What can attendees of the Keystone Wine and Jazz Festival expect this year? The answer is — more of everything. More wine, more spirits and more food.
The festival, which began back in the early ’90s, is into its third year of resurrection after taking a brief hiatus several years ago. While the format remains essentially unchanged, the variety of options open to eventgoers has risen.
“It’s a great festival,” said Maja Russer, director of events and marketing at the Keystone Neighborhood Company.
The two-day festival lasts throughout the weekend. For those eager to get an early start, Friday will feature VIP Reserve Tasting, where guests will enjoy an evening of gourmet wines and food before the big event.
For the festival weekend, the River Run Village at Keystone is transformed into rows and rows of tents, each with its own select sampling of wines. In the past, the event has featured wine options in the high 200s, but this year the number tops 300. Wine selection is also international in scale, with Colorado, California and Oregon vintages nestled alongside those from Italy, France, Chile and Argentina, among others.
More than just tasting, eventgoers interested in expanding their knowledge of oenology can attend educational seminars taught by experts. Saturday will feature a session on pairing wine with chocolate as well as the topic of summer wines. Sunday focuses on champagne and the famous wine-producing Rhone Valley region.
Wine, whiskey and food
While wine may be the main focus, it’s not the only thing on the menu. The growing popularity of craft beers has allowed them their own special section at the festival.
“That part of the festival is expanding,” Russer said, “so if people aren’t totally into wine, they can try beer or spirits as well.”
The spirits table will be larger than in previous years. Distilleries from around the U.S. will be represented, with a focus on Colorado products. Summit County’s own Breckenridge Distillery, for example, will be on hand, offering tastes of its whiskey and other products. Also in attendance will be Buffalo Trace Distillery of Kentucky and Hood River Distillers from Oregon, among others.
All that drinking wouldn’t be as much fun without the right type of food to pair it with, and the restaurants at Keystone are stepping up to the plate, so to speak. Around 20 food vendors will be on hand with tasty options to pair with wine, beer and spirits.
“It’s all the Keystone fine dining. They never hold back on this one,” Russer said. “It’s a great opportunity for them to highlight their restaurants and we have some great dining here.”
Using feedback from previous festival years, the restaurants have set up a mouth-watering menu sure to turn heads and engage palates.
A lineup of national jazz musicians including Joel Rodney, Will Donato, Mia Boarders, Jeff Kashiwa and Jackiem Joyner will cater to the ears of festivalgoers, helping the food and wine go down smooth with some tunes.
Denver-based band Dotsero, a fan favorite, will continue its several-years-in-a-row performance streak.
“I think the idea of it being music and the wine festival together in one, I think the combination works together really well,” said Steve Watts, frontman for Dotsero, “and I think the setting of having it in Center Court there is a really nice setting for music.”
Watts and his brother, David, also in the band, were born and raised on the Front Range. Watts calls himself a “shameless ambassador” for everything Colorado, of which the mountains are a special part.
While Watts confesses he’s not much of a wine drinker, he agrees that there’s just something about wine and jazz that fits together.
“I think the obvious answer would be the idea of wine being a perfect way to relax with somebody you care about or meeting somebody new and jazz being a relaxing form of music, you know, but on the other side of it too, where quite honestly, a lot of people who go to the festival, they need a flat-out good party,” he said with a laugh. “I think the music and the wine go well together and help people just let go of their problems a bit.”
Watts describes Dotsero’s sound as “contemporary jazz” with diverse influences, all the way from Aerosmith and Jimi Hendrix to the Yellow Jackets and Spirogyra. In addition to Watts and his brother, the band consists of Tom Capek on the keyboard, Thomas Jefferson on bass and Charles Peterson on drums.
As for what will be playing this weekend, Watts said some of it depends on the crowd, whether the mood is active and energized or relaxed and mellow. Fans will recognized old favorites as well as some new songs from their latest CD “Steppin’ Out of the Boat.”
“If they’re in a mood to party, then it’s on, or if they’re in a mood to just sit and take in the mountains and all that, then we can do that as well,” said Watts. “The first inclination is to get people up dancing and having a good time, trying to get them to set aside their problems for about an hour and a half. … We’re just in too much of a hurried culture and whenever I see people relaxing and having fun, it’s rewarding that way.”