It's counted among the social events of the year, one of the few opportunities Summit County takes to dress to the nines for an evening out - and this year, for the event's 29th, Wine in the Pines is rolling out the red carpet.
The theme is the Oscars, and guests are invited to dress the part and "strike a pose as they glide down the red carpet, past the flashing cameras of the paparazzi and into the grand ballroom."
The two-day event starts tonight with the oft-sold-out winemakers' dinner at Keystone's AAA four-diamond-rated Keystone Ranch, presented by head chef Steve Vlass, featuring wine and champagne from Chandon.
Chandon then joins other wine distributors to present upwards of 500 wines from around the globe for the big event on Saturday, which draws between 800 and 1,200 people, eager to taste wines and sample cuisine from Keystone's best chefs.
Saturday's menu includes pan-seared escolar from Alpenglow Stube, cremini mushroom and goat cheese quinoa from Black Bear Grill and North American elk carpaccio and truffled chanterelle salad from Ski Tip Lodge, to name a few. In total, seven Keystone restaurants will take part.
The coup de grace is Keystone executive pastry chef Ned Archibald's chocolate presentation, which this year includes solid chocolate Oscars coated in 22-carat gold leaf and displayed on dark chocolate movie reels, plus five 25-pound solid chocolate champagne bottles measuring 30 inches tall.
Other desserts include French pastries like eclairs, creme brulee, Bailey's cappuccino teacups, mascarpone chocolate-dipped cannoli and two chocolate dipping fountains, said Archibald, who will use 450 pounds of chocolate to create more than 10,000 confections for the event.
Keystone donates the venue and provides food at cost for the event, which serves the greater good by raising funds - from $100,000 to $150,000 annually - for Cerebral Palsy (CP) of Colorado.
Mike and Margaret Smith, owners of Dillon Ridge Liquors, started Wine in the Pines nearly three decades ago to benefit people like their daughter, Kelly, who has cerebral palsy - a non-progressive, complex condition resulting from oxygen deprivation to the brain.
The funds support CP of Colorado's Kelly Smith Employment Center and Employment Works, a statewide program based in Denver with offices in Durango, Colorado Springs and Grand Junction that serves approximately 4,000 Coloradoans, including youth. "All funds help people find employment who have disabilities that are a barrier," said CP of Colorado president and CEO, Judith Ham.
The employment center also helps individuals manage benefits like Social Security and Medicaid when they do find work. "People with disabilities have complex systems to navigate, so we have become certified to help people sort through that and make good decisions. The primary objective is to help people go to work and get a paycheck," Ham said. "We all like those; they're important for our self esteem."
The Smiths' daughter Kelly worked at the old Holiday Inn in Dillon, managing the database.
"It was a wonderful experience for her - and not just for her, but for all the employees also," Margaret Smith said. "She had a great work ethic. It kind of rubs off on you when you see someone not as capable as the next person but who shows up every day with a smile on her face. It makes you pretty amazed what she can do for the world."
Kelly currently attends Timberline Daycare, which has become a meaningful part of her life, Smith said.
Wine in the Pines was not always so big; in fact, it started with a telethon in which the Smiths participated, followed by a dollar-per-ski-rental donation they conducted from the shop they owned. Later, CP of Colorado challenged them to do something bigger to raise money for the cause.
The Smiths held their first tasting event at Keystone Ranch. Approximately 150 people attended, and it proved so popular that they hosted it every year after that. "It started with a challenge - and it's been going ever since," Smith said.
Now, visitors from Denver join Summit Countians for the annual gala, including wine collectors seeking high value wines, gifted to the event, that can't be found elsewhere.
Silent and live auctions include vintage wines, chocolate champagne bottles, a South African photo safari for two, a Cape wine experience, a Denver Broncos party package and a limited edition New Belgium Brewery cruiser bike, to name a few.
"We appreciate this ongoing support; it makes a difference," Ham said. "We don't receive support for all the work we do, so this event helps us fill that gap." It doesn't hurt, either, that "Keystone knocks it out of the park with their food, and unbelievable wines are being served."
Tickets to Saturday's event are still available; visit www.wineinthepines.org.