WineInk: Bobby Stuckey and the challenge of the COVID-19 crisis
UNDER THE INFLUNCE
NV SCARPETTA TIMIDO VINO SPUMANTE BRUT ROSÉ
The calendar is about to turn to May and that means it’s getting close to Rosé season. In fact, let’s pretend it already is. This sparkling red Rosé with the friendly but corpulent porcine on the label is one of my favorites from the wine company founded by Stuckey and Mackinnon-Patterson 12 years ago. Crisp, a bit frizzante and with a strawberry signature, this wine is a refresher when served well-chilled on a hot afternoon.
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Once upon a time, master sommelier and endurance athlete Bobby Stuckey used to run the trails, pour wines and hang his bespoke suits in his closet here in Aspen. In the late 1990s, he reigned as wine director at The Little Nell hotel during a time that saw the property rise as a paragon of wine destinations.
And to this day many still consider him to be an Aspenite.
But in 2004 Stuckey took his skills to Colorado’s Front Range and has since become a global icon in the hospitality industry. With a tireless pace and unerring determination, he — along with partner and chef Lachlan Mackinnon-Patterson — opened Frasca Food and Wine in 2004 followed seven years later by Pizzeria Locale in Boulder. Tavernetta at the train station in Denver opened in 2017 and this past December he debuted Sunday Vinyl, a chill wine and music bar.
Stuckey won James Beard Awards and created an Italian wine brand, Scarpetta, that introduced the grapes of the Friuli Venezia Giulia region of Italy to America. And most importantly he mentored countless aspiring wine professionals, never denying counsel and always emphasizing the importance of caring about craft as the key to hospitality.
It has been a pretty good run.
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Then the unthinkable happened. Like all wine and food professionals on the planet, the reality of the pandemic swiftly changed life.
“We closed pretty much right after Gov. (Jared) Polis’ order,” Stuckey said in a recent interview. “We had an obligation to our employees and our guests to be safe and we just couldn’t see how we could do that with people working so closely in the kitchen. This was undoubtedly the hardest thing we have ever done.”
But in the darkness there also was light. Extreme generosity from his suppliers, staff and friends of the restaurant, vital components of Frasca’s eco-structure, the Frasca Family instantly shined.
“I didn’t think a GoFundMe page was something I wanted to do at first,” Stuckey said about the genesis of a fundraising campaign. “But then a couple who are regulars and friends of the restaurant said, ‘We want you to do one and we’ll put in $20,000.’ But I thought if I was going to do this I should have some skin in the game.”
He sat down with Frasca Wine Director Carlin Karr and the pair came up with a plan to do virtual classes on wine that people could purchase together with packages of wine for sale.
Working with wine distributors, including Craig Lewis of Stelvio Selections, Steve Lewis of Giuliana Imports (no relation to the former professional bike racer Craig Lewis who, as Stuckey puts it, “has the higher VO2 Max of the two Lewises”), he put together wine packages that would appeal to Frasca’s clientele. California winemakers Ehren Jordan from Failla Wines and John Raytek of Ceritas, both producers of exquisite and highly allocated Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, also chipped in with wines and time. Bobby and Carlin did Zoom presentations for those who bought the wines in a series of 45-minute classes.
“We thought if we got to $50,000 in donations we could give everyone a check,” he said, referring to his 200-plus employees. As of this writing, $163,000 was committed to the campaign. And yes, checks were written to the Frasca Hospitality Group employees. “Well, after we flew past our goal we decided to close the GoFundMe page.”
Why close it down if it was so successful?
“We saw that there were so many other local restaurants, most that didn’t have the organization or support that we did, who were also trying to raise money. It was almost like, I don’t know, survivor’s guilt.”
The restaurant business is on life support. In Colorado alone there are 173,000 restaurant workers sitting on the sidelines without work. Nationally the number may be as high as 7 million. And the biggest enemy right now is the lack of financial and government support for independent restaurants.
Earlier this month, Stuckey penned a piece for Food & Wine Magazine in which he detailed how, shockingly, the insurance industry has turned its back on restaurants, citing fine print notations as a way not to honor business interruption insurance. He also partnered with other chefs, including Tom Colicchio, on the formation of the Independent Restaurants Coalition, a group that is just six weeks old but has already begun to lobby Washington on behalf of mom-and-pop establishments.
And he longs to be back in Aspen.
“This was going to be my 25th Food & Wine (Classic in Aspen),” Stuckey said with a degree of wistfulness. “Maybe we can figure out a way to still get there.”
Perhaps with a virtual glass of Scarpetta.
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