Under the tent: To the volunteers!
June 17, 2011
ASPEN – When the first seminars at the Food & Wine Classic get underway at 10 this morning, their success will be due, in no small part, to the efforts of an army of volunteers, most of whom are Aspen locals.Each year 600-or-so folks enlist to be a part of America’s most prestigious culinary festival. They spend the weekend (some a lot longer than that) folding chairs, washing glasses, checking passes, clearing plates and just about anything else that needs to be done.To get an idea of just one task, I asked Seminar Wine Manager John Beatty, whose volunteer team is responsible for getting wine from around the globe to the tables and into the glasses at the seven wine seminar venues. John’s Food & Wine experience begins in March, when the speakers send him the lists of wines they will pour.For example, Paul Grieco’s “Extreme Wines” seminar calls for six wines from California, Italy, France, Spain and Lebanon. Once John received Paul’s list, he began tracking down wines, identifying distributors and arranging for temperature-controlled shipment to Aspen. Consider that we’re talking about more than 200 different wines and more than 25 seminars. The value of just these wines exceeds $500,000. Once the wines arrive in Aspen, John’s crew of 11 break down and organize them, separating the bottles by venue and speaker, ultimately putting them in the right location and order.At the venues, another group of volunteers take over. They set up tables and chairs, put out the circle sheets that identify which wine is which, place the glasses, water bottles and baskets with crackers, and then pour the wines. When the tasting attendees arrive, all that preparation fades into the background as attention turns to the tables and speakers. It is a credit to the volunteers that problems are few and far between. In John’s 11 years in this position, he could remember just two instances of broken bottles. Tami Solondz, the volunteer director for the Classic, is proud of her army of 600. “We try to limit the volunteers to locals, and we get the same people back year after year,” she said. “They do this because they love it. We encourage that. We want our volunteers to feel empowered and to take ownership of what they do. It is one of the things that make the Food & Wine Classic so special.”Raise a glass … to the volunteers.