Work hard, play hard the motto for many Food & Wine volunteers

Mark Vonschondorf replaces a trash bag Friday afternoon at the second Grand Tasting for the 2018 Food & Wine Classic in Aspen. This was the Steamboat Springs resident's first time volunteering in Aspen.
Anna Stonehouse/The Aspen Times

Sean Clark spent most of Friday watching others sample expensive wines, nibble on fine chocolates and otherwise indulge in all the fanfare that comes with the annual Food & Wine Classic in Aspen, which is back for its 36th year.

Between those moments, Clark would pick up garbage, clean wine glasses and do what else he could to make the patrons feel at home. And he said it’s all worth it for the chance to partake himself over the weekend.

“Yeah, it’s challenging. You just got to stay focused and know you got a pretty big day of drinking ahead of you, or possibly behind you,” Clark said with a laugh. “It’s a wonderful trade-off and I will continue to do this as long as I’m in Aspen.”

Clark is a third-year volunteer for Aspen’s biggest summer party, and like most of his comrades he does it largely for the free pass into what is a relatively exclusive event. Your basic three-day pass starts at $1,600 and often sells out early.

But, one solid day of volunteer work can net you a day inside the Grant Tasting Pavilion at Wagner Park in downtown Aspen, as well as admittance into the popular seminars. As many as a 1,000 people apply for the volunteer positions any given year, and hundreds are often turned away.

So being one of the lucky ones to get in and snag a pass is more than a fair trade, according to many of the volunteers.

“I really enjoy the seminars and learning about different wines and doing tasting that way, but of course the Grand Tasting is always fun,” said Lindy Clark, Sean’s wife of four years. “I love Aspen, I love being part of the community, and to be able to give back in some way and be a part of such a world-renowned event is an amazing opportunity.”

Like her husband, Lindy has volunteered for Food & Wine the past three years. The pair worked together Friday inside the Grand Tasting Pavilion, all for the chance to enjoy the festivities together Saturday. Both share an affinity for wine culture and have spent many evenings watching shows such as “Top Chef,” which plays a major role in Aspen’s Food & Wine weekend.

“I’m a big fan of wine and like broadening my education on wine,” Sean Clark said. “I really love the food that’s here as well. You got the ‘Top Chef ‘competitions and a wide range of food to go along with all this wine and libations.”

Prior to joining the Grand Tasting crew, Sean Clark was part of the “green team,” which oversees the recycling and general waste removal from the event. It’s as important a job as any, and it’s one Dave Ritter has enjoyed volunteering for the past 12 years.

“It’s a long time. Slow learner,” joked Ritter, who has lived in Aspen for more than three decades. “It’s part of being an Aspen person. If you live here, you got to volunteer. That’s the way the town works.”

Both Ritter and the Clarks agreed Friday was the best day to volunteer. Get your obligations out of the way early and enjoy the rest of the weekend with a glass of wine in hand.

“Work Friday, play Saturday, and recuperate on Sunday,” Ritter laughed.


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