WineInk: Snowmass Wine Festival and 20 years of community giving

Kelly J. Hayes
Attendees mill around the Snowmass Wine Festival held at Town Park.
Matt Dubé/Courtesy photo

“It’s really a labor of love.”

That’s how Barbara Bakios-Wickes, wine maven and longtime Snowmass entrepreneur, describes the work she and the entire Rotary Club of Snowmass put into making the Snowmass Wine Festival, not only one of the most enjoyable, but also most meaningful, community events on the annual Aspen Snowmass calendar.

This year the Snowmass Wine Festival celebrates its 20th anniversary of pouring great wines, hosting outstanding dinners and providing generous funding for local charities and scholarships for the area’s high school students.

“When I think of the festival, the word ‘symbiotic’ comes to mind,” said Bakios-Wickes, who has overseen all things wine for 19 years at the festival. “So many winemakers and chefs and distillers bring their skills and products to Snowmass, which make so many people so happy. And then the Rotary brings the donations to charity.”

It is a well-formed circle built around wine.

The 20th Snowmass Wine Festival takes place next weekend. It begins at 6:30 p.m. Sept. 16 with an extravagant four-course wine dinner at the Viceroy Snowmass. Then on Saturday afternoon, Sept. 17, the main event will feature the traditional walkaround 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 that are set up throughout the park. 

As a special treat, longtime local celebrity chef Susie Jimenez will be creating a food pairing on Saturday with Mico Tequila, a new, small batch producer whose maker ages its Reposado Tequila in American Oak bourbon barrels before it is finished in Alexander Valley Cabernet barrels. Jimenez, who has been a private chef and is a favorite on a number of high-profile cooking shows with Guy Fieri and Wolfgang Puck, will no doubt have something special in the presentation. Food will also be provided during the Saturday afternoon tasting by several local restaurants, including Aurum Food & Wine Aspen Snowmass, Basalt’s Brick Pony Pub, Toro in the Hotel Viceroy Snowmass, and Il Poggio, amongst others.

“We are always lucky to have the restaurants after such a long hard summer of work, and we really appreciate that they are coming every year at the end of the season,” Bakios-Wickes said.

The dinner at the Viceroy Snowmass seats around 160 people and will be a highlight, which is why it sells out annually. This year executive chef Tim Ormonde will oversee a four-course offering that includes a Mezcal-cured salmon with Champagne creme fraiche, dill and cilantro paired with a Tamber Bey “Sans Chêne” Chardonnay, which is aged in 100 percent stainless steel.

“We love to pour great wines at the festival that are a little under the radar, wines that people may sometimes not be familiar with,” Bakios-Wickes said. “This unoaked (sans chêne is translated as “without oak”) Chardonnay is a fresh and vibrant wine.”

It should be outstanding with the salmon. Other wines to be paired and poured at the dinner include a 32 Winds Rosé from Sonoma, and a stellar, estate-grown Hess “Iron Corral” Cabernet Sauvignon, which will be paired with a duck risotto, artisan mushrooms, mascarpone cheese and basil cream dish that will be featured as the main course. 

The beauty of the Snowmass Wine Festival is multifold. Start with the location. While the June Food & Wine Classic in Aspen is based in a beautiful summer slot, the fall setting, with its golden leaves and 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,” she explained.

Much of that is a credit to Bakios-Wickes, who has worked with individual wineries and distributors to ensure that the lineup of wines poured is world class. The Snowmass Wine 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.

Forty-three years ago, back in August of 1979, Barbara opened the beloved shop Sundance Liquors in the Snowmass Center, with then-boyfriend and now-husband, Steve Wickes. Just a few months later they tied the knot. On Oct. 6 of this year, they will celebrate 43 years of marriage.

Today Sundance is still thriving and is operated by Barbara and her son, Andrew. There are many great wines that will be poured at the festival this weekend, and she loves to add new ones.

“We have poured so many wines over the years, and wine has 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 from Daou Vineyards of Paso Robles, Macauley Vineyard from Napa and Walla Walla’s Reynvaan Family Vineyard, along with selections from the Old World provided by Maisons Marques & Domaines and Penfolds in Australia. And that is just the beginning. When I asked Bakios-Wickes for some interesting suggestions of wines we may not know, she mentioned the selections of kosher wines by the Royal Wine Corp., which imports wines from around the world, including a portfolio of wines from Israel. She is also enthusiastic about a collection of Washington state wines from the Washington Wine Group, which will be pouring acclaimed wines from the Pacific Northwest, including Millbrandt and Alki brands.

In addition to the wines, five local distillers are participating in the festival. Woody Creek Distillers, Marble Distilling Company, LIFT Vodka, Palisade’s Peachtree Street Distillers and Dona Vega Mezcal will all be pouring their spirits and mixing cocktails for guests. And look also for Denver’s Laws Whiskey House and the aforementioned MICO Tequila and Seltzers.

As a presentation of the Snowmass Rotary Club, all the funds raised through the Snowmass Wine Festival are allocated to nonprofit organizations across the Roaring Fork Valley, charitable organizations worldwide and Basalt High School senior scholarships. The festival helps to fund more than $100,000 in annual donations. So far this year, the Rotary Club college sponsorship recipients included 15 deserving Basalt students and local nonprofits receiving contributions, including Art Base, Bridging Bionics, Wind Walkers and Youth Entity, amongst others.

“So many wine festivals of this type are usually profit-driven or are put on by corporations,” Bakios-Wickes said.

But not Snowmass, and that makes a major difference in how it feels.

Now that summer is over, it’s time for a little festival just for us in the valley. It’s time for the Snowmass Wine Festival.    

If you go…

What: Snowmass Wine Festival’s Wine Dinner

When: 6-8:30 p.m. Sept. 16

Where: The Viceroy Snowmass

Cost: $175


More info: The evening at the Viceroy will surely sell out, so secure tickets now.


What: Snowmass Wine Festival’s Grand Tasting

When: 1:30-5 p.m. Sept. 17

Where: Snowmass Town Park

Cost:  $115

Tickets: or Sundance Liquors

More info: Funds raised are allocated to nonprofit organizations across the Roaring Fork Valley, charitable organizations worldwide and Basalt High School senior scholarships.

Hilt Bottle Shot
Courtesy photo
Under the Influence

The Hilt Estate Chardonnay 2019 Sta. Rita Hills

One of my favorite wine producers is Matt Dees, who makes wines under the Jonata and The Hilt labels from the Sta. Rita Hills appellation. Both Jonata and The Hilt are scheduled to be poured at this year’s Snowmass Wine Festival.

This Chardonnay, from The Hilt’s estate vineyard, underwent a barrel regime that hit all the bases. It was aged for 11 months in 34 percent new French oak, 60 percent neutral French oak and 6 percent stainless barrels. The wine has tropical aromas on first sniff and a satisfying, clean feel on the palate. For those who love California Chardonnay, this is a prime example of just how good it can be from the Central Coast. Oh, and The Hilt is a project owned by Stan Kroenke, who has many local connections to go along with his storied sports trophies. This year Kroenke’s Colorado Avalanche won the Stanley Cup, and his Los Angeles Rams took home the Lombardi Trophy.

The Snowmass Wine Festival Grand Tasting held on Saturday at the Town Park.
Anna Stonehouse/Snowmass Sun |
Patrons cheers at the wine festival.
Anna Stonehouse/Snowmass Sun |
The Grand Tasting of the Snowmass Wine Festival.
Courtesy photo