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Crested Butte Wine & Food Festival kicks off July 25

The fabulous and fun Crested Butte Wine & Food Festival couples world-class national, regional and local chefs with well-known and boutique wineries in an exciting and informative tasting and dining five-day extravaganza Wednesday, July 25 through Sunday, July 29.

Wine enthusiasts adventure into exquisitely prepared lunches and dinners paired with sommelier-presented wines; rafting and foraging excursions; literature and visual art; and tastings on the wild side from chocolate and spirits to bourbon and barbeque. Saturday’s signature Grand Tasting culminates with more than 500 wines and the chance to order your favorites on the spot or win large-format, small-batch and rare bottles from the unique Wine Auction.

Whether you’re a dedicated oenophile or someone who would just like to make it through a wine selection list at a restaurant without feeling lost, there is an event at the Wine & Food Festival for you. Whether you’re drawn to a summery melon undertone of the Chardonnay or a tobacco richness of the Syrah you will find something here to excite your palate. Local and visiting sommeliers and chefs structure the backbone. Venues range from local restaurants to private homes. If you thought that acquiring even a smidge of a vintner’s knowledge was only for the rich and famous, think again. There are affordable ways to participate (think $25 for Bourbon & Barbecue), as well as all-inclusive festival passes that proudly push the pocketbook ($2,500 for a couple’s Patron Pass).

There’s a lot going on at the Crested Butte Wine & Food Festival so here are a few ways to break it down and enter at a place that sings to you. This is just a highlighted sampler; be sure to check out the entire schedule at www.cbwineandfood.com for a complete roster of events.

Something New & Different

Sure this festival focus on wine, but that doesn’t mean every seminar is the same. Pairings can include tastes beyond food, and here we explore everything from sweets to cigars.

Helping to whet your appetite for wine with the kick off events on Wednesday, July 25 is Flights & Bites: Dessert First. Sample some of the finest chocolates, pastries, confections and desserts from nutritionist and chocolatier Julie Nygard (The Chocolate Therapist), baker Rachel Alter (Pedals and Pastries), and pastry chef Danielle Riesz Gutter (Wildflour Sweets) paired with wines from winemaker Rick Moshin of Moshin Vineyards. ($100).

Or, if you have visions of retiring to the sitting room to puff on a cigar and swirl a glass of something succulent, the Guided Tasting: Cigars & Wine couples explorations into the worlds of both tobacco and the grape (Friday, July 27, $50) and how they can fit together.

 Beyond Wine

The festival is not just all about wine. This year there are numerous seminars that reach far beyond.

One of the most provocative Guided Tasting seminars is the Chocolate & Spirits Pairings (Thursday, July 26, $50) with chocolatier Julie Nygard of the Chocolate Therapist, and Eric Wilson of Palisade’s artisanal craft distillery, Peach Street. Peach Street Distillers turns mythological local fruits and grains into gin distilled from hand-picked juniper, whiskey (straight bourbon, smoked rye and American single malt), vodka, brandy (peach, pear and apricot), Eau de Vie (peach, plum, pear, cherry, apricot), D’Agave (silver, gold and extra), Grappa (Muscat, Viognier and Gewürztraminer), Amaro Liquor and Bier Schnapps. At the Dogwood, of course.

The most accessible and down-home event is most certainly the community-oriented Bourbon & Barbecue (Thursday, July 26, $25) at the Depot. Whiskey tastings herald from hand-crafted strongholds Law’s Whiskey House and J. Rieger and Co. Distillery with barbecue by legendary Texas chef Kent Rathbun. Chef Kent has opened restaurants receiving Mobil Four-Stars, AAA Four Diamonds, Bon Appetit’s “Best of the Year,” and Esquire Magazine’s “Top 20 Best New Restaurants in America.” He is a four-time James Beard Foundation “Best Chef” nominee, has appeared on the Food Network’s “Chef du Jour” and NBC’s “Today Show” and was a competitor on “Iron Chef America.” Pouring is mixology master Ryan Maybee, coming armed with numerous awards for his creative libations including “Bartender of the Year” from Imbibe Magazine and “Innovative Cocktail of the Year” by the Institute for Cocktail Excellence.

At the other end of the spectrum, Flights & Bites: Zakuski and Caviar is inspired by this Russian culinary tradition. Chef Ivan Giani prepares lavish small bites and caviar dishes to perfectly complement the featured beverage in all Zakuski offerings—vodka (Friday, July 27, $100).

Wine as the Artful Muse

Art has long carried wine as its lover, the intoxicating muse inspiring creations from poetry to paintings. Here the festival offers two opportunities to dabble in your own relationship to the pairing.

Local artist Mary Tuck guides the group through the painting of Van Gogh’s Almond Blossoms in Guided Tasting: Van Gogh & Pinot (Wednesday, July 25, $45) with sommelier Jeff Hollings on the Center for the Arts Outdoor Stage. Jeff’s personal collection currently holds 900 bottles as a long-time buyer on the allocation list for many prestigious labels such as Realm and Fait Main. He enjoys talking to people across the spectrum, from the novice simply wanting a little information, to the experienced wine drinker who wants to engage in a serious wine conversation.

Or, sink into absorbing prose with a food-centric twist featuring best-selling authors Anne Eliot, Barbara Samuel, Lana Williams and Michelle Major at Guided Tasting: Words & Wine (Thursday, July 26, $50). The quartet will read lively and tantalizing selections from their work that are sure to have your mouth watering and side splitting while sommelier Judy Byron pours select wines for your tasting pleasure.

Adventure On

If you don’t want to take your wine sitting down, sign up for one of the Pairing Adventures of outdoor revelry and fermented fun.

Learn to craft wild artisanal appetizers using locally foraged flowers and plants in A Forager’s Amuse Bouche led by naturalist Briana Wiles of Rooted Apothecary (Friday, July 27, $120) with wines by Steele.

If you’re more of a watery persona, try the Wine, Dine & Float for the Arts (Sunday, July 29, $120). For those with adventurous tastes, this excursion mingles river excitement with wine and food tasting. Guided by Scenic River Tours, drift along the lower Gunnison River while drinking in wildlife sightings and stunning views. Arrive at the spectacular Moncrief Ranch to enjoy a late lunch and wines presented by winemaker John Cowperthwaite of Black Arts Cellars.

Featured Faces

As much as the festival is about the wine, it is also about the sommeliers pouring it and the chefs preparing that perfect complementary dish. Here’s a few hot tickets to watch out for and target their events.

Owner and executive chef Brother Luck of Four by Brother Luck in Colorado Springs is most recognizable from his participation on Food Network’s “Beat Bobby Flay” and “Chopped,” and Bravo’s “Top Chef.” Brother Luck has worked in fine dining kitchens around the world, including the Takitei and Kinjhoro Ryokansin Kanazawa, Japan and been awarded “Most Cutting Edge Restaurant” by The Gazette and “Best Local Chef” by the Colorado Springs Independent. Luck spotlights at the Winemaker’s Dinner: Epicurean’s Delight on Friday, July 27 at 6 p.m. with local chefs Tim Egelhoff and Rose Reyes with wines by Napa Valley’s Relic Wines all served at the home of Theresa and Ian Schaul ($300).

Winemaker Abe Schoener of The Scholium Project has a near-mythic status in the wine world, being called a “cult hero” and a “fearless, risk-loving winemaker” by Robert Draper of the New York Times Magazine. Schoener garnered the praise and a global following for his complex, unorthodox wines, at the center of which is Schoener’s unyielding drive to experiment with the outer boundaries of winemaking. Abe was a semi-finalist for the James Beard Award for Outstanding Wine and Spirits Professional, and his wines are served at some of the world’s best restaurants, including Momofuku and The French Laundry. Coverage of his unusual methods and quality wines has ignited a demand for wines made from uncommon grape varieties, grown in undistinguished regions and using unconventional techniques. Abe pours his wines at the Winemaker’s Dinner: Risk-Taking Wines & Venturesome Cuisine on Thursday, July 26 at 5 p.m. with local chefs David Wooding and Michael Marsee at Soupçon Bistro ($750).

One of only 236 wine professionals worldwide to achieve the title of master sommelier, Sean Razee was one of the first 100 people in the United States to hold the honor. Razee worked as a wine buyer and seller for 15 years and has designed and consulted numerous award-winning wine programs at Vail Resorts as well as Spago and The Ritz-Carlton. More recently, he was tapped to build and manage Artisanal Fine Wine, a wine and craft spirits distribution company in Colorado where he currently serves as general manager. Sean also works as an instructor and examiner for the Court of Master Sommeliers. He pours for Guided Tasting: Cooking with Wine on Saturday, July 28 at 11 a.m. with chef David Wooding ($50).

And of course: The Grand Tasting

Sip, swirl and saunter your way through more than 500 national and international wines in this delectable day of tasting. Win large-format, small-batch and hard-to-find bottles at the wine auction table. Enjoy live music from the Crested Butte Music Festival and shop offerings from unique vendors. It’s all at the Big Mine Ice Arena on Saturday, July 28. VIP Grand Tasting admission begins at 2 p.m. ($125) with general admission beginning at 3 p.m. ($80).

Oenophiles, connoisseurs, foodies or folks who just like food and wine … the festival has something for everyone. So cheers— and let the tasting begin.

A variety of levels for festival passes as well as tickets to individual events and information are available at www.cbwineandfood.com. Reservations are required.

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