| AspenTimes.com

What’s a wine cave really for?

It happened again last week.

Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders sneered, “We don’t go to wine caves or wherever to raise our money.”

It was a thinly veiled swipe at an unnamed rival. Though everyone knows it targeted former South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg. This follows comments made in December by fellow democratic hopeful Elizabeth Warren who, at a debate, similarly used the “wine cave” brush to paint Mayor Pete as elitist. Even “Saturday Night Live” got into the act with a Kate McKinnon spoof.

While the point that Buttigieg is funding his campaign by cozying up to billionaires may or may not have validity, to be clear, the “wine cave” rhetoric is meant to be divisive. It is an attempt to create a sound bite, a buzz phrase that infers an us-versus-them, rich-versus-poor, wine drinkers-versus-non-drinkers divide.

Beyond that, it also inaccurately demonizes the wine world by using a symbol to suggest elitism.

While wine caves have indeed become status symbols in some wineries, particularly those in the Napa Valley, the origin of the caves is utilitarian. They are an ancient, clever way to store and age wines in an efficient, temperature- and humidity-friendly environment. The vast majority of wine caves are not an amenity, but rather a tool for the production of an agricultural product. In much of the world, wine is a part of day-to-day life, not a luxury product.

A little background on the wine cave controversy:

On Dec. 15, a fundraising event was held under the title “An Evening in the Vineyards with Mayor Pete.” It took place not exactly in the vineyards, but rather in the cellar, or wine cave, at HALL Wines, which is owned by Craig and Kathryn Walt Hall. The Halls have a long history with Democratic Party fundraising as well a significant roll in philanthropic causes in the Napa Valley. Kathryn is the face of the winery, which specializes in the production of Napa Valley cabernet sauvignon. She also was the U.S. ambassador to Austria under President Bill Clinton from 1997 to 2001.

Now, by any definition, HALL Wines is upscale. Over the top might be more accurate. The art collection amassed for display there is world-class, featuring the likes of John Baldessari, Jim Campbell, Nick Cave and Jaume Plensa to name just a few. And the wine cellar room is clearly designed to impress those who pay the price for special events and tastings.

But what has seemed to set people off the most was a chandelier that hangs above the table where the dinner was held. Made by the Austrian glass producer Swarovski, it reportedly features 1,500 grape “crystals.” It has been reported that approximately 200 people attended the fundraiser with tickets priced from $500 to $2,800. Expensive, but hardly billionaire pricing.

If you have ever traveled to wine regions around the world, you know the charm that is evoked when you tread down ancient stone steps into the damp and cold depths of a wine cave. There you’ll find hundreds, perhaps thousands, of bottles of wine from different vintages resting in racks, aging until they are ready to be released. The low, vaulted ceiling — often illuminated in soft light — only enhances the aura of wine waiting for its perfect time.

Perhaps the most famous of these caves are found under the chalky soils of the Champagne region in France. Called les crayères, or chalk caves, these vast caverns were originally hollowed out during the days of the Roman Empire. As the great Champagne houses began to evolve, they served their purpose in the aging of the effervescent wines that were riddled, or turned, regularly. In World War I, the caves became underground cities as residents of the region sought safety from the raging war above.

In recent decades, many wineries — yes, some owned by billionaires — have created lavish visitor amenities in caverns below their wineries where guests can taste wine while noshing on cheese plates and such. The intent is to impress and the experiences can be magical. There is little need to degrade that element of wine for a cheap insult at a competing politician.

On Valentine’s Day, the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative proclaimed that, while they would not impose the previously threatened 100% tariffs on European wines for the time being, the current 25% tariffs on certain French, German, Spanish and British wines would remain in effect. It was a bittersweet and temporary victory, but still a welcome sign.

It is a dangerous time for wine. Let’s hope both sides of the political aisle can refrain from using it for their personal gain.

Libations: Sweet and spicy margaritas over President Day weekend

Going into Presidents Day weekend, I thought it would be smart to exercise my patriotism and seek out the libations our country’s founding fathers and leaders of more recent history may have bellied up to the bar for.

I could have drank a dark porter to celebrate George Washington, water in honor of Abraham Lincoln (who reportedly was a dry man) or a vodka martini in the name of George H.W. Bush.

Instead, I found myself sipping sake at Jing on Friday and tequila and mezcal at Su Casa on Saturday like a true American.

After eating half a basket of tortilla chips in less than 10 minutes, I asked the waiter what the most popular Su Casa margarita is. He said the blood orange, which has fresh lime, Corazon Reposado tequila, Campari Liquer and blood orange of course, and the hot chile, which consists of chili-citrus tequila, Cointreau and fresh lime in a chili salt-rimmed glass were the top two. But his favorite was the hot chile with mezcal instead of tequila, so I took his word and ordered that with a blood orange margarita on the side.

The drinks couldn’t have been more opposite, yet both equally delicious. The blood orange went down sweet with a little citrus-bitter aftertaste, the hot chile smoky with a tingly spice burn on the tongue. There were even jalapenos floating in the hot chile margarita with the ice cubes, its seeds like little sprinkles at the surface.

Both were fantastic. Both were under $20 each, which is a win in this town. Both did the trick, as I was happily buzzed a quarter of the way through my hot chile.

Moral of the story: Su Casa es tu casa y mi casa y nuestra casa whether you’re looking for something sweet or spicy, or not really sure what you’re looking for at all.

Gear Review: Hydrogen Fuel-Cell Pickup Truck

Move over, Tesla. Nikola Motor Company, based in Phoenix, this month announced a pickup truck with “fewer emissions, more power and longer range” thanks to hydrogen fuel-cell technology.

The truck has impressive stats, including a zero-to-60 speed of 2.9 seconds. A massive 906 peak horsepower is another callout.

The brand, known more for its eco-minded semi-trucks, will offer the forthcoming pickup in both fuel-cell electric and battery-electric versions. The model name is Badger.

“Nikola has billions’ worth of technology in our semi-truck program, so why not build it into a pickup truck?” said Nikola CEO Trevor Milton.

Click here to read the full Gear Junkie review.

Stephen Regenold writes about outdoors gear at www.gearjunkie.com.

How two Aspenites found their cure for pain

Pain. It is the loose thread that can be the snag in our bespoke Aspen lifestyle.

Most of us feel a bit of the unraveling each day. I’m not talking about the deep pain from intense injury or illness. But rather, the almost-always-there tightness in our lower back that comes from picking up toddlers or walking a hard-charging dog. It’s that pull in the calves as we begin our daily run or put on ski boots. Or even that seizing catch in the back of the neck or shoulders when we ever-so-slightly move the wrong way while sitting with our heads buried in our digital devices.

The fact is, our lifestyles, especially for those of us who take the leap from our sedentary workplace into the active outdoors without thought or appropriate stretching, can take its toll. And pain is the price.

“The science of injuries is the same whether they occur at work or at play,” says Bill Fabrocini, a longtime local orthopedic therapist. “Repetitive strain injuries result from spending too much time doing the same thing over and over, whether it’s running every day or sitting for hours at a computer. Low back pain can result as easily from poor posture as it can from an injury. Even if you don’t think you are doing something that can create soft-tissue injuries, you likely are doing so with the things you do everyday.”

On a recent evening in Here House, the clubhouse/shared work facility/coffeehouse/community center tucked into a Cooper Street courtyard behind Mezzaluna, a small crowd of locals and visitors gathered for a Wellness Wednesdays discussion (see “Wellness Wednesdays,” page 13). Fabrocini and Aspen local David Mills — partners in the production of the revolutionary, Aspen-created, therapeutic healing devices under the “Vibe Roller” moniker — came to make a presentation on “Hidden Health Dangers in The Workplace.”

As mundane as the title may sound, Fabrocini’s talk was a clarion call that we all need to engage in realistic options to treat and relieve the neck aches, sore backs, poor sleep and lack of focus that are well-documented symptoms of our digital age. People, like us, who work on digital screens for more than four consecutive hours a day are five times more likely to develop both short-term and long-term chronic pain.

But, by using some relatively simple techniques and modalities with the Vibe Roller, it is possible to open connections in our muscular system, alleviating day-to-day pain and putting our bodies into optimum condition for both work and play.

THE FABRIC OF OUR LIVES

As a therapist, Fabrocini is all about fascia, the membrane of connective tissue under our skin that is responsible for attaching, stabilizing and enclosing our muscles and internal organs.

“Think of fascia as a soft skeleton, ‘the organ of form,’” he told the Here House crowd as he enthusiastically clicked through a series of PowerPoint images illustrating the way our muscles are wrapped by the collagen-based material.

In his visual presentation, Fabrocini emphasized that our daily activities counteract the triad of posture, mobility and stability that is so crucial to maintaining a healthy infrastructure.

“The human head weighs around 12 pounds,” he instructed as he showed a photo of a man leaning his head over a cellphone. “But, when you are hunched over at a 60-degree angle, looking at your mobile device, your head can put a 60 lbs. of strain on your neck.”

Think of hanging a backpack on your neck every time you check your phone.

“And how often do you check your phone like that each day?” he asked.

Fabrocini pointed out that the repetitive motions we do every day in the workplace — the constant typing, the slouching as we sit in front of a screen, even the way we tuck our legs under us, all contribute to creating “islands of compression in our fascia and muscles.” They twist and knot the fascia in ways that restrict our range of motion. And when that happens, we are ripe for injury.

“A major computer project can put as much strain and wear and tear on a worker’s body as running a marathon might on an athlete’s body,” Fabrocini emphasized with emotion. “The repetition can make all of us, office workers and athletes, susceptible. Then one morning we wake up with shoulder pain and think we must have slept wrong, but the truth is that damage to the fascia has been building and that pain is just the natural end point.”

Ouch.

HEAL THYSELF

Handsome, trim and athletic, you wouldn’t think by looking at David Mills that he would have issues with pain. But the endurance athlete (top 100 finisher in the Spartan Games World Championships in 2017) and trail runner became obsessed through his training with trying to find ways to enhance recovery and improve his performance.

“A few years ago I began to experiment with different modalities to loosen my muscles and fascia,” he explained in his British-tinged accent (he was raised in Ipswich, England, and graduated from Royal Military Academy Sandhurst, England’s West Point). “I tried using tennis balls and roller devices, but I really felt that vibration was the key.”

He came up the concept of creating a silicone-wrapped, peanut-shaped device with a depression in the center that would vibrate using a battery-powered motor. “By placing the device directly upon a muscle, the pressure and vibration increase blood flow at that point, increase elasticity in the fascia and activates the neurological system,” he explained.

The Vibe Roller was born.

Over the last four years, Mills has worked to perfect his Vibe Roller products (which are produced in China), while partnering with Fabrocini to educate the public about the value of using pressure in conjunction with vibration to help heal the body’s “soft skeleton,” the fascia. From his home in Aspen, where he lives with his wife Danielle and 15-month-old son Archer, Mills has devoted his professional life to the development of the Aspen Vibe line.

The roller is designed to be used for 10 to 20 minutes per day, depending upon an individual’s routine. It operates at three different speeds, ranging from 20 to 50 pulses per second. Slower and you’ll achieve a release of the muscle you target, faster and you’ll be activating the muscle and the surrounding fascia. If you have a pressure point in your shoulder, you may want to push the Vibe Roller end directly on that point. If you are using it prior to running or skiing, you might roll it down the backs of your calves or on your quads to loosen them before exercise. But the impacts of a session working the lower back while lying on the floor or against a wall is the holy grail for some users.

At the Wellness Wednesday event, when Mills opened a box full of Vibe Hex Pros and Vibe Peanuts and passed them around the room, you could audibly hear the oohs and ahhs as the attendees turned them on and placed the vibrating devices on trigger spots on their bodies.

“There is definitely a ‘wow’ factor when people experience the Vibe for the first time,” Mills said.

Feeling a sore spot or tight spot begin to melt and open up within seconds can definitely be a revelation.

“Think of the fascia like a roll of pizza dough,” Fabrocini explained. “You know how when you pick it up it’s firm and kind of sticky? But when you beat it up and throw it on the counter it becomes loose and pliable? That’s what the vibration is doing to the fascia; it is making it loose and pliable. You want your fascia to be springy and bouncy and a session with the Vibe Roller will do just that.”

Jim Marolda, a certified trainer and bartender (he can be found at the Maroon Creek Club in the daytime and Matsuhisa in the evenings) extolled the benefits of using the roller with regularity: “I work with all kinds of clients from younger athletes to 70-year-old skiers. Whenever I introduce them to a session with the Vibe Roller, people are just amazed. I have one woman client who is 74 who told me she uses one every day before skiing.”

Mills has recently launched a new product, called Myo-Pro Plus, which is a more directed, gun shaped, percussion massager. It provides direct pulsations on specific hot spots and deep-tissue stimulation. And the company is also partnering with a Steamboat Springs producer of CBD creams and oils, Lost Range, that are made to alleviate pain. When used in combination, Mills believes the creams and the technology will provide maximum opportunity for release and rejuvenation of the fascia.

While he is amping up marketing and production of the Vibe Roller products and the other offerings, Mills’ passion for healing remains at the core of his mission. As he stood in the afterglow of the Wellness Wednesday presentation passing out products purchased by the attendees, he smiled. “You know, I like selling these but what I really am happy about is that they help people. I really just want to help people in pain feel better. That’s what this is all about. Sure I am making a living, but I am working four times harder than I thought.”

He paused and then repeated softly, almost to himself: “I really just want to help people in pain feel better.” •

Aspen Laugh Fest 2020: Trevor Noah, Norm Macdonald, free après shows and fresh faces

The Wheeler Opera House has raised expectations sky high for the Aspen Laugh Festival, as it’s booked the biggest names in comedy for several years in a row now. When you’re used to headliners like Whitney Cummings and Tiffany Haddish, Colin Jost and Tig Notaro and Jim Gaffigan, you are spoiled as a comedy audience.

The big one for 2020 is Trevor Noah, as the festival brings “The Daily Show” host and arguably the country’s favorite political satirist to the Wheeler for a sold-out show in the middle of this bonkers post-impeachment presidential primary season.

“I’ve had the chance to see Trevor Noah in very large halls across North America, and to bring him and his stand-up to our historic and intimate venue is an opportunity that should not be missed,” Wheeler executive director Gena Buhler said when the lineup was announced in October.

Noah’s performance is sold out, as is comedy legend Norm Macdonald’s on Thursday night. This year’s festival opened Tuesday with the annual Colorado Comedy showcase and continues through Saturday night across three Aspen venues. Here’s a crash course on what to expect.

FREE APRES SHOWS

Thursday, Friday and Saturday

4 p.m.

Silver City Saloon

Free

WHY GO? These intimate barroom sets are an entry-point to the festival for the cash-strapped among us, and have been some of the most fun and surprising performances of the past few years at Laugh Fest. Featuring rising comics and occasional drop-ins by the headliners, Silver City is where we’ve seen Alex Edelman hop in with the locally based Consensual Improv and seen Jon Rudnitsky do his bizarre “Dirty Dancing” mime routine in the cramped quarters of a standing-room-only bar.

WHAT DO I NEED TO KNOW? This year’s announced comics for the après-ski shows include “GLOW” actress Jackie Tohn, Becky Robinson, Janae Burris and Joe Praino.

NORM MACDONALD

Thursday, Feb. 20

7:30 p.m.

Wheeler Opera House

Sold out

WHAT TO WATCH? Macdonald has had legendary comic status since his bitterly sarcastic and DGAF run anchoring “Weekend Update” on “SNL” back in the 1990s. His latest releases prove that the years haven’t softened his edges, as evidenced in his 2017 Netflix special “Hitler’s Dog, Gossip and Trickery” and the 10-show first season of his talk show “Norm Macdonald Has a Show.”

VIR DAS

Friday, Feb. 21

5:30 & 8 p.m.

Limelight Lounge

$30

WHAT TO WATCH? The Indian comedian made a splashy entry to American pop culture with his 2017 Netflix special “Abroad Understanding,” followed soon after by “Losing It.” Just last month he released his third special, “For India,” which is essential viewing for any Aspenite who has visited India or hopes to (yes, that’s just about everybody in town).

TAYLOR TOMLINSON, ADAM RAY, DUSTY SLAY

Friday, Feb. 21

7:30 p.m.

Wheeler Opera House

$45

WHAT DO I NEED TO KNOW? Taylor Tomlinson and Dusty Slay are young road comics who’ve begun making the rounds on late night and are making a case for themselves as the next generation of comedy stars (Tomlinson’s first Netflix special is due out this year). You’ll already know Adam Ray’s face, as he has popped up on “Arrested Development” and “Curb Your Enthusiasm,” and you may know his voice from his spots on “The Adam Carolla Show” (and as Slimer in the 2016 “Ghostbusters” reboot).

NANCY NORTON

Saturday, Feb. 22

5:30 & 8 p.m.

Limelight Lounge

$30

WHY GO? Norton may be the best comedian working out of Colorado. A three-decade stand-up veteran — she’s also worked as a nurse — the Front Range resident has drawn belated attention since she became the first woman to win the Boston Comedy Festival in 2018 and then won the Seattle International Comedy Competition last year.

TREVOR NOAH

Saturday, Feb. 22

7 p.m.

Wheeler Opera House

Sold out

WHAT DO I NEED TO KNOW? You’ve seen him skewer Trump and seen him crack up celebrities on “The Daily Show,” but his stand-up — freed of the time and format limitations of the TV show — is the pure Trevor Noah. In his stand-up, the political commentary is more internationally informed and more nuanced, the bits often more personal. Check out his Netflix specials “Afraid of the Dark” and “Son of Patricia” for a taste.

atravers@aspentimes.com

The Gear Junkie’s ‘Best in Show’ Winter Gear

From sleeping bags to backcountry skis, gear brands congregated to launch new products last week at the Outdoor Retailer Snow Show. I spent three days in Denver at the trade show to scout to-be-released products for winter 2020-2021. The following items caught my eye as some of the most innovative and the “Best in Show.”

The North Face: Advanced Mountain Kit

This may be the most refined apparel and equipment line for mountaineering I have seen. The North Face worked for years on research and development to build a 21-piece line that includes base-, mid-, and outer layers, down jackets, a tent, sleeping bag, gloves, boots and basically everything you need on peaks up to 8,000 meters.

Atomic Backland Autoclimb binding

Backcountry ski gear is coming of age. A new invention, the Backland Autoclimb from Atomic is a binding that adjusts its heel riser for uphill travel. It uses hydraulic pistons and sensors to automate a process that skiers heretofore needed to do by hand.

Hustle: REM Pedals

The REM bike pedal may not be the first magnetic bike pedal, but it’s poised to be the best. Hustle invented the REM for mountain bikers and commuters who want the power and connection of SPD-style pedals but the easy exit of flats.

Cake: Osa Electric Motorcycle

The Cake Osa is a street-legal “electric utility motorcycle” with a top speed of 63 miles per hour. But what sets it apart is a modular design and gear-hauling capability. Built with various clamps and mounting points, the Osa is a gear-hauling beast.

Click here to read the full review of the “Best in Show” from the Outdoor Retailer 2020 show.

Stephen Regenold writes about outdoors gear at www.gearjunkie.com.

Food Matters: The yin and yang of the new Bokchoy

New year, new adventures in food. On Jan. 25, a friend and I seek tasty refuge from frigid temps at the tail end of après-ski. How better to celebrate Chinese New Year, we figure, than at the new — and only — fast-casual, quick-serve Chinese restaurant in Aspen?

Bokchoy East/West Kitchen opened quietly Jan. 1 in the space formerly occupied by Little Ollie’s, after a complete renovation “from floor to ceiling, wall to wall,” with a Chinese-native kitchen crew and fresh “dumpling house” menu, according to managing partner David Roth.

Now, to watch the bright, calm space fill with diners as day turns to dusk is like watching a lotus flower blossom at warp speed in a “Planet Earth” episode. From my perch at a four-top corner table, I notice many customers approach the entrance of Bokchoy curiously, if a bit tentatively. Teens from X Games. Families on vacation. Couples on date night. Patrons spilling out of Zane’s Tavern next door notice, and shuffle over to peek inside. From the courtyard, it’s apparent that something exciting is happening here.

Roth, along with junior partners Frank and Kate Lu of Jing, designed Bokchoy according to feng shui, the ancient Chinese practice that considers energy forces of buildings, objects and habitants to create harmony and flow. Hoping to set a certain tone, the team reconfigured a brand-new door, centered among a row of windows and painted lucky red. Once inside, a visitor can step straight to the counter to order, after which a server will deliver the meal.

“It seems like everything is put together where it was meant to be,” Roth marvels, gesturing toward sleek-white high-top tables, bamboo chairs, and height-adjustable gold pendant lamps. “That’s me working with Kate. We have a certain synergy. She’s the foundation that holds up all the creative ideas. Frank’s creativeness with the food, that’s a whole other thing.”

Together Roth and chef Frank Lu plotted the menu, centered on wok-sautéed vegetables ($9-$16) and dim sum ($6-$14), along with lightened-up versions of Chinese classics ($16-$19). Dumplings ($9) are the main draw, including the familiar steamed variety in chicken or mushroom-veggie with crispy bottoms; glossy white har gow stuffed with juicy whole shrimp; open-face pork-shrimp shumai; and succulent soup dumplings best slurped in one big bite.

Find chicken (General Tso’s, kung pao, orange, sesame); beef (Mongolian with broccoli); seafood (walnut shrimp, teriyaki salmon); and duck (barbecue-roasted over bok choy with majorly craveable Shanghai secret sauce). A BBQ half-duck is the priciest item on the menu—an anomaly at $27, to share—but fans of Lu’s signature dish at Jing will understand why. Among hearty fried rice and noodles ($16-$19) are “8-veggie” or “kitchen sink” options.

There are a few surprises, too. An instant standout is the Krack Chicken and Waffle: crispy morsels of chicken served in a waffle-cone dish lined with maple syrup. (Coated in rice-flour, the poultry is gluten-free; the sweet edible vessel is not.) There are dessert wontons and a “muffin of the moment.” Four soups include egg flower, hot ‘n’ sour, wonton noodle, or matzo ball.

Availability of this Jewish staple makes sense—and why the entire Bokchoy experience might spark a glimmer of déjà-vu—when one realizes that Roth helmed Peach’s Corner Café for years until it closed in 2017. Roth and the Lus were around-the-corner neighbors before Asie Restaurant became Jing.

“When I met Frank I was very enthusiastic about watching the evolution of Asie to Jing,” says Roth, an accomplished restaurant consultant in the U.S., Bangkok and Bali, who helped with that transition. “We befriended each other over food.”

Yin-yang elements infuse many aspects of Bokchoy. Recipes draw mainly on Northern China, specifically Shanghai, where Lu was classically trained and enjoyed early success as a chef-restaurateur. Both Roth and Lu lean toward vibrant flavors with organic ingredients when possible, a philosophy shared by Peach’s (R.I.P.) and Jing. That Bokchoy’s menu leads with vegetables such as seared kung pao cauliflower is “a reflection of what we’re attempting to do for the community,” Roth says. The goal: offer a greener spin on a cuisine that regularly gets a bad rap as greasy, carb-bomb fare.

By Aspen standards, Bokchoy also feels vaguely futuristic in a few environmentally minded ways. First, all food arrives in recyclable, biodegradable containers. This serves a dual purpose: it eliminates gallons of water per person on dishwashing and makes taking leftovers to-go as simple as snapping on a lid. Alcoholic and nonalcoholic beverages are displayed in a self-serve case at the front of the room (see sidebar, this page). The corner of each table is stuck discreetly with a QR code decal: Scan it with a smartphone camera to navigate the Bokchoy website for instant ordering (food for pickup may be ordered this way also). Roth is even cautiously experimenting with Impossible Foods plant-based “meat” in one dumpling preparation. (It tastes like cheeseburger!)

Soon: grab-and-go, heat-and-eat dumplings to prepare at home, and private dumpling classes upon request. All of which helps to invigorate Aspen’s dining landscape while striking delicate balance within Bokchoy—fitting, as Chinese culture settles into 2020’s Year of the Rat, believed to symbolize abundance and optimism.

“We’re not trying to ‘modernize’ Chinese food,” Roth maintains. And yet: “There’s a little bit of a twist to it.”

Choose Your Own Elixir

A glowing beverage case in the corner of Bokchoy recalls those hip Asian vending machines you may have only heard about, and everything is self-serve. The eclectic array of more than 30 drinks spans Boylan Creme Soda and imported iced teas to Dram Apothecary adaptogenic CBD sparkling water. There’s Sapporo, Asahi and Blue Moon by the bottle; Coors in a can. Kid-favorite peach, melon, and strawberry soft drinks from Japan, even Mango White Claw. Or reach for the top-shelf kaleidoscope of grab-and-go sake, including one by Iron Chef Masaharu Morimoto and another with its own drinking cup. Gānbēi!

amandaraewashere@gmail.com

Asher on Aspen: Aspen’s Next Top Model

It’s quarter-past 9 p.m. and I have somehow forgotten to eat dinner. We just finished learning a dance routine set to a scandalous Janet Jackson number and the choreographer is encouraging us to get into character. The homework he’s given us is to watch a 1994 “Saturday Night Live” video for inspiration.

Practicing for a live performance always brings me joy — in addition to a subtle rush of adrenaline. This feeling is what keeps me motivated during the monthlong run of nightly rehearsals in preparation for the 9th Annual Aspen Cares Fashion Show. This is my fourth year participating and annually I find myself caring more and more deeply about the cause.

Most people don’t realize that Aspen has one of the highest suicide rates, per capita, in the country. Surprising to most, this sad statistic has devastated and affected many throughout the Roaring Fork Valley. The show raises money and awareness for the Aspen Hope Center — a local nonprofit serving those in emotional crisis. Expert clinical care, public education, community collaboration and outreach programs are just a few of the ways the organization works to decrease the stigma around mental health. The Aspen Hope Center dedicates its efforts to eradicating the issue and fostering an open and supportive community.

After a two-day audition and call-back process, 32 models were selected to participate in this year’s performance. If you’re a local, you will most likely know or recognize at least one person in the show. Many performers are returning members of the cast, some coming back for their ninth year in a row. Your local barista, yoga teacher, bartender, real estate agent, waiter or après-ski buddy may be strutting their stuff down the runway for this highly anticipated evening.

As far as the fashion side of things go, the entire cast will be modeling clothes that have been donated by local and national designers. No matter your aesthetic, there is something for everyone. Even better, you could possibly meet the brains behind the brands and discover how their unique personalities shine through the fashion creations. Featuring brands such as Frame Denim, Aviator Nation, Moncler, Rossingnol, Jitrois, Alice + Olivia, Res Ispa, Meridian Jewelers, Dennis Basso and many others, the night is primed for a fashion success.

And if fashion isn’t your thing, the fast-paced dancing and upbeat set list will surely draw your attention. All songs represent a unique story that the models express through dance, song and theatrical storytelling. Spectators will find themselves emotionally invested in the combination of music, moves and storylines that offer alluring depictions of mental health. Some lines will have you out of your seat to applaud with excitement while others will have you in awe, emotionally connected to a heartbreaking display of struggle and the power of love.

The event was founded in 2012 by two women, Katy Parnello and Ramona Bruland, who both have a personal mission to help people in crisis receive the mental health help that they need. They met working on the Telluride AIDS Benefit, the Aspen Cares sister event. They bonded over their backgrounds in dance and the performing arts and decided to put their talents to use for a good cause.

The final thing to note is that everything you see on the runway will be available for purchase. Take note of the pieces that catch your eye on the runway so that they can be in your closet come Saturday. Casa Tua will host the sample sale on Feb. 8. Peruse designer fashions at affordable prices while sipping après-ski cocktails and enjoying a live DJ — experience the model life for yourself.

Exhausting and nerve-rattling as it is to perform in Aspen Cares, it’s all for an outstanding cause that directly helps our neighbors. Come be entertained and support the Hope Center!

How To Drink Wine? Pay attention

Maybe you find the wine world to be a bit pretentious. And maybe the idea of some guy who writes a wine column telling you “how to drink wine” ranks for you at the top of the pretentious scale.

After all, four words will do the trick, right? “Unscrew, pour, swig, swallow.” Done.

OK, I’m kidding. But the point is everyone can, and should, drink wine, under cork or screw cap, sipped or swigged and swallowed in any way that makes them happy. Taste, after all, lies on the tongue of the beholder.

But having consumed my share of wine (most great, some good and some, occasionally, plonk) and, having had a chance to taste with winemakers who have made the wines of their passion, with sommeliers who make the study of wines their obsession and with collectors who drink to gauge the value of their holdings, I have learned a thing or two about the process of drinking. Or tasting, if you will.

And the best advice I ever received on how to drink a glass of wine is the simplest: Pay attention. That’s right, just two words from Master Sommelier Jay Fletcher over a dozen years ago in a wine seminar changed the way I tasted, and thought about, wine.

By paying attention to what I was drinking, by stopping long enough to read the label front and back as I opened a wine, by caring what kind of glass I was using, by being conscious of the temperature of the wine I was pouring, by looking at the color of the wine, by considering where the wine came from as I swirled it, I had a whole world of possibility and engagement open up to me. And that is all before I even put my nose in to inhale the aromas or tilted the glass for the first sip.

Jay’s advice has stayed with me all of these years and has become a part of my drinking DNA. I don’t even think about “thinking about it.” Whenever a bottle of wine is opened and I am about to have a glass, my entire being simply pays attention.

Writer Malcolm Gladwell espoused a theory once in his book “Outliers: The Story of Success” that he called the “10,000 Hour Rule.” It basically says, and I am paraphrasing, that if you practice something for 10,000 hours you will master it. There are flaws of course, and over the past decade other writers have written 10,000 rebukes pointing out those flaws. But as an arbitrary number my guess is it would come pretty close to the number of glasses of wine I have paid attention to over the course of, say, the last 15 years.

Has it made me an expert? Hardly. I don’t possess the natural palate of some who can decipher and define the myriad smells and tastes found in wines with little more than minor vintage variation. I don’t pretend to have mastered the skills of trained tasters, like the aforementioned Jay Fletcher MS, who can examine a glass like a lawyer examines the law and make calculated deductions about the varietal, its place of origin, the person who made it and the year the grapes that are in the glass were grown.

But today I have a pretty good grasp on the world of wine. I likely know it better than I know anything else in my life, with the possible exception of football. And my deep appreciation for all that wine represents, from geology to geography, from climate to history, and especially sociology, has had a markedly positive impact on my life. All because I have paid attention.

I have a friend, one who is in a position to afford not just good, but really good wines. “After three sips, nobody knows what they are drinking anymore,” is his refrain.

Though generous with his wine, he is convinced that from Burgundy to the Barossa, from Napa to New Zealand, all wine is just fermented grape juice. And you know what, he is correct. All wine is a natural product that has its origins in grapes. But if you pay attention, the complexity and the diversity and, well, the magic of such a simple product can change the way you feel about wine.

Back to the start. How should you drink wine? There are no rules. It’s an individual endeavor. But if you take a moment to stop, look, smell and taste, and give some thought to what you’ve seen, smelled and tasted, chances are you will have a more enjoyable wine experience.

Just pay attention?

Libations: Drinks with a one-two punch

To get it out of the way up front: If you’re in town for X Games and going the (ill-advised) energy drink and alcohol route, try Jagermeister and Monster instead of vodka and Red Bull. However, that’s not the focus of this article, because drinking either of those cocktails would technically be considered a relapse. It’s been at least three years since my twice-daily energy drink habit.

Heading into Aspen for X Games can feel daunting, especially if you have the budget of the average person near college age. Take a wrong turn, and drinks can reach $20-plus very quickly. However, a little observation and know-how can reveal a local’s favorite special: The beer and shot combo.

Going by multiple names, including a “standoff” or “boilermaker” depending on the alcohol involved, a shot and a beer is an easy way to jumpstart an evening, and many bars in town have some sort of specific deal.

Only issue: It may not necessarily be on the menu.

Start with a local favorite watering hole, Aspen Public House. A quick look through the drink offerings doesn’t mention any kind of combo, but disregarding norms and ordering with confidence is key. The beer is simple and the liquor is well, but you get to pick your poison and, at less than $10, it can’t be beat.

If you’re looking for something similar with a slight elevation, Jimmy’s offers a list of five or six options of beer and shot combos at around $12 each, ranging from Aspen-made alcohols to wider-themed affairs going beyond beer and simple spirits. The Oaxacan combo is a standby, and the True Believer isn’t for the faint of heart. Start the night off with something different, and then stick around for the fantastic food and cocktail options before heading back into the cold.

While the Aspen standard drink fare may feel overwhelming with high prices and complicated recipes, the town offers plenty of standbys that appeal to a wider audience. It only takes a little searching and some respectful conversation with a local or two to learn the secret art of affordable drinking.