor. The word that works for you to indicate what you smell is the best word you can use.

The same is true when you taste the wine. We eat stuff everyday and we can identify tastes and textures pretty easily. You know what a blackberry tastes like as opposed to a prune, right? You can taste vanilla or cocoa and tell the differences, right? And who doesn’t know the taste (and the smell) of bacon? If you get any hints of those flavors when you taste a glass of wine, simply say it aloud. Is the wine thin on your tongue like water or does it linger and coat your mouth like a syrup? Again, take note and comment on what the wine feels like to you.

What you’ll discover is that you do have an appropriate vocabulary to talk about wine. And the more you do it, the easier it will become. Your breadth of wine knowledge will increase with each glass.

Like cricket, social media and yes, love, the world of wine does have its own lexicon. There is an entire language used to talk about what goes on in the vineyards (verasion), in the winemaking process (malolactic fermentation), and the various attributes of wine in a glass (typicity). But, like any other language, it is used by those who need to reach deeper levels of definition about elements of wine to communicate. And even some of those words are fraught with ambiguous meaning.

Recently, the Wall Street Journal’s Lettie Teague, one of my favorite wine scribes, penned a 1,500-word or so column about what the word “dry” means when talking about a wine. Three letters is all the word has and it provided a perfect palette for Teague to paint a picture of how subjective wine words can be.

In its most direct definition a “dry” wine is one that is devoid of sweetness. There are even technical standards that exist indicating exactly how few grams of “sugar per liter” are allowed to be designated as dry. But as Lettie pointed out, different people, with different palates, often use the word differently. To each his own.

She closed by using a quote from New Zealand’s most famous winemaker: “At the end of day,” Kevin Judd said, “it’s all about balance.” A word we all know.

Gear Junkie: A Luxury Hybrid Caravan to consider

Backcountry camping with a tow-behind RV often means bare-bones amenities. But a trend in RV design is bringing more luxury to rough roads and boondocking sites.

One example is the OP 15 by OPUS. It pairs off-road capabilities with luxurious comforts. An exterior slide-out kitchen, as one example, comes with a prep deck, stove, pantry and a Dometic CFX75 fridge.

Inside, you’ll find a king bed and twin bunks. There’s a full bathroom complete with shower, sink and chemical toilet.

An expandable design makes for less bulk while towing. The OP 15 collapses down to 15 feet and is designed to handle narrow, rough roads.

Read the full write up of the OP 15 by OPUS by Stephen Regenold at www.gearjunkie.com