Well even in all my travels and careers, I never really moved from Telluride. I would always leave and come back. Telluride is a beautiful place and a lovely community that I cherish calling home. For years I regularly attended The Telluride Wine Fest. Over the years it has had various directors and gone in many different directions. After awhile, I began to feel that the event was missing something. It occurred to me that given the opportunity, I could make changes that would be an example of my vision and that I could make them work. So I decided to buy the festival! I guess I wanted to take everything that I had learned and use it to breathe new life into the festival. I jumped in hoping to make it a truly great event and a wonderful experience for the participants.
Telluride was the first wine festival in Colorado starting in 1981 and became the catalyst for many of the big wine events in the state. However Telluride has remained small over the years. The main reason is that Telluride is a very small community. When you only have beds for 3000 visitors and attendees and no camping available, making the event larger is not a viable option. So now the challenge is how do we make our event different, better. That’s where we set our efforts.
Well I like to use the theory of “good to great”. We need to look at the good things we have to work with and make those work for us. Since we have the obvious limits we can never be the “biggest” wine festival in Colorado. And although that could be seen as a negative, in reality its a major plus for us. It will allow us to remain intimate which is better suited for the Telluride audience. Telluride has some definite advantages that come with being a small town. It is a well known destination that typically caters to a high end audience because of it’s reputation as the most beautiful place in Colorado. It attracts a very upscale visitor. That advantage expands the pool of vendors who are willing to come here even though the event is small. There is no shortage of vendors that want quality over quantity. Many vendors would rather reach a small, high end audience then a larger audience that is the wrong demographic. By appealing to so many wineries, we can attract the very best wines available year after year. That helps us keep ahead of the trends and also to be able to offer the very best products available to our audience.
Well the concept is similar to a film festival. We look at hundreds of wine/food options and accept only those that we feel best follow our theme for that year or what we feel are the upcoming trends. Then we present these at the festival. Naturally for us to keep up with all of that on our end alone, would be almost impossible. That means reaching out to specialists in the field. So to that end we came up with using guest curators for the festival. These could include columnists, food critics, bloggers, etc. Selecting people who are immersed in their respective industries we will be relying on them for keeping the festival on the cutting edge of what is new. With the information gathered from these curators, we create the upcoming years show theme. So the wineries and food we choose this year will be totally different then the wines and foods we chose last year. Our thinking is that we give attendees a new experience each year by tapping the trends and the “what’s new” options. That way we present the best of those to our audience every year. It keeps every show fresh and topical. Best of all it gives our attendees a reason to return every year because their experience is always new and high quality.
Many people who attend our festival think they know about wine the way that many of us think we know about wine. We have found quite the opposite is true. Many of us really do not know much about wine. It isn’t our fault or for lack of effort but the wine business is very intricate and vast and full of partial information. Consumers have been told certain things like “assume that the more expensive wine is the best one”, but that is not always true. Or, maybe they find a wine that they like and select that every time because it is an easy choice. That isn’t knowing wine, what they really know is labels. At the Telluride Wine Fest we strive to teach people to look at a wine list and feel confident about their choices. No easy task because a wine list can be a very intimidating read. Hopefully the tools we give them empower them to make the proper selections. Armed with this knowledge, wine lists become more friendly. Our job, as we see it, is to give people the right tools so that no matter what wine list they look at, what wine store they buy from or what they want to pair with their food, the choices are clearer and more easily made. Certain things, like knowing any Cabernet from Stags’ Leap is always a good selection, is an example of what we teach. It’s all about empowering our attendees to make educated choices. We are not creating wine snobs, we are creating wine educated consumers, with real practical knowledge for any situation. We see that as our mission.
Let me just say that everyone eats. They may not all drink wine but everyone eats. For years, wine festivals offered snacks because they wanted to offer something to eat while attendees were drinking. At our festival there is a serious focus on food. Not only are food and drink good accompaniments for each other, it’s just about impossible, in our opinion, to have a great wine festival without great food. But rather than cheese and crackers, make the food an experience as well thought out as the wine experience. Lots of people want to be food educated as well. What are the new trends, what is the hot new fish or vegetable or latest way to serve food options? But also we make the food central to the actual experiences. For example, this year we have a 5 course dinner built around a sustainable caviar from Uruguay. Our palette pleasing adventure can be educational without even being a class or seminar. Plus it’s great for the planet. Again, we try to be an all encompassing experience for our attendees; not just a series of classes or seminars.
I would think it’s because we do the work for you. We present an event that can be a feast for your mind and your palette without being preachy or boring. And our attendees know that they will be seeing new things. It will be filled with excellent food and wine selections in a beautiful setting. If you take just one thing from the event it is worth it but our attendees take more. Our participants get practical knowledge that they can take into the real world. It enriches their life in ways that they enjoy long after the event is over because it is knowledge. If I had to say what it is that makes us so special to our attendees it would be that.
Advice is that it is hard work and not glamorous. If you love to learn about Wine and Food, don’t start a Festival because you don’t actually have time to attend any of your own great events!
This years selection is very exciting to us. It is the Chef Ann Foundation. Chef Ann believes that every child should have access to fresh, healthy food everyday at school so that they can develop healthy eating habits that can last a lifetime. Their mission is to provide tools that help schools serve children healthy and delicious scratch made meals with fresh whole food. It is an excellent way to set children on the path to a healthier life now and in the future. Chef Ann is redoing school lunches with a heavy focus on non processed foods. That is extremely tough with the very limited budgets that schools get to work with but Chef Ann is showing them how. Right now she is working with the Berkeley and Boulder school systems providing better, healthier lunch for children.
Laurel thank you so much for taking the time out of your very busy schedule to talk with us. I am sure that our readers will find this information very interesting and informative. Best wishes for a highly successful event! The Telluride Wine Fest takes place June 23-26 in 2016.