The Denver Food + Wine Festival started 13 years ago as a small, four-hour tasting event. Now, this huge, six-day festival is a mainstay in Denver. Always the week after Labor Day, this year’s event has been in the works since the day the festival ended last year.
“Last year, the 2017 planning started the day after the 2016 event ended,” explained Mary Mino, president of the Colorado Restaurant Foundation, a part of the Colorado Restaurant Association that puts on this event. “We’re so lucky to have sponsors that have been with us for a long time, but something this large takes a full year to plan now.”
We caught up with Mino to learn about the planning and everything else you need to know about the Denver Food + Wine Festival this year.
There will be six events in six days
There is one event every day from Tuesday, September 5 through Sunday, September 10.
“We’re all about education this week,” Mino said. “We love when people can come to the event and learn without even realizing it because they’re having fun. If people walk away and feel like they got a strong education — about food, spirits, wine, whatever — we feel like it’s a success.”
Tuesday is the Culinary Cinema Series — a screening of the film Barbecue served alongside wine, cocktails and barbecue and sides from Hearth and Dram, The Nickel and Rolling Smoke. Tickets are $40.
Wednesday brings Dining Under the Stars. Back by popular demand, this six-course dinner will be outside at Coohills Restaurant from 7 to 10 p.m. Six Denver chefs — Elise Wiggins of Cattivella, Frank Bonanno of Bonanno Concepts, Daniel Asher of River & Woods, Tom Coohill of Coohill’s, Lon Symensma of ChoLon and Lisa Bailey of D Bar — will collaborate with Southern Glazer’s Master Sommelier Sean Razee to create the meal. Tickets are $195 per person.
Thursday’s Shake Down event is for the cocktail lover. At the McNichols Civic Center Building from 6:30 until 9:30 p.m., notable bartenders from the Colorado Bartenders Guild— from Oak at Fourteenth, Bar Dough, Millers and Rossi, Citizen Rail and more — will compete for best cocktail while chefs compete for best bite. Tickets are $55.
Friday’s Riedel Seminar is for those looking to learn more about wine and how it’s affected by the shape of the glass. At 6 p.m. at the Metro State University Hospitality Learning Center, learn how stemware can transform the flavor of wine in this unique tasting with Doug Reed, ambassador for Riedel. Tickets are $75.
Saturday brings the main event — The Grand Tasting — at the Pepsi Center Grounds from 1 to 4 p.m. (It’s 12 until 4 p.m. if you’re VIP). This giant tasting event will showcase 45 restaurants and unlimited samples from more than 700 beverage vendors. Tickets are $125 for general admission, and more information is below.
To round-out the week, Stanley Marketplace will host the Rise + Dine event on Sunday. From 10 a.m. until 1 p.m., this event will host brunch bites from restaurants like Annette Scratch to Table, Bacon Social House, Glazed and Confused, Steuben’s and more. There will also be unlimited mimosas and sips from the Bloody Mary bar with more than 6o toppings to add to your drink. Tickets are $55.
There will be 45 restaurants and 700+ beverages on Saturday
Although it’s based on the one original event that started the Denver Food + Wine Festival 13 years ago, The Grand Tasting has turned into something much larger.
“The Grand Tasting is the big event,” Mino said. “We’re pouring more than 700 wines and spirits, and we have more than 45 restaurants this year. There are some new restaurants who’ve come into the market, but you also get the classic Denver restaurants that love to give back to the community.”
There’s expected to be 3,500 people at this year’s event, including four chefs — Gale Gand, Steven Jamison, Spencer White and Alexander Figura — to do demonstrations on stage.
“The education value of what goes on is invaluable,” Mino said. “In addition to the chef demos, you’re able to come to this event and actually talk to the vendors about what you’re eating or drinking.”
With so many options, many people come prepared with a list of what they want to try. You can see a full planning guide online here or download the festival app here. In the app, you can see the event’s logistical information, scan and save your favorite wines and spirits to remember later, add tasting notes and more.
“People come back every year because, in one event, they get a true sense of what the dining scene is in Denver,” Mino said. “We’re all out there to promote the contributions that the hospitality industry makes to the dining scene in Denver.”
There will be 500+ volunteers and three charity beneficiaries
Something this large requires a lot of manpower.
Not counting the restaurants and vendors staffing the booths, premier sponsor Southern Glazers will provide about 3oo volunteers and staff, and the Colorado Restaurant Association is expected to contribute another 200.
Part of the Colorado Restaurant Associations team will be the only people allowed into the event under 21 years old — the members of the Colorado Pro Start Program. This workforce development program trains high school students in front and back-of-house hospitality management. They’re able to earn college credit through this program and get hands-on training at the festival assisting chefs, supporting the culinary stage and more.
Because of the volume of volunteers and the team’s ability to underwrite every expense, 100 percent of your ticket price goes to the festival’s three charity partners — Kroenke Sports Charities, Denver Post Community Foundation and The Colorado Restaurant Foundation.
“Denver is growing, and the folks who are moving here are coming with a certain palate and enthusiasm for food, wine and spirits,” Mino said. “We need to keep up with that. We’re here to provide those experiences for the community.”
For more information on the festival and how to purchase tickets for various events, click here.
All photos courtesy of the Denver Food + Wine Festival.