WineInk: Snowmass Wine Festival

Celebrating 21 years of Wine

Kelly J. Hayes
An empty wine glass shows signs of numerous red wine pours at the 17th annual Snowmass Wine Fest on Saturday, September 14, 2019. (Kelsey Brunner/The Aspen Times)
Kelsey Brunner/The Aspen Times

It’s that time of year again, as Snowmass takes a turn celebrating the season with the 21st annual Snowmass Wine Festival next weekend.  

One of the premier events of the year in Snowmass, it offers two ways to make merry next week. The festival kicks off with an extravagant, four-course wine dinner at the Viceroy Snowmass on Friday, Sept. 15 at 6:30 p.m. This year, wines from Washington will be poured at the reception and dinner. Outstanding examples of the state’s acclaimed wines from producers like DeLille Cellars, Millbrandt, Canoe Ridge, and Ste. Michelle Wine Estates will pair with the meal. Actor and Yakima native Kyle MacLachlan’s Bandol-inspired “Blushing Bear” Rosé will turn glasses pink, and there is a specialty cocktail from Washington’s Dry Fly Distilling in Spokane.

Then on Saturday afternoon the 16th, it will be time to head outdoors to the sunshine for the main event, which will feature the traditional walk–around Grand Tasting under the tents at the Snowmass Town Park. The tasting, which begins at 1:30 p.m. and continues until 5 p.m., will feature over 300 wines and a plethora of craft spirits in the tasting tents set up throughout the Park. This being harvest season, it is the best time of year to raise a glass to Bacchus (aka Dionysus), the Greek god of wine.

Attendees of the 17th annual Snowmass Wine Fest walk by tent three on Sept. 14, 2019.
Kelsey Brunner/The Aspen Times

It is also a great time to raise a glass to your neighbors who are members of the Snowmass Rotary Club, which has been hosting the Snowmass Wine Festival for over 20 years as a way not only to bring the community together for a fine time with wine, but also to raise funds for organizations that are doing good. All the funds raised through the festival are allocated to non-profit organizations across the Roaring Fork Valley, charitable organizations worldwide, and Basalt High School Senior scholarships.

The proceeds from the festival helped fund more than $175,000 in donations made this year by the Snowmass Rotary Club. In 2023, the Snowmass Rotary Club awarded $45,000 in college scholarships to 18 deserving Basalt students and additional donations in Vocational Contributions were made to the Basalt schools. Twenty-seven, local non-profits received $75,000 in total contributions including the Aspen Hope Center, Bridging Bionics, Wind Walkers EAL & Therapy Center, Youth Entity, and Ascendigo Autism Services, amongst many others.

“So many wine festivals of this type are usually profit-driven or are put on by corporations,” said Barbara Bakios-Wickes, owner of Sundance Liquor & Gifts. “Not Snowmass, and that is a major difference in how it feels.”

And no one knows more about how the Snowmass Wine Festival feels than Barbara herself. She has been the acknowledged and exalted linchpin of the festival since its early years. Over the last two decades, she has worked with individual wineries and distributors to ensure that the lineup of wines poured is world-class.

The festival was initially a small event but began to grow when she started to court her friends and contacts in the wine community, asking them to be a part of it.

“It’s very hard to believe that I have put this much time into the festival. It’s gone by in a blink of an eye,” she said.

44 years ago, back in August of 1979, Barbara opened the beloved shop, Sundance Liquors & Gifts, in the Snowmass Center with her then-boyfriend, now-husband, the affable Steve Wickes. Just a few months later, they tied the knot. On Oct. 6 of this year, they will celebrate 44 years of marriage.

Guests enjoy a tasting at Snowmass Wine Festival.
Courtesy photo

Today, the shop — operated by her and her son, Andrew — is a pillar of the Snowmass community. There are many great wines that will be poured at the festival this weekend, and Barbara loves to add new ones.

“We have poured so many wines over the years, and the wines have just gotten better,” she said. “Sometimes, people will bring wines in to sell to us at Sundance, and we will fall in love with them, and next thing you know, they are being poured at the Festival.”

This year will see wines poured with Aspen connections, including the great eponymous Paso Robles wines from Daniel and Georges Daou, who spend considerable time here in the Roaring Fork Valley. Justin Vineyards, another Paso property, which is owned by Aspen’s Stewart and Lynda Resnick, will be on hand. The Aspen wine broker Rob Leventhal will be pouring wines from his Napa Fine Wine Collection, featuring limited allocation boutique wines from Grace Family, Detert, Dakota Shy, and Quixote, which is made by the famed Phillipe Melka. Leventhal, who has poured wines over the past five years at the festival, believes it is a special gathering.

“Barbara has created a fun and exciting event for consumers,” he said. “It is a blast to pour in the tents and even more fun to attend.”

Other wines that will be on offer in the Grand Tasting are from the collection of the Huneeus Family of Wines whose estates include Quintessa in Napa and Flowers on the Sonoma Coast. Jackson Family, who often pour wines from their Spire Collection as well as the mountain-grown wines from the Hess Collection, will also be on display. A variety of wine import and distribution companies also bring the wines they represent from around the world, including Trinchero Family Estates, Winebow Imports, and The Sorting Table.

Bottom line: There is a lot of good juice.

Not to mention the spirits that will be on-hand. Locals like the Woody Creek Distillery and Marble Distillery headline a lineup that features an increasing cocktail and spirits presence at the festival. Eight separate distilleries will be on site with their products.

The Saturday is also long on food options as well, as local eateries bring their best. There will be a couple of taverns, Ajax Tavern and The Tavern Snowmass, as well as Heather’s Savory Pies and the Brick Pony Pub from Basalt, and, from Snowmass, the Big Hoss Grill and Il Poggio, which has been going strong longer than the Snowmass Wine Festival. And that’s just a sampling of the dining options.  

The beauty of the festival begins with the wines, of course, but it is the location that sets it apart. While the June Food & Wine Classic in Aspen holds court in a beautiful summer slot, the fall setting with the golden leaves on Snowmass looming in the background at the festival is stunning. Then there is the size of the event itself. Only 1,200 attendees are allowed, which keeps the event intimate and easy to negotiate. Plus, the winemakers all seem to be relaxed, like they are on holiday. There is no high-pressure sell.

“The festival brings so many friends in wine back every year, and for the winemakers, it is just a laid-back event,” Barbara explained. “Everyone tells me it is their favorite event of the year.”

To see old friends — and make new ones — book your visit to the Snowmass Wine Festival.


2013 Mt. Brave Mt. Veeder Merlot

A decade in, it is time for this wine. The wines of Mt. Brave, a project that was initiated in 2007 by Jackson Family Wines, are made by esteemed winemaker Chris Carpenter and represent the terroir of the high-altitude (1,800 feet), steep mountain vineyards found in the Mount Veeder AVA.

Carpenter, who was in Aspen this summer for the Food & Wine Classic, has made a grown-up wine that is dark, dense, and, dare I say it, meaty. Blackberries, dried cherries, and a touch of leather and smoke lean in on the palate making the wine a vivid example of the power of the mountains. It’s a perfect wine with a grilled New York steak on a September’s eve.

Kelly J. Hayes/Courtesy photo
If you go…

When: Friday, Sept. 15, 6-8:30 p.m.

Where: The Viceroy Snowmass

Cost: $175


More info: The evening at THE VICEROY will surely sell out but there were still tickets available at the time of this writing

What: Grand Tasting | Snowmass Wine Festival

When: Saturday, Sept. 16, 1:30-5 p.m.

Where: Snowmass Town Park

Cost:  $115 (or $125 at the door after Friday September 15)

Tickets:; Sundance Liquors

Entry includes unlimited food & wine tasting as well as a commemorative tasting glass.

*Must be 21 or older to taste wines.

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