Aspen Food & Wine Classic canceled due to coronavirus

The coronavirus’ sweeping impacts to Aspen have included the cancellation of the rest of the ski season, and now another favorite local past-time has been nixed — this summer’s Food & Wine Classic. 

Organizers of the decadently festive event, which signals the start to the summer tourism season, announced Monday they were cancelling it because of health concerns and uncertainties surrounding COVID-19. This year’s Food & Wine was scheduled for June 19-21.

“We made this decision out of concern for the safety of our community and the world beyond it,” Food & Wine Editor in Chief Hunter Lewis said in an announcement. 

Those who have tickets, which go for thousands of dollars, can get full refunds by calling 877-900-WINE by May 15, or their tickets will be transferred to the Food & Wine Classic scheduled June 2021 in Aspen.

When it comes to Aspen’s high-profile marquee events, Food & Wine stands alongside the Aspen Music Festival, the JAS Labor Day Experience, Aspen Ideas Festival and Winter X Games. 

With sundresses and lanyards de rigeur, Food & Wine has held special significance to Aspen for 37 years, growing to an event that last year featured 80 cooking demonstrations, events and seminars; as well as more than 2,000 brands of wine, spirits and food for consumption. The event has drawn the likes of such culinary celebrities as Giada De Laurentiis, Martha Stewart, Bobby Flay and others. 

All of that provides a recipe for raising Aspen’s profile, while restaurants and hotels pencil in Food & Wine as one of their busiest times of the year. 

“We love kicking off the summer with Food & Wine,” said Mayor Torre. “It’s been part of our community for so many years and it’s a great opportunity to start our summer. It will be sorely missed coming out of the winter. I’m saddened it’s not going to be here, but under these circumstances, I understand.”

The city and the Aspen Chamber Resort Association help produce the event.

ACRA President Debbie Braun said the decision to cancel Food & Wine rested with the New York-based publication. The event had a $3 million economic impact on Aspen over the course of three days a decade ago, she said. 

“We’re very supportive of Food and Wine’s decision,” she said. “We were in talks about this last week, all of us working to see if there were was a way we could postpone the event and that’s just not possible.”

With the impacts of COVID-19 remaining to be seen, Braun it would be difficult to disagree with Food & Wine’s decision.

“We are saddened to hear the news, but the health of the community and visitors is of paramount importance,” she said. 

Braun said Food & Wine’s cancellation will have “a huge impact on businesses and employees.”

Aside from the international talent the event attracts, it’s also a chance for local restaurants and other purveyors of alcohol and food to shine. 

“It’s a tremendous event that we love participating in,” said Bill Doherty, general manager of Kenichi, an Asian restaurant. “For the last four or five years we’ve been in the tent at least a couple of times, and we’ve taken part in the local vendor program, which has been awesome for us to get that kind of exposure.”

Like Torre and Braun, Doherty said he understands Food & Wine’s decision. 

“I think what we’re all seeing is unprecedented,” he said. “That’s the kind of the word keeps coming to mind. Nobody’s ever seen anything like this.”

Terry Butler, who owns and operates the boutique Residence Hotel on Galena Street downtown, said Food & Wine’s cancellation could cripple her business. 

“I depend on Food & Wine,” she said. “It’s my anchor for the summer. I’m so tiny that Food & Wine can make or break me, and this really upsets me.”

Butler, who described herself as a “cheerleader for Aspen,” said she is questioning the thought-process behind all of the closures, shutdowns and executive orders.

“It bothers me so much how people can change our lives,” she said. “I’m not trying to be cavalier, stupid or naive, but at the same time, I don’t want us to ruin our country over this. I really feel we can deal with this as it comes.”

With Food & Wine’s announcement, Bob Morris, who runs Aspen Mountain Lodge, said he won’t open the Main Street property until July 1. 

“June is gone,” he said. “It’s history, it’s toast.”

But at least, Morris said, Aspen’s notorious summer gridlock on Main Street won’t be an issue.

“The last argument any of us are going to have for the next three months is how to solve the congestion through the S-curves,” he said.

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