Wine in the Pines: The Power of Wine | AspenTimes.com

Wine in the Pines: The Power of Wine

by kelly j. hayes

Wine people, those who make it and those who drink it, are a generous lot.

The tradition of giving, of using wine for the greater good, has roots that extend as far back as 1859. Then, the vignerons of Burgundy organized Les Trois Glorieuses, a three-day wine festival and auction created to raise funds for the Hospice Du Beaune, the hospital that serves the community. To this day it is one of the most important wine events on the planet.

In Keystone, the spirit of the Hospice is channeled on an annual basis through a local wine event called "Wine In The Pines." On Friday, Oct. 19, the wine highlight of the Summit County calendar turns 35 with an exquisite dinner at the Keystone Ranch celebrating the wines of Chilean winemaker Casa Lapostolle. Then on Saturday the 20th, 700 or so wine lovers will converge on the Keystone Conference Center for a grand tasting of more than 500 wines and a collection of many of the best craft beers in the state.

While it all sounds like a great party (and, make no mistake, it truly is), the event also serves as a fundraiser to benefit the Kelly Smith Employment Center at Denver's Ability Connection Colorado facility. Over the three and a half decades of Wine In The Pines, upward of $3 million has been raised to benefit charities affiliated with Kelly Smith, who has lived a full Rocky Mountain life despite having to deal with the challenges of cerebral palsy.

"Kelly is really one beautiful lady," says Mike Smith, the founder of Wine In The Pines, owner of Dillon Ridge Liquors and proud father of Kelly. "We started the event to help raise money for cerebral palsy research and it just grew into this one big party." Today the funds go to help those with disabilities in their quest to learn job skills and seek employment. It is a task near and dear to Kelly, who has worked in Keystone herself despite her disabilities. (Full disclosure: Dillon Ridge Liquors sponsors WineInk in the Summit Daily.)

Friday night's kick-off dinner sells out annually (Tickets are $375) as 135 lucky souls come to sup on the cuisine of the Keystone Ranch kitchen and sip the wines of the featured winemaker. This year, Lapostolle, the winery founded in the Colchagua Valley of Chile by Alexandra Marnier Lapostolle (the sixth generation of the family that makes Grand Marnier) and her husband Cyril de Bournet in 1994, will be the featured winery for the evening. The carmenère, merlot and cabernet-based wines are perfect with the season and the chefs will use them in their sauces and dinner preparations.

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Guests will "drink with style" attired in denim and diamonds, or "exquisite casual," as Mike calls it. "We have guests who come every year, from around Keystone, but also from all over the country."

Mike maintains a cellar that includes the wines from each of the previous years' featured wineries. From Silver Oak to Banfi, Kendall Jackson to Rombauer, Gallo to Krug, they are collecting dust. "One of these years we should just throw a party and open them all," he laughs.

One that won't be opened is a 35 year-old bottle of Boone's Farm. It is too valuable as an auction item. "The first year we had people telling us the auction items were too expensive," Mike remembers. "So to be funny I put out a bottle of Boone's Farm (a cheap wine from the '70s, that is made by Gallo). Well, a local guy bid $100 for it. The next year he brought it back, a little tattered after spending a year in the back of his truck. So we sold it again." It has become a running joke, but a profitable one as well as the original Boone's Farm is auctioned off each year. "One year, two women bid $4,500 each, we gave it to both of them for six months before they had to bring it back."

Saturday's event is the party of the year, as all of the local restaurants and wine wholesalers compete to put out their best offerings for the community. From 6 until 10 p.m., bacchanalia reigns at what one person called "Senior Prom for grown ups." And again, charity is what brings everyone together. Silent and live auctions raise funds that go to support the Kelly Smith Employment Center, as well.

Using wine to raise money is not a new concept. But Wine In The Pines shows that with the participation of people, a great wine party can be a powerful thing.

Have fun.

Kelly J. Hayes lives in the soon-to-be-designated appellation of Old Snowmass. He can be reached at malibukj@aol.com.

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