Change of Season: Annual Food & Wine event becomes a Fall Classic

Kelly J. Hayes
Special to The Aspen Times
Setup for the 38th Food & Wine Classic at Wagner Park was just about ready Thursday for Friday's opening of the three-day event. (Kelsey Brunner/The Aspen Times)
Food & Wine Preview

This feature and others appear in The Aspen Times’ Food & Wine Classic preview, which can be found inside today’s edition. To find an e-edition of the special section, go to

We are flirting with fall as opposed to starting summer, but the weather is just one of the things that will change at this weekend’s 38th Food & Wine Classic in Aspen.

“Really, everybody just wants to get back to Aspen, to see friends who they have missed and have a good time. We’re just trying to put on the best Classic we can and let people enjoy both it and Aspen.” That is how Devin Padgett sums up the challenge of mounting the Food & Wine Classic in Aspen this September after a year hiatus.

Those who know the longtime Basalt resident know he is all about the experience. For Padgett, the special projects producer for Food & Wine magazine, who has been orchestrating this three-ring circus each June for more than three decades now (“I can’t believe it’s been that long”), the mission has always been the same: produce three perfect days of the premier culinary and wine event on the planet.

But this year will inevitably be a little different.

“As everyone already knows, we are cutting back on the size. But just getting the Classic back on solid ground is the best news,” Padgett said.

This year, the Classic will play host to just 2,500 people, half of the normal 5,000 “cap” that has been in place most of the past 25 years (minus 2020). When tickets went on sale in April they were almost instantly scooped up.

Devon Padgett, left, works with a contractor as setup started last week for the Food & Wine Classic at Aspen’s Wagner Park.
David Krause / The Aspen Times

“Let’s just say the response was robust,” Padgett said with a laugh. “I know there were fewer tickets, but I have never seen as much demand as this year.”

There will be fewer venues and the number of actual “segments,” as the producers call the seminar and tasting events, will be closer to 54 than the 80-plus that are held in a normal year.

There will not be a trade program, or Sunday Brunch this year, and it is anticipated that there will likely be fewer parties than at Classics past. The Limelight Lodge is closed for construction, so no events will be held there, nor at the St. Regis Ballroom, and those who want to run a 5K on the Rio Grande Trail will have to do it by themselves.

But the good news is the white-tented Grand Tasting Pavilion, a fixture in Wagner Park since 1990, remains the same size.

“Same volume, less people” is the new mantra for the event, and the intent is to create space and set up tasting and seminar venues that allow room for social distancing. A new venue this year will be in the SO Café atop the Aspen Art Museum.

“We are really excited about that location,” Padgett said with enthusiasm. “The views of Aspen Mountain are superb, and it is an open, airy space.”

What will not change is the endless beauty of the mountains and the community.

“We just want to allow people the opportunity to enjoy Aspen,” Padgett said.

That’s what it is all about.