Tastings, Seminars, Cooking Demonstrations
The Telluride Wine Festival next week will be about more than wine. About more even than wine and food and spirits. Under the leadership of its new executive director Laurel Robinson and co-director Patrick Laguens there will be seminars, a nonalcoholic craft brews contest, a rosé garden at the gondola plaza, test drives in a Tesla, a “keynote seminar” about identifying one’s “vinotype,” free cooking classes for children, and more.
“I don’t know anything about the festival’s recent history this week,” Robinson said, indicating a preference to focus on the future. But as a former restaurant owner, events planner, longtime and frequently full-time Telluride resident, past volunteer at many other Telluride festivals, cheese-maker and brewer, Robinson did have a strong belief that the Wine Festival had untapped possibilities. And so as a matter of pursuing her professional interests and a desire to pursue them in Telluride, last year she acquired the assets of the 33-year-old nonprofit and set about making it happen.
Talking to Robinson just a week before the 33rd Telluride Wine Festival begins, on June 26, it seems clear that the challenge for Robinson and the team she has assembled is to pull off all of the things that she believes could be “really cool.” But she also conveys a strong confidence that it will come off as planned, with virtually nothing left to chance.
Robinson spent much of the last year attending other wine festivals and working them as a volunteer. When she saw someone who impressed her, she invited them to Telluride.
That’s how she encountered Tim Hanni, author of Why You Like the Wines You Like, who is known as an “anti wine snob,” and who analyzes the factors that determine each individual’s “vinotype”: Factors like the number of taste buds a person has, which can range from 500 to 10,000 in different individuals, Robinson said, means that “whatever you like is OK.”
In the world of sommeliers and wine rankings, that sounds dangerously close to heresy, which is, of course, precisely the point, and which is why Robinson has brought Hanni to present the keynote seminar, which he will do twice, on Thursday afternoon and Friday morning, early in the weekend to help those who attend enjoy the rest of the weekend.
Another new event this year will be the Taste of Telluride on Thursday evening, not to be confused with the Toast of Telluride, which is traditional and will take place on Friday evening.
The Taste of Telluride will partner with Telluride restaurants, inviting festival ticket holders inside for a taste of their appetizers paired with wines chosen by participating wineries. As a former restaurant owner in Atlanta, Robinson says it is the biggest challenge for a restaurant to get new customers in the door, but once they’ve been inside, they are likely to return. The Taste, is therefore, a full embrace by the festival of the town’s restaurants, Robinson said, and a broadening of the festival’s community reach.
The festival’s other tastings are the Toast of Telluride, where the wine tastings take place in Telluride’s galleries; the Toast of Colorado, featuring Colorado wines and spirits, also on Friday evening; and the Grand Tasting, this year moved from Town Park to the Mountain Village Heritage Plaza on Saturday afternoon and evening.
There are, in addition, enough luncheons, cooking demonstrations, and seminars to keep the most enthusiastic wine enthusiast engaged for the weekend.
But Robinson’s ambitions extend well beyond giving the traditional Telluride Wine Festival a jolt of new energy.
When Robinson was asked if she feels ready to go with all of this taking place in just a week, she turned to her director of operations Betsy Adler, sitting nearby. And Adler replied cheerfully, “Laurel jumps head first.”
So even before she has her first summer Telluride Wine Festival under her belt, Robinson is planning a winter Wine Festival for the weekend of January 29 – February 1, which could be even bigger, she predicts, than the summer event, because “winemakers are farmers and they have more time to travel in the winter and they want to come here and ski.” And she is beginning to plan year-round events, including wine tastings in the tasting room she is establishing on North Fir St.
Not surprisingly, given the full schedule, volunteers are still needed for next week’s festival. And tickets are still available.
To volunteer or purchase tickets, visit telluridewinefestival.com