WineInk: Pinot pours in Basalt

The Posse returns to the Roaring Fork Valley

Kelly J. Hayes
Wine Ink
Free Range Kitchen (Adam Gilbert)

Let’s consider it a sign that things are getting back to normal.

In two weeks, the “Pinot Posse,” that semi-rowdy gang of all-in Pinot Noir prophets, will canter their way back to the Roaring Fork Valley to pour their wines and reconnect with old friends and local pinot-philes. On Wednesday evening Jan. 19, at 6:30 p.m., Basalt’s Free Range Kitchen will once again host an esteemed gathering featuring a half-dozen west coast winemakers at a dinner where they will raise a glass, actually a good number of glasses, to the glory of the grape.

Steve and Robin Humble have introduced guests to the Pinot Posse and their wines at Free Range before, but this will be the first time since they reopened in their stylish new digs just downriver from the confluence of the Fork and the Pan in Basalt. The dinner will be an unbridled celebration blending the joy of one of our great locally owned dining establishments, the best of American Pinot Noir, and the return of an accomplished group of winemakers.

Free Range Kitchen owners Steve and Robin Humble. (Adam Gilbert)

“(In 2020) the Pinot Posse did just one dinner (at Table 6 in Denver) and then we had to hold the rest virtually,” said John Salamanski, head wrangler of the Pinot Posse, who runs CS Wines which represents these wineries in Colorado. “Ed Kurtzman (August West) flew in, and we were on Zoom. It was little chaotic, but it was good to keep the tradition alive last year. So, we are especially glad to get back to the tables and actually pour wines for people.”

This will be the 16th time that the Posse has ridden the Rockies and for most of these winemakers it will be their first foray out amongst the people since the beginning of the pandemic.


Reservations for the Jan. 19 event can be made for $150 per person by calling 970–279–5199 or sending an email to

This year’s group includes Jim Prosser from JK Carriere in Oregon’s Willamette Valley (he has been a part of every Posse so far), David O’Reilly, who produces Pinot from vineyards in Oregon’s Yamhill-Carlton District under the Owen-Roe moniker, Ed Kurtzman from the aforementioned August West, located in San Francisco, Dan Kosta, founder of Kosta-Browne who now helms Alden Alli with partner Emeril Lagasse, and Victor Gallegos who has been the director of wine at Sea Smoke, the iconic producer of Pinot Noir and Chardonnay in the Sta. Rita Hills AVA since its inception. Making a maiden journey with the group is Chris Strieter, who will be pouring his Senses Wines, a relatively new Sonoma Coast project that is being shepherded by noted consulting wine maker Thomas Rivers Brown.

The Pinot Posse in Aspen. (Aspen Times archive)

The idea for the Pinot Posse was hatched in the early 2000s by Salamanski and his wife, Penny, as a way to connect winelovers in Colorado directly with the producers who make the wines they love. Each winter since 2005, the Posse has gathered in the depths of winter at Denver International Airport, then climbed into vans to trek to outposts across the state and introduce their wines to retailers, restauranters and the general public. This year, stops will be made in Vail, Steamboat Springs and Denver before the group gets to the Roaring Fork Valley.

Over time, a camaraderie has been forged amongst the producers.

“The vibe is sort of a professional reunion of not just wine makers, but people who are really passionate about wine,” said Salamanski. “They get in the car and instantly pick up the conversation like they had seen each other yesterday. It’s amazing how quickly they get engaged. They’ll geek out for 45 minutes talking about yeast.”

And nary is heard a discouraging word: “There will be lots of zingers, but everyone gets along great.”

Steve Humble of Free Range Kitchen concours. “The best part of these dinners is just hanging out with my buddies in wine. I’ve known some of these guys for almost 20 years now and love their wines. I’m really looking forward to meeting Chris and tasting the Senses wines as they are new to me, but we carry a number of wines from the winemaker (Thomas Rivers Brown) so I expect they will be excellent.”

This will be the first wine dinner at the new Free Range Kitchen, which went up with incredible alacrity during this past year.

Free Range Kitchen (Adam Gilbert)

“Five months and a day from the building permit to move in,” Humble said proudly about the process of constructing the new building, which he and Robin own. “I have been doing wine dinners for 30 years as a sommelier and these Pinot Posse dinners are some of our best events. We have invested heavily in the wine program and the cellar, and I believe that the finest wines are all handmade, not mass produced.”

All the Posse wines are the former.

One grape. Six winemakers. Six appellations. The Pinot Posse dinners are an unprecedented opportunity to get a crash course in nuances, subtleties, and versatility of one of Gaia’s great gifts to man: the Pinot Noir grape. Not to mention a chance to taste some of the best juice on the planet paired with the cuisine of chef Joey Scarlett, who is new to Free Range Kitchen, having come from a previous position at Aspen’s 7908.

“This is an exciting time in the process for me, working with a new chef,” said Humble. “We are a wine centric restaurant and chef and are getting to know each other’s palates and tastes as we try both food and wine dishes together.”

Salamanski is as passionate about the unique nature of the Pinot Project as the winemakers themselves.

“At most wine dinners you sit down with one producer and go through his or her wines. It is a great way to get a feel for the style for that one maker. But with a Pinot Posse dinner you get to taste the depth and breadth of what Pinot Noir has to offer,” he enthused. “You can experience the diversity of the different regions and the different styles of the wines. And this is a rare opportunity to taste six different wines while you have the six different winemakers sitting directly in front of you.”

If you love Pinot Noir, be sure to saddle up for a ride with the Pinot Posse at Free Range Kitchen in Basalt.


Make you thirsty? While you never know what else you might find being uncorked at the Pinot Posse dinner at Free Range Kitchen, the following wines are currently on the carte du vin for the evening’s repast on Wednesday, Jan. 19:

* JK Carriere 2020 Glass Rose – poured as an aperitif

* Sea Smoke 2016 Bubbles Blanc de Noir – Because who doesn’t love bubbles, especially those made from Pinot Noir?

And then the stars of the evening:

* August West 2019 Grahams Russian River Valley Green Valley Pinot Noir

* JK Carriere 2018 Vespidae Willamette Valley Pinot Noir

* Owen Roe 2017 Kilmore Yamhill Carlton Pinot Noir

* Senses 2018 Terra de Promissio Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir

* Alden Alli 2018 Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir

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