The backbone of Food & Wine |

The backbone of Food & Wine

Naomi Havlen
Volunteers Yvonne Davis, right, and Cathy Beach work a Food & Wine event Saturday. Aspen Times photo/Mark Fox.

Considering the 200,000 cocktail napkins, 1,000 corkscrews and 5,000 attendees at Food & Wine this year, the number of volunteers may not sound that impressive.But at the end of the day, the more than 600 volunteers are what make the Food & Wine Magazine Classic at Aspen possible. The free laborers, mostly from the Roaring Fork Valley, schlep wine glasses, bags of ice and even buckets of spit in the Grand Tasting Tent.They cut up baguettes for wine tasting tables, pour the wine and clean up at each seminar and herd crowds of people in and out of tents at cooking demonstrations.

It’s not always an easy gig, but volunteers are rewarded handsomely for their efforts. Besides being thanked copiously by the magazine’s staff and the Aspen Chamber Resort Association, which helps produce the event, each volunteer who works a minimum of 10 hours gets to attend all of the seminars and grand tastings for one day.And those willing to work for 20 hours before and during the event can receive the grand dame of passes – admittance to all three days.”We’ve learned a lot about wine by going to seminars, and meeting nice people,” said Mel Kozek, who lives near Detroit and has been volunteering with his wife for the past four years. Kozek was working in one of the Little Nell tents on Saturday, and he said while the crew there is a good, hardworking one, it can still be hard to break down and set up seminars within 45 minutes.Kozek and his wife discovered the joys of volunteering after visiting Aspen for a wedding, but for the most part, the volunteer staff is like a who’s who of longtime valley residents.

Bob and Yvonne Davis, Redstone residents, were putting out clean glasses in the Grand Tasting Tent on Saturday and putting away dirty ones.”I’m 86 and she’s 81, and we work twice as hard as the 40-year-olds,” Bob said while working.”We’ve met so many nice people, and this is a great service for the community,” Yvonne added.The Davises’ fellow volunteer team member, Basalt resident Karen Ohlrich, said even though it can be a lot of work emptying trash barrels, spit buckets (which she calls “slush buckets”) and juggling empty glasses, it’s “good hard work.” Ohlrich also spent Friday attending some seminars on cheese and wine pairings and on wines from Washington state.

It’s the ultimate coup of a Food & Wine volunteer – putting in a hectic day’s work in order to see seminars that full-paying customers shelled out more than $900 for. Volunteers must wait until everyone else, like paying customers, press and sponsors, gets a seat at the classes and cooking demonstrations before they can enter, but typically there’s at least standing room in the back.Aspen resident Jannette Murison said her fellow volunteers lucked out Friday with the gloomy weather. When a seminar on cheeses failed to fill up, all of the working staff was able to sit down and take part.”I love to volunteer – Food & Wine really appreciates all of us and makes us feel like they couldn’t do any of this without us,” she said.Naomi Havlen’s e-mail address is


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