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WineInk: The Pinot Posse Rides Again

It is certainly possible to appreciate a wine without knowing the story behind it. But understanding where a wine came from, how it was made and who the people are who made it can bring a bottle to life.

So it is that over the past decade-and-a-half, a cadre of west coast winemakers represented in the state by CS Wines, have come to Colorado to introduce not just their wines, but also their stories, to wine lovers. Dubbed the Pinot Posse, the group hosts three wine dinners at which they pour some of the best and most well-made pinot noir in the new world, and share tales from their adventures in winemaking.

The producers reign in regions ranging from Washington’s Yakima Valley in the north to the Santa Barbara coast in the south. Together they have influenced the wine selections of countless Coloradans over these intimate dinners, exposing them to pinot noir from different origins made in varied styles.

This month, five producers, Sea Smoke Cellars Victor Gallegos from the Sta. Rita Hills, Ed Kurtzman of San Francisco’s August West; Michael Browne from Sonoma, the maker of CIRQ; JK Carierre’s Jim Prosser from Oregon; and David O’Reilly, who makes wines under the Owen Roe label from grapes grown in both Oregon and Washington, will converge in Colorado for the 15th edition of the Pinot Posse events.

While they will not be making it to Aspen or Vail on this year’s tour, it is well worth taking a trip to join them at Jax Fish House in Colorado Springs on Jan. 19, in Denver at Table 6 on Jan. 20 or at the venerable Ski Tip Lodge in Keystone on Jan. 21. (See box for details.)

While this will be Browne’s first ride with the Posse, the others have all been on this trail before. Prosser has not missed a trip, while O’Reilly has poured here 14 of the 15 years, and Kurtzman counts nine visits. While clearly this is a professional trip with a goal of introducing wine communities to the winemakers’ various bottlings, a deep camaraderie also has developed among the participants. After all, while they are as diverse as the wines they make, they all share similar challenges and burdens in the vineyards.

And each comes with a unique story to tell.

Sea Smoke, owned by entrepreneur Bob David, may be the most well-known wine of the group, having achieved cult status after outstanding early reviews by James Laube in Wine Spectator. Victor Gallegos has been a key character in the ascension of the brand to one of the Ste. Rita Hills brightest stars. He can tell you how the constant quest to excel has led the winery to alter their growing practices and become 100% biodynamic.

CIRQ, Michael Browne’s latest project, is a second act for a winemaker who hit it out of the park the first time he came to the plate. One half of the eponymous Kosta Browne, which is now owned by Duckhorn Wine Company, Browne has created a family estate winery in the heart of the Russian River Valley. He is in the process of changing from a single-vineyard model to blending the highest quality fruit from selected sites throughout the valley, creating what he considers to be the finest possible pinot noir wines. On his Colorado sojourn he will be introducing his latest brand, CHEV.

“This wine is not yet released, so I am thrilled to be pouring it for the first time ever,” he said. “It’s so nice to be part of the Pinot Posse with (CS Wines founders) John and Penny. Always a great event, hosted by just the right people.”

For the first time in a world without the Grateful Dead’s deceased lyricist Robert Hunter, who introduced us to the character of August West in the classic “Wharf Rat,” Ed Kurtzman will pour his August West wines on a Pinot Posse Tour. The wines poured have all been made at Kurtzman’s urban winery in San Francisco after having been sourced from vineyards in the Russian River Valley and the Santa Lucia Highlands.

I used the word “venerable” to describe the Ski Tip, but the same could be applied to Jim Prosser’s streak with the Pinot Posse. Prosser makes wines that strive for high acids and smooth tannins, built in a classic pinot noir style in the Chehalem Mountains AVA of Oregon not far from Newberg, Oregon. Wines like Vespidae, named for a killer wasp and Provocateur — perhaps named for Prosser’s personality — are a joy to contemplate.

David O’Reilly brings just a smidgen of the vast number of wines he makes sourcing grapes from his own estate, and others in Washington and Oregon. That is not to say he brings too little wine, rather that he produces so many different varietals in his Owen Roe empire that pinot noir represents just a portion. Ah, but pinot is one of the best slices of Owen Roe’s prodigious pie.

Wine, dinner and conversation. It’s time to take a trip with the Pinot Posse!

Know Your Liftie: Jace Luck

Name: Jace Luck

Hometown: Carbondale

Lift location: High Alpine, Snowmass

What brought you to Aspen? My parents. I was born in Aspen and raised in Carbondale and now I live in Carbondale.

Are you a skier or a snowboarder? I could ski before I could really run or walk or any of that. My dad is a mechanic up here and this will be his 23rd season. He had me on a pair of skis when I was one-and-a-half years old. My first time was here.

What has surprised you the most about Aspen? That it stays beautiful year-round.

What does a good night out in Aspen consist of? Walking around the town, looking at lights and ice skating with friends.

What’s your most memorable interaction with a guest so far? I write questions on the board every day and they like to come along and answer it and we talk about the questions.

How do you stay warm? Keep working, moving snow and hanging out in the lift shack.

How do you stave off boredom? Lot of snow work and conversations with guests.

What’s the best music to play at the lifts? Anything like dancing music, something with some energy.

What’s the best about the job? I get to be outside all day and hang out in paradise. Worst part is fighting boredom.

Where can people expect to find you working on the mountain? It’s my first year as a liftie and I’m loving it. I hope to come back next year and the year after that. I’ll be at this lift all year.

Mountain Mayhem: Audi Ajax Cup

Racers of all ages and experience levels suited up for the 10th edition of the Audi Ajax Cup on Monday, Dec. 30. Benefiting the Aspen Valley Ski and Snowboard Club (AVSC) and its 2,400-plus athletes, the annual competition featured head-to-head giant slalom races on the storied run of Little Nell at Aspen Mountain. At the top of the morning, 16 teams of six skiers each reported to race headquarters. The chilly temps didn’t keep the racers at bay nor the crowds away as all followed the heated competition into the afternoon. In the end, Team West End Hillbillies took home the coveted trophy, led by co-captains Jimmie Johnson and Adam Lewis and pro Alex Ferreira. They celebrated their win at the trophy presentation during the après-ski party held just a few blocks away at Scarlett’s. The silent auction, live auction, DJ set, dinner and drinks rounded out the evening.

Visit www.teamavsc.org for news, programs and membership information and save the date for the 11th annual race and après-ski reception on Wednesday, Dec. 30, 2020.

Food Matters: Castle Creek Café is a tasteful gem in an unlikely location

Allen Cutler has eaten at the same restaurant in Aspen twice daily for three years. Remarkably, he’s not sick of the food. Not even close, he says, because Castle Creek Café offers a unique menu of two different entrées (always one vegan) and from-scratch soups, plus side dishes, a bountiful salad bar, and build-yourself burger bar (also with veggie options) every day of the month. The recipes must number in the hundreds.

Cutler, 77 and retired, doesn’t cook, so finding affordable, healthful and convenient meals at reasonable prices is important. Plus he takes his 8-year-old “loaner granddaughter” Kayleigh Flynn out to eat after skating club practice at the Aspen Recreation Center — Cutler started playing ice hockey at age 75; she’s a figure skater — three times per week.

“It’s a real gem, I think,” says Cutler, between bites of a hefty BLT during lunch one Thursday. “It surprises me at dinner — they’ll be serving ahi tuna steak or shrimp scampi, and nobody’s here!”

Not quite nobody, but the 65-seat venue is rarely jam-packed. AVH nutrition director Kristy Bates estimates that the Castle Creek Café dining room serves approximately 150 entrees for lunch and 80 for dinner, not including breakfast items and grab-and-go snacks. In addition to the café’s diverse menu and staff, Bates has overseen all AVH clinical operations of nutrition services for the past four years, which includes room service-style delivery to patients among the 25-bed designated Critical Access Hospital.

Temporary residents and hospital staff are fortunate to have this venue onsite, but a quick glance around the dining room shows an equal proportion of folks in plain clothes to scrubs. Castle Creek Café is quiet, peaceful. There’s ample space and natural light (plus 25 more seats outside in warm weather). For years it has been popular among locals in the know: City of Aspen employees, police, paramedics, ski patrollers, construction workers, and health and wellness professionals. Bates adds that many guests show up in ski gear, which makes sense considering the casual cafeteria vibe and plentiful parking just steps away.

Menus are crafted with a focus on well-rounded nutrition: a balance of protein, starch, vegetables, fruit and dairy, keeping added sugar and sodium in check. For example, this week (Jan. 16 to 23) features chicken or eggplant Parmesan; cashew chicken with fried rice; shrimp fajitas; spaghetti squash with mushroom ragù, and pineapple-pork or sweet potato tacos.

Meatless Mondays have been a boon to the Aspen area’s plant-based contingent for years (fish or seafood instead, plus the vegan selection), and the soup bar with 60-plus house-made soups per month is worth repeat visits. In fact, Castle Creek Café bested two-time returning champion Meat & Cheese Restaurant and Farm Shop just a week ago at the Soupsköl 2.0 contest held at the Aspen Art Museum. Its winning concoction: roasted carrot-ginger soup with toasted coconut — a vegan creation that will be served next at the café on Jan. 23 for the standard bowl price of $3.75.

“There are a few crowd-pleasers that I don’t ever take off menu, like the bento beef; Mediterranean foods like shawarma, gyro, souvlaki; turkey pot pie. Taco Tuesdays, sometimes,” Bates says. “We try to switch it up, and every week offer really healthy options. But on Jan. 24 we have fried chicken and macaroni and cheese (as well as) a chickpea patty as a vegan alternative.”

Castle Creek Café also serves meals to inmates at the Pitkin County Jail — a contract held for decades. “It’s been a strong partnership,” says Bates, adding that she believes that such affiliation is rare. “There was a rumor that when Charlie Sheen was in jail here, he complimented the food.”

New for 2020, Bates and AVH’s new dietician, Lauren Mitchell, who moved here from Ohio two months ago, rebranded an educational community series as “Dietician Demos.” Every second Thursday of the month, the duo hosts a lunchtime seminar on a crucial topic (see sidebar, this page). More than 30 people showed up to the first event in January, “Kick the Sugar,” to learn about various types of sugar sources, and how to determine which ones might be added to food by examining food labels. The demonstration portion showcased Bates preparing gluten-free, vegan carrot cake protein bars using freshly milled oat flour (simply whiz oats in a food processor) and grated carrots.

Dietician Demos

February: Heart Health

Thursday, Feb. 13, at 12-1 p.m.

Free, including treats

Aspen Valley Hospital

Oden Conference Center


In addition to these events (next up: Heart Health Month, offering dark chocolate), Castle Creek Café is focused on ordering more organic, non-GMO ingredients and sustainable seafood, as well as continuing its mission of waste reduction and composting.

Come spring, Bates will again tend a garden of salad greens and herbs. “The cool thing is that the soil used to grow those greens came from the landfill that we send our compost to,” she says. “In a roundabout way, we’re getting some of it back.”

For his part, Cutler keeps returning to the café, a community resource — one yet discovered by a wider population. He ticks off favorite dishes easily: the steak sandwich, beer-battered cod, clam chowder, and Italian wedding soup, because of the meatballs.

“I don’t like chicken or turkey,” Cutler shares, while I tear flaky, golden crust off the top of a personal pot pie about 5 inches in diameter. “If there’s nothing on the menu I like, I can always get a hamburger.”


Aspen’s newest restaurant encouraging to drink up an ‘Arranged Marriage’

It’s hard to say whether the names on the drink menu at the newly opened Duemani restaurant are more playful than the cocktails themselves.

It was my first time walking into the coastal Italian restaurant that took over the former Rustique space on Monarch Street.

It’s a fresh look and a fresh take on Italian (especially Duemani’s emphasis on seafood), and what we had been accustomed to in the French bistro for almost two decades.

But enough about the warm and inviting atmosphere and the delicious food. I went for the booze.

Under the vodka heading, two drinks immediately struck me: Election Muddling and Arranged Marriage.

I’ll tackle the first one first.

It’s so fun and tasty with Russian vodka, St. George pear liquor, lemon, agave, and garnished with heirloom tomatoes and a sprig of rosemary.

It’s the perfect vodka drink for winter because it’s hearty and crisp but at the time, sweet and savory.

Like Thanksgiving dinner, joked my friend who joined me for an evening of tasting.

The real winner is the Arranged Marriage, which if you close your eyes you can imagine yourself sipping this cocktail poolside.

It goes down way too easy. You’d never know you are drinking 2 ounces of vodka. That’s because of the pomegranate juice, guava and Jack Rudy tonic syrup.

It’s meant to go down that easy, and goes really well with seafood.

“It goes well with this town because it’s a lot of arrangement,” laughed Duemani bartender Sean Greaves.

The vodka in the cocktail is an intriguing one and a cool story. A new company in Austin, Texas, called Dripping Springs Vodka is behind it.

It’s made with sweet, Midwestern corn and is naturally gluten free. It’s micro distilled in batches in 50-gallon copper pot stills, finished with pure, mineral rich hill country artesian spring water.

I can’t wait to try the Dripping Springs Texas Orange Vodka, which is described on their website as being made with “hand-zested Texas oranges then steeped and re-distilled to capture an authentic southwestern orange flavor.”

As Greaves pointed out, “middle-aged women specifically love vodka drinks.”

I’m just glad I still fall in that category. Soon, I will be regulated to just whiskey.

And I’d rather remain a single middle-aged woman than be in an arranged marriage. It sounds like too much work. I’d rather sip it poolside.


With annual Aspen presentation, 5Point Film launches into 2020

When 5Point Film started hosting an annual Aspen show seven years ago, it was a sort of best-of program with encore presentations of crowd favorite films from the previous year’s flagship festival in Carbondale.

But after consistently selling out its Wheeler Opera House shows and expanding to two nights in 2018, the Aspen event has evolved into a higher profile happening with all new 5Point-curated films about thoughtful adventure with inspirational special guests and a signature 5Point concert-style program.

It’s evolved into the nonprofit’s annual kickoff.

“I’m seeing Aspen as setting the stage for what’s to come,” said 5Point executive director Regna Jones.

The 2020 program runs Friday, Jan. 17, and Saturday, Jan. 18, at the Wheeler.

Friday night’s films, presented in partnership with Challenge Aspen, include three inspirational shorts about adaptive athletes and adventurers: “Out on a Limb” profiles rock climber Kai Lin and his “badass prosthetic foot”; 5Point regular Fitz Cahall’s new film “The Mighty Finn” tells the story of an adventurer with cerebral palsy; “Broken” goes inside skier Jon Wilson’s life after losing a leg to cancer.

Saturday night’s mix of films includes a screening of local hero and Olympic medalist Alex Ferreira’s “The Scenic Route,” a travelogue about the X Games champion’s recent travels in Japan.

Built on its five titular points of purpose, respect, commitment, humility and balance, 5Point is more than a showcase of ski porn for adrenaline junkies.

“It has a power to impact people, especially when you get people in a room watching films as they should be seen at this level of craft,” Jones said. “It does have a power to transform people.”

Both nights in Aspen will be emceed by the inimitable Paddy O’Connell, the skier and sometime comedian who settled in the valley after a trip to 5Point in Carbondale several years ago.

Now in its 13th year, 5Point has evolved into more than a once-a-year film festival and gathering of the tribes in Carbondale. It has become a valley nonprofit with a year-round presence and impact as well as a national tastemaker for adventure films and the people who love them. It has established its Aspen event as a pillar of the winter season here along with the vaunted April flagship festival in Carbondale, an ongoing “5Point On the Road” tour (there’s a tour stop in Stratton, Vermont, on Saturday night) and its Dream Project scholarshops funding initiatives by Roaring Fork Valley students.

Jones said 5Point also is in expansion mode as a resource for filmmakers, the brands that produce most adventure films and the natural environment that the 5Point community cherishes.

Jones said she expects 5Point this year to expand its footprint and programs in education, possibly with a college partnership, and with a new master class at the Carbondale festival.

The nonprofit is also taking a leadership role on both the activist and business sides of the outdoor industry, building upon its annual Denver program at the Paramount Theater in partnership with the Outdoor Retailer expo and conference.

For filmmakers, 5Point is growing its established 5Point Film Fund, which helps finance productions that embody its five points. The Jackson Hole-based clothing company Stio recently committed $10,000 for 5Point film funding, which will go to a filmmaker who wins a public movie pitch contest at the festival in April.

All of these initiatives are built upon the 5Point foundation of gathering to honor storytellers and share the experience of watching films.

“I want 5Point to continue pushing the envelope of what the future is for adventure film and storytelling, keeping that spark around how important it is, while also keeping some levity around it,” Jones said. “We need places to go to laugh and cry and cheer and sweat and feel everything together with a bunch of people. And then we go out and stand a little taller.”


Two amateur historians bring ghost town of Ashcroft to life with stories of its people

Rob Fedor and Peter Starck have been happily haunted by the ghosts of Ashcroft for more than four decades. This pair of amateur historians — through a mutual curiosity about an abandoned 1880s building — discovered two bold, risk-taking mining-era characters, unearthed new material on the ghost town’s heyday and forged a friendship in the process.

They separately visited Ashcroft for the first time in 1976, Fedor when he was 21 and Starck when he was 11.

Fedor’s trained eye as a photographer captured details of Ashcroft’s signature building and helped unravel a mystery of its origin. Board by board, he has built a replica of the hotel that had a commanding presence in Ashcroft starting in 1882 and was rebuilt in 1975 after it collapsed from the weight of snowfalls over nearly a century of winters. (See factbox on page 15.)

Fedor, 65, is painstakingly building a model that will, when finished, re-create in exact detail between 20 and 30 buildings that were on Castle Avenue during the boomtown’s heyday.

“It isn’t just Ashcroft,” Fedor said of the significance of the project. “It’s the people that came to Ashcroft. It’s the environment of the time.”

Starck, 55, set a goal on Aug. 30, 2015, to piece together as much of Ashcroft’s history as he could. The town, 11 miles southwest of Aspen, boomed in the early 1880s with silver strikes but went bust just as quickly later that decade. Starck uses old newspapers, memoirs, historic archives, land title transfer records and any other sources he can find. The Aspen Historic Society’s archives have been a godsend, he said.

“I thought, ‘It will probably take me 10 years, but what the hell?’” Starck recalled recently in a telephone interview from his home in Wisconsin. He soon realized he had embarked on what will be a lifelong pursuit.

He’s accumulated so many fascinating tidbits on the people and places that he started a “Finding Ashcroft” page on Facebook in 2016. Nearly 400 followers share the discoveries as Starck makes them, often through old photos and detailed descriptions that put them in context.

“If it was just Ashcroft, maybe it wouldn’t be so popular,” Starck said. “But there’s a lot of bleedover between Ashcroft and Aspen. Everybody went back and forth.”

His interest extends beyond finding the exact sites of the post office, saloons, boarding houses, stables, jail and cemeteries. They are just a conduit to digging up the stories of the people buried in the graves of Ashcroft and Aspen. Those people shouldn’t be forgotten, he said.

“That’s where Aspen is rooted,” Starck said.

Two strangers, one interest

The interest in the people of Ashcroft led Starck and Fedor to Nellie Bird and Edmund Hawkins. Starck said a person needs to hear their stories — tales of gambles and risks, successes and failures — to really understand Ashcroft.

“There’s a lot more to Aspen and a lot more to Ashcroft than people realize,” Starck said.

Fedor and Starck were strangers until shortly after The Aspen Times published a story in July 2016 about Starck’s dogged pursuit of determining if the old hotel in the ghost town was named Hotel View, as it is now known, or whether it had different origins.

By the time he read the article, Fedor had already turned his fascination with the hotel into action. Starting in 2013, he began studying historic photos of the original structure in preparation of creating a replica.

Fedor had landed in Aspen on a lark in the mid-1970s.

“I had just missed out on being in the draft,” he said. “I wanted to travel. I was a lost young man at the time.”

He fell in love with Aspen. Fedor worked at Aspen Valley Hospital for a while and later started his own photography business. Although he left after a few years, he always remembered his visit to Ashcroft and specifically the old hotel.

“I guess what caught my interest was a love of old buildings,” he said. “I wanted to know more about it.”

Particularly intriguing were the corbels, woodcarvings on the upper two front corners. Fedor noticed they were in the shape of birdcages with bird stands inside. On top are birds set free and standing on the cages.

Fedor worked for 10 to 15 years as a framer earlier in his life so he appreciates stick-built construction, particularly when everything was done by hand. When he decided to build a replica of the hotel, he started with the front door — the structure’s visual focal point. He went on to build it using 1 inch in the model for 1 foot, so it is 29 inches high and 19 inches wide.

“I built it board by board to see what it was like,” he said, referring to the real construction.

Any part of the walls can be removed to expose the interior. “It’s like a giant jigsaw puzzle,” Fedor said.

The model has the same wood floors, desk, shelving, lamps and even hats on the lobby desk that he saw in a historic photo of the interior of the operating hotel.

The construction took about two years. Fedor took no shortcuts: “I wanted it to be the way it was.”

After he read about Starck in The Aspen Times, he eventually contacted him to discuss their shared interest in Ashcroft. Both men said they immediately hit it off and periodically exchanged emails for the next couple of years. They would converse in intense spurts about Ashcroft, exchanging theories and building off each other’s knowledge.

“Peter is a whiz on research. I couldn’t do anything I do without him,” Fedor said.

Starck was impressed with Fedor’s interest in the hotel and painstaking construction of a replica. It re-energized his search to find the name. Something didn’t ring right about the name Hotel View, he said. Through his exhaustive research, he made a convincing case that the name was linked to the structure well after it stopped operating in 1913.

While tossing around ideas, the two men believe they struck gold on figuring out the hotel’s origins. Fedor kept coming back to the corbels.

“Rob said, ‘It’s almost like I’m looking at birdcages,’” Starck recalled.

That got Starck thinking of the name Nellie Bird, which he ran into a time or two during his research. He focused his efforts and learned through old land records that a lien had once been placed on an Ashcroft property owned by Bird for lack of payment for work. He was able to determine from the property description that it was the site of the famed hotel.

He also saw a reference in an old newspaper article to the “Nellie Bird house.” “House,” in the 1880s, typically referred to a small, unspectacular boarding house, Starck said. A state business directory confirmed that Mrs. H.C. Bird was the owner of a boarding house in Ashcroft.

Nellie and Edmund

Through additional research, Starck learned Nellie Bird had moved to Aspen from Leadville, possibly in 1880 but more likely in 1881, after her husband, Henry Bird, apparently left her. It was the second time she had been spurned, Starck said.

Bird had the foresight to buy a 176-acre ranch east of Aspen in the current North Star Nature Preserve area in 1881. She somehow also got interested in the promising mining camp of Ashcroft and set up a humble lodging that probably consisted of three walls and canvas for the entry and roof.

Starck also looked into the lienholder who claimed Bird hadn’t paid him for work. He learned the lienholder, Edmund Hawkins, had also lived in Leadville into the 1880s as a carpenter. Starck found a picture from the 1920s of the house that Hawkins built in the late 1870s or 1880.

“Edmund’s house in Leadville was distinct,” he said. “His work might have been noticed by Nellie.”

For reasons unknown, Hawkins was also living in Ashcroft in 1882 — when Bird decided to upgrade her lodging tent to meet growing demand in the prospering camp.

“Ashcroft was spectacular,” Starck said. “It was known as the Mining Wonder of the West.”

She hired Hawkins to undertake the job. Starck and Fedor aren’t sure if the open birdcages were Bird’s idea or Hawkins’ or a collaboration.

“The more I learned about Nellie, the more I could see it all had meaning,” Fedor said. “Nellie’s whole place was a statement, I believe. The more you look into her life the more you see this.”

Business directories indicate that Nellie Bird’s hotel was operated by three different people from the late 1800s until Bird died in 1913, according to Starck’s research. While it was, in fact, the Bird house, there is no record that it displayed a sign proclaiming such.

Her ranch obviously had the potential to grow in value as Aspen prospered, at least until silver was de-monetized in 1893. Records indicate she sold or donated land for what became the Ute and Aspen Grove cemeteries.

Bird was also listed as a potential investor in a railroad that was planned but never built between Aspen and Ashcroft. The Salvation Ditch originates on what was her property.

Hawkins launched numerous business ventures with his sons in Aspen. He had an icehouse on the northwest corner of the confluence of Hunter Creek and the Roaring Fork River.

“He became known in Aspen as ‘the Ice Man,’” Starck said.

Neither Hawkins nor Bird would have viewed himself or herself as “remarkable,” Starck said. But they are among the many inventive, entrepreneurial folks who made a young mining camp like Aspen thrive.

“They were kind of similar in that they always moved forward,” Starck said. “I think she was smarter than many of the bigwigs in town.”

Nellie and Edmund appeared to patch up their differences after the lien dispute. Bird had Hawkins called as a witness in her favor in a dispute with other people involving her ranch, Starck said.

Alas, history hasn’t been kind to Nellie and Edmund. Hawkins died in Aspen in 1895 and is buried in Denver in a grave that is apparently no longer marked, according to Starck.

Nellie Bird is buried in Aspen Grove Cemetery. Her grave is unmarked and a fire in the sexton’s shed in the 1920s destroyed many of the old records of gravesites. Starck aims to determine her eternal resting place.

“We would very much like a marker placed on her grave,” he said.

Fedor said learning about Nellie and Edmund has energized his determination to complete the replica of what was the bustling downtown of Ashcroft, circa 1882. After that much research and work, he feels a connection to the place and people.

“Edmund and Nellie — they’re like family now,” Fedor said.


Asher on Aspen: Tour bus talk with Aaron Watson

Concert highs typically last about three to five days for me but if it gets really intense, the high can last up to a week or two.

Obsessively listening to the band on Spotify with certain favorites on repeat, posting videos and pictures galore on social media and shopping the band’s merchandise online are just a few of the symptoms. It’s been nearly two weeks and I am still on a concert high from Aaron Watson’s performance at Belly Up on Jan. 7.

This show might not be for everyone in Aspen, and that’s OK. It’s no secret that different styles of music resonate differently with each of us. Personally, the genre that has always moved me the most is country. Maybe it’s because I grew up with it, or maybe it’s the lyrics that speak to me in a way other genres don’t. Perhaps it’s just because I simply enjoy the sound of a little twang in someone’s voice. I’m not quite sure why I’m drawn to it — I just am.

Aaron Watson has been a singer-songwriter on the country scene for the past 20 years and he’s not hanging up his hat any time soon. After listening to his new album, “Red Bandana,” I knew I had to sit down face-to-face with this creative West Texas native and hear his story.

To start, I was intrigued by the fact that he chose to stay independent through the years and somehow managed to stay away from major record labels. I was also impressed that he was the sole writer of all 20 songs on his new record —something that’s unheard of today.

Finally, he lives with his wife and three children in the same town in Texas where he was raised. This guy could care less about the fame. That, in itself, intrigues me.

The heavy door of the tour bus slammed behind me and I took a deep breath as I turned around. To my surprise, the entire band was standing there. They all stopped mid-conversation to tip their hats and say hello. “Welcome to Aspen!” I awkwardly blurted out as if we were all friends. I walked through the sea of men to meet Watson waiting for me at the back of the bus.

“It’s just about staying true to who you are, pouring your heart into the music and making music that’s meaningful,” he said to me about an hour before he was set to perform.

The banter back and forth felt as though I was catching up with an old friend. The conversation flowed with ease and my nerves instantly diminished when he showed me his vinyl record collection that sported all the classics — The Beatles, The Beach Boys, Bob Dylan, Marty Stuart, etc. I wanted to bust out the story of how Marty Stuart signed my guitar, but I managed to resist.

“It gives you a straight look into the window of my soul,” Watson said, referring to the song “Trying Like the Devil” on his new album. “I wrote it when I was down in the dumps. It’s very artsy, but when I’m feeling a certain way, I try to capture that moment in a song.”

We sat on his tour bus for nearly 30 minutes, discussing everything from his new album, to life on the road, to his resistance against Nashville and the mainstream approach.

“I just love writing songs. That’s what makes me happy. It’s really cool when your hobby is also how you can make a living,” Watson concluded.

I stepped off the tour bus and into the venue to meet friends for the show. We sauntered across the dance floor and mingled among our fellow country music lovers while opener Chris Roberts & The Professionals performed.

It’s always a real treat for me when Belly Up brings country music to town. It doesn’t happen often but when it does, I am never disappointed.

Watson took the stage and immediately commanded the audience’s attention with “Freight Train,” from his album “The Underdog.” His charming persona and high-strung energy made for a boot-stomping good time. There is something to be said about the intimacy of Belly Up’s 450-person venue. It’s pretty incredible how up close and personal one can get with the artist during any given show.

Before I could even think to say no, Watson caught my eye in the crowd and pulled me up onstage. The fiddle player lent me his bow and I had no idea what I was getting myself into. I was instructed to hold the bow upright and stationary. The fiddle player continued to make music with the bow that I was holding, and I was completely enthralled with the scene and the music that was now unfolding around me.

As Penny Lane explains in “Almost Famous,” “We support the music. We inspire the music. We’re here because of the music. We are band-aids.” I felt like a total band-aid at that moment in time and I was completely fine with it. Sometimes it’s easy to forget that the artists need the fans as much as the fans need the artist.

Countless times have I walked out of Belly Up feeling overcome with an extreme concert high. Aaron Watson’s show was one of many, many live shows at Belly Up that left me feeling awestruck and inspired. An establishment like Belly Up, where I used to work, plays a vital role in making our small corner of the world feel big. Artists may come and go but the inspiration they leave behind is what makes live music such a euphoric experience. So, no matter how long your concert high rides, enjoy it while it lasts. Or, at least until you buy your next ticket.

Aspen History: Ashcroft Snowed In

“Twenty-eight below zero at Ashcroft,” announced the Aspen Democrat-Times on Feb. 1, 1916. “The thermometer dropped to 28-below there last night, the coldest point of the winter. The snow is 32 inches deep on the level and the water contents measure 7.10 inches. More water than usual is contained in the snow this winter by reason of the fact that the winds have packed it solidly. The Democrat-Times correspondent, Mr. Dan MacArthur, is snowbound and hasn’t seen his nearest neighbor, who lives two miles away, for a month. Another neighbor is snowed up at the Montezuma mine, a distance of four miles.” This image shows a man skiing through deep snow in the Castle Creek Valley west of Ashcroft, circa 1915.

10 for 2020: Wine Resolutions for the New Year

Usually when people make New Year’s resolutions they are more about doing less than doing more.

Things like losing 10 pounds by eating less, or drinking less, spending less money and quitting smoking top the list of resolves that most folks make to begin a new year. And there is nothing wrong with any of that. But studies show that less than half, about 46%, of people actually achieve their stated goal.

I considered this as I began to plan my 2020 wine resolutions and it occurred to me that if I set out to do more, not less, then I may have a better shot at success. Not drink more, mind you. I do enough of that for certain. But rather to do more things that will enlarge and expand both my knowledge of and my appreciation for good wine. More is the answer.

So without further ado, here are my 2020 wine resolutions:


We all have a tendency to get stuck in our boxes, drinking wines from, say, Napa or Tuscany or Champagne. But in this, the third decade of the 21st century, there are so many places making good wine that it behooves us to do a bit more exploring. Like California reds? Think about the Amador Hills, a region that has been making wine even longer than Napa and is producing some great zinfandel and Italian varietals.

In the first week of this year, I eschewed some more established by-the-glass offerings for a selection from a winemaker on the Canary Islands and ordered a 2016 Monje Listán Negro Tradicional. It was delicious with my squid ink pasta and I will endeavor to learn more about the wines of the Canaries.


There was a time when Australian wines were the darlings of drinkers. But love soon turned sour when a flood of cheaply made Yellow juice turned the tide. In recent years, however, the Aussie exports have shown a return to quality. But that’s not why I am I bullish on buying more wines from down under. No, the recent and ongoing firestorm has created a crises and one way to show support is to buy wines from the Barossa, Hunter Valley, the Mornington Peninsula, and especially the Adelaide Hills, which were hit hard by the fires.


Organic vineyards near Mendoza in Argentina with Andes in the background.
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I, probably like you, drink my share of chardonnay as well as too much cabernet and pinot noir. It’s time to expand horizons. Be it vermentino from Italy, Chassalas from Switzerland or even a Malbec from Argentina. It’s time to travel in a glass.


Man in a wine shop choosing a wine
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It’s so easy to find wines online these days. And bargains are always available in the big box stores. But the stories and soul of wine lives in the shops where local wine experts ply their trade. I find the more time I spend in a wine shop, the more I know about wine.


These are troubled times and, though wine is the great escape, there are issues surrounding the wine world we need to focus on. Tariffs top the list, but local laws, cannabis issues, and climate change are all a part of the wine world these days


Window view with flower pot, book, wine and historic buildings background in Lucca Italy
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In the 8,000-year history of wine, there has never been more information available about any and all aspects of the subject. The trick is to eliminate the wheat from the chaff, or perhaps more to the point the stems and seeds from the juice. Editing is a challenge, but finding sources, and writers, you like and trust is the best way to enhance your knowledge of wine.


One glass with each glass of wine. Every time. Simple enough.


This is more of a wish than a resolve, but there is no better way to enjoy wine than to travel to the places where it is made, walk the vineyards and meet the winemakers. There is a personal connection that comes from drinking wine from a place you have been that can last forever. I hope to make more of those connections in 2020.


It’s almost impossible not to smile when drinking wines that sparkle. They just seem to force the corners of your mouth to turn up. Be it Prosecco, Cava, Lambrusco, or of course Champagne, mixing more of these wines into your drinking regime can only be a positive.


Of all the resolutions made this year, this is the one I hope to keep the most.

Cheers and have a great new year in wine.