The Food & Wine Classic takes a gap year |

The Food & Wine Classic takes a gap year

Kelly J. Hayes
The 37th Annual Aspen Food & Wine Classic may be pricey but it represents the quintessential combination of wine education, exceptional tastings and an outrageous culinary experience.
Anna Stonehouse/The Aspen Times

Goldeneye 2017 Anderson Valley Pinot Noir “The Narrows Vineyard”

Perhaps like you, I have been watching a ton of virtual cooking and wine tasting classes and seminars. (Love Mawa McQueen’s series! So last week when the Duckhorn Wine Company hosted an online video featuring chef Natalie Niksa (a former Classic attendee, who came to cook) preparing a pork chop with rosemary balsamic Glazed Onions to pair with a Goldeneye pinot noir from the Anderson Valley, I pulled a bottle of single-vineyard “The Narrows” wine for the virtual event. Lush and plush, earthy and dark (14.5% abv), this wine tasted like the coastal forest floor from which it hails. The mushroom aromas were like another component of the dish. A true treat on an early summer’s eve.

It was inevitable, but that did not make it any easier.

When Hunter Lewis, Food & Wine Magazine’s editor in chief, posted an announcement March 23 that the Food & Wine Classic in Aspen would be canceled this year, it created an emotional moment of reckoning for both locals and the wine lovers who make an annual pilgrimage to our tony ski town for the summertime bacchanalia.

Sure, in the scheme of things, especially the scheme of things as they are this day, seemingly light years from where we were when the announcement was made, the cancellation of a wine event should hardly register a blip as a real world problem. But the Classic has been a staple in Aspen and in the greater wine world since 1983. It resonates as a significant event for those passionate about wine and it will be greatly missed by many.

The Classic, first founded 38 years ago by wine retailer Gary Plumley and Bob and Ruth Kevan — owners of Chez Grand’mere restaurant in Snowmass — fashioned the template for what other food and wine events look like today. It was there before there were celebrity chefs, TV cooking networks, “foodies” and, yes, the rise of rosé. While there is little doubt it will return with a vengeance once again in 2021, though perhaps in a different form, many, including me, will be more than a touch forlorn as the third weekend of June passes without the throngs arriving for the Classic.

Think of the 5,000 ticketholders from around the country who sell the event out months before June each year. And then there are the wine companies who budget big bucks to pour their brands in the tents and transport armies of sales reps to Aspen for what has been, for many, their biggest week of the year. All will stay home this year.

Consider the seminar presenters like Master Sommelier Bobby Stuckey, who would be coming to the Classic for his 25th straight summer, a streak he holds dear. Or Mark Oldman, who has sabered his way into the hearts of attendees with his ever-expanding “Wines for Millionaires/Billionaires/Gazillionaires” seminars.

The closest many get to an annual trip to the Iberian Peninsula is a tasting tour through the Foods & Wines from Spain tent, which allows attendees an unrivaled opportunity to indulge in the offerings of one of the most significant wine nations on the planet. And we can’t forget the staff of Food & Wine magazine. “The Food & Wine Classic is a major part of the DNA of our brand,” Lewis told our Andrew Travers in a past preview story. They too will be disappointed to not be making the trek to the mountains.

But it is the effects on the local community that are most egregious. The Classic is a rite of summer. It is like the kickoff for the new season. When the crowds arrive for the Classic, we know “summer is on.” It is both an emotional and economic reality that the Classic is a harbinger. But not this year.

Rather than hosting free-spending tourists, and expense account-carrying wine companies holding extravagant parties where the best — and most expensive — wines from a restaurant’s given list are purchased in bulk, local establishments will be challenged to fill what tables they have available in the reopening phases of the pandemic era. To have the Classic, the single biggest economic event for restaurants of the summer, be canceled after the two-plus-month closures of the spring adds insult to economic injury. Restaurant owners, bartenders, sommeliers and wait staff will all feel the effects of not hosting the Classic crowds, who generally drink hardy, tip well and bring good energy.

As the Classic is in the DNA of Food & Wine Magazine, it is also a part of this town’s identity. While it will no doubt be painful to have it pass, let’s all consider this to simply be a gap year. Let’s accept that the right decision was made for 2020 and look forward to 2021.

We will party once again.

Aspen Times Weekly

See more

Support Local Journalism

Support Local Journalism

Readers around Aspen and Snowmass Village make the Aspen Times’ work possible. Your financial contribution supports our efforts to deliver quality, locally relevant journalism.

Now more than ever, your support is critical to help us keep our community informed about the evolving coronavirus pandemic and the impact it is having locally. Every contribution, however large or small, will make a difference.

Each donation will be used exclusively for the development and creation of increased news coverage.