Steamboat might be a world-class winter destination, but more and more people are flocking to the Yampa valley in the summer. One of the summer highlights for Ski Town USA is the Steamboat Wine Festival, in its 10th year. Featuring wine makers, epicurean purveyors, and outdoor activities, the Steamboat Wine festival is a more relaxed version of Colorado’s most famous culinary event, Aspen Food & Wine.
I drove into the bustling town on a Friday evening just in time for one of the marquee events, the Steamboat Stroll. The weather was perfect, 75 degrees and sunny with a slight breeze. I picked up my wine glass and the town map that outlined all of the tasting locations. Clustered throughout downtown and along the Yampa River, the stroll stops offered hundreds of wines and dozens of small bites to sample. My first stop was the Creekside Cafe. I tried several good wines from producer Cameron Hughes and enjoyed sampling Creekside Cafe’s famous green chili. I meandered through town, tasting wines, enjoying the fresh mountain air, and even trying a few beers. One of my favorite beers was a Belgian style Farmhouse ale, the Sophie, from the Chicago brewery, Goose Island. But honestly the best part of the evening was walking around town and sharing laughs with the crowds of festival goers. With a casual, fun, and unpretentious atmosphere, the stroll was the perfect kickoff to the weekend.
The Steamboat Wine Festival is unique among culinary events because it strives to get people outside and enjoying all the Colorado mountains have to offer. I had my choice of hiking or biking, and I chose the “Zinful Day of Single Tracks,” a biking and food seminar on the slopes of Steamboat Ski Resort. The event idea was great, the execution a bit lacking. It’s hard to organize a dozen people on bikes in the mountains, and although the ride itself was fun, the experience was a bit chaotic. There were many different ability levels and guests were disappointed to learn that they were not going to be riding with winemakers as promised. Fortunately, lunch after the ride provided an ample opportunity to chat with several wine makers from the Lodi region. Over an impressive lunch spread I tasted wines from Michael David Winery and Lange Twins Winery. I chatted with bike enthusiast Joe Lange, son of Randy Lange, one of the co-founders of Lange Twins Winery. Friendly and outgoing, Lange epitomized what wine festivals are all about: connecting wine drinkers with the people who work in the wine industry. He explained his family’s history and poured one of my favorite wines of the festival, the Lange Twins 2009 Midnight Reserve. A drinkable and full bodied wine with pleasant blackberry notes, the Midnight Reserve was a crowd pleaser. Overall, the Lodi wine producers impressed at the tasting luncheon, proving that although famous for producing most of California’s famous Zinfandel, they also have some solid Sauvignon Blancs and a great passion for cycling.
If the biking event was plagued by a slight disorganization, the Grand Tasting event Saturday afternoon had none of these problems. Held in Gondola Square at the base of the mountain, the Toast of Steamboat brought together 500 different wines and over twenty different restaurants. Fears of rain quickly gave way to a beautiful, sunny afternoon. I visited some of my favorite wineries that I first tasted at the stroll, including Alexander Valley Vineyards and Lange Twins. The food was plentiful and I went back for seconds of a dish by Erik Hyslop from the Cabin restaurant in the Steamboat Grand hotel. Hyslop served barbecued pork on top of crispy plantains with a chili cola reduction and mango salsa. As a regular menu item at the hotel, I will definitely stop by the Cabin on my next visit to Steamboat. Perhaps the most popular food item at the Toast were the cupcakes from Mountain Brew coffee shop. The downtown Steamboat Springs bakery concocted specialty beer flavored cupcakes for the event, including a delectable Stella citrus cupcake with lemon hazelnut frosting. With a cupcake and glass of wine in hand, I relaxed stream side in the Colorado sun. Life was good.
The Steamboat Wine Festival proves that summer in the mountains is a perfect time for festivals, and the town was an ideal venue. I will certainly enjoy skiing in Steamboat this winter. But with the recent memory of beautiful sunshine, great wine, and tasty food, I’m already looking forward to next year’s event.