NEWTON, SHMEWTON, JUST AS LONG AS IT’S FREE
by Todd Hartley
Although I haven’t done it in a few years, there was a time not so long ago that I would volunteer for the Food & Wine Classic in Aspen every June. I always seemed to end up working in the Grand Tasting Tent, a gig which many of my acquaintances thought was an icky endeavor, as it involved dumping out buckets of wine and spit in the evenings.
Admittedly, handling other people’s spit isn’t the most pleasant of activities, but by the time evening rolled around, the other volunteers and I were generally so drunk that we didn’t care. Besides, being in the Grand Tasting Tent gained us access to the exclusive reserve tastings, and we’d often go home with bottles of wine that the vendors didn’t feel like hauling away.
I had the chance to attend a day of the Classic this year without having to do any spit wrangling, and I’m pleased to say that the job I used to do is no longer the most demeaning volunteer position. That dubious honor definitely belongs to a newer gig that involves standing behind a trash receptacle for hours on end helping people sort their waste into recyclable, compostable and landfill-bound.
As unpleasant as that sounds, however, I would imagine the people doing those jobs probably didn’t mind too much. When it comes to the Food & Wine Classic, whatever you have to do to get yourself a ticket is usually worth it. The event really is that good.
I’d almost forgotten how much fun the Classic is until I went to the Sunday Grand Tasting, the final event of the weekend. Under the big tents in Wagner Park, I ran into dozens of my old friends, many of whom I hadn’t seen since the last time I was there. Oh, and I sampled some great food and a number of wonderful Rieslings, but that wasn’t really the point.
I suppose if you’re just visiting Aspen and you’re really into wine, tasting varietals is the most important part of the Classic, but to those of us who live here, the event’s appeal has as much to do with socializing as it does getting drunk. And it’s easy socializing, too, because everyone’s in a great mood and even the people you don’t care about are happy to see you.
As I remarked to one friend of mine: If you consider yourself an Aspen local and Food & Wine isn’t your favorite party of the year, you’re probably not an Aspen local.
Another criterion of being an Aspen local, almost by definition, is a deep commitment to getting free stuff. Seriously, if you host an event and advertise free food or drink, you’re virtually guaranteed to get the whole town to show up. And if you plan on attending such an event, get there early because the vultures will have picked the carcass clean within the first 15 minutes.
In that vein, I was lucky enough to score a couple of bottles of wine from the Classic, which took no small amount of cajoling and pleading on my part. As shameless as I was, though, I couldn’t hold a candle to the women I saw stuffing their bags with free Fig Newtons as the grand tasting came to an end.
That’s how things work in Aspen: As long as it’s free, you’ll take as much of it as you can get, even if it’s just Fig Newtons.
The other freebie I scored came courtesy of the always-accommodating Westin Snowmass Resort, which graciously invited me, as a member of the press, to come have a spa treatment and dinner on it.
I chose a reflexology massage for my treatment. That’s the one where a masseuse gently rubs your feet, hands, scalp and shoulders for an hour or so. Even when you’re sober, it’s enough to put you into a catatonic trance. Pleasantly buzzed as I was, the treatment ended up being equal parts massage and nap. The masseuse didn’t tell me if I snored at all, but I think it’s probably a safe bet that I did.
Dinner was delicious, but by the time I sat down at the table, I was so tired and stuffed that I could barely eat. Not wanting to seem ungrateful, however, I forced myself to consume everything I was given. I mean, it was free, after all. What sort of an Aspen local would I be if I turned down something like that?
Todd Hartley is open to anything free you feel like giving him.