7th annual Steamboat wine festival draws thousands
Steamboat Springs — Mary and Ralph Harris’ affinity for wine has taken them all across the world.
They’ve sampled malbecs in Argentina, rieslings in Germany and chardonnays in New Zealand, but one of their favorite events of the year takes place right in the backyard of their second home in Steamboat Springs.
“It’s our favorite event in Steamboat,” Mary Harris said about the seventh annual Wine Festival at Steamboat, which took place Thursday through Saturday. “We love it so much because we’re wine drinkers. The people who put this on do a fabulous job of bringing in people from all over the world.”
As second-home owners, the pair, who still grasped glasses of red wine left over from a seminar on the malbec varietal, was in the majority.
According to Jason Ornstein, president of Team Player Productions, which puts on the event, about 80 percent of attendees are not full-time Steamboat residents.
“We’ve had great support from our patrons,” Ornstein said about the 2010 event. “Lots of people came from out of town. People come into town specifically for this event; they mark it on their calendars.”
The three-day event features daily seminars on everything from whiskey to wine glass shapes, and nightly gatherings offer tastings from international wineries and some local restaurants.
About 3,000 people attended some portion of the event, which kicked off with a grand tasting Thursday at the top of the gondola at Steamboat Ski Area.
Seminars were held at various venues across town, and an evening wine stroll took patrons through downtown Steamboat on Friday night, drawing about 900 people.
Ornstein said the festival has raised about $150,000 for nonprofit groups such as Steamboat Adaptive Recreational Sports and the Steamboat Springs Arts Council in its seven-year history.
Event associate Emily Salber said Steamboat offered the perfect venue for the festival.
“It’s beautiful, and it’s a great town setting,” she said. “It’s great for people who are from out of town, but people who are from here love the wine festival, too.”
At the final event Saturday, just after a brief rainstorm let up, Leo Lutz and his wife, Tamara, sipped wheat beers and wine while enjoying appetizers in Gondola Square.
The couple, who lives in Steamboat, said it was their third time at the event. However, they recognized that the price of festival events keeps many locals away.
Seminar prices ranged from $30 to about $85, while $600 bought a private fly-fishing trip with a winemaker for two.
The finale grand tasting event was $90.
“There weren’t many hook-ups this year,” Tamara Lutz said. “Usually, locals can find free tickets to stuff.”
But she gave the food and wine a “thumbs up.”
Her friend, Rob Forster, who spent the summer in Steamboat, agreed that some locals stayed away because of the prices but said he got his money’s worth.
“I’m honestly very surprised and impressed,” Forster said. “I think it’s a whole lot of stuff for $90.”
The group said if they were in Steamboat next summer, they would buy tickets again.
However, Ornstein said the Denver-based Team Player Productions might not provide that opportunity next year.
After seven years, he said, the 2010 Wine Festival at Steamboat could be the last.
“We’re not sure at this point,” he said. “We have other mountain towns that are calling us. We love Steamboat, and we’d love to come back. After we’re done here, we’re going to take a look and analyze things.”
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