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15th annual Denver Food + Wine Fest

Food + Wine Fest attendees enjoy samples at a vendor tent.
Photo courtesy of Claire Duncombe

This year’s Denver Food + Wine Festival ran from Sept. 4–8 and encompassed a variety of events. The majority of the events were small scale, such as “Dinner Under the Stars” and the wine glass seminar, but the main event was the Grand Tasting on Saturday, Sept. 7.

The Grand Tasting was hosted on the Pepsi Center grounds, only a short walk from Auraria’s Campus Village. This event attracted thousands of wine and food enthusiasts, as well as professionals in the field to showcase their restaurants, wineries, and products. 

The tickets were not cheap, with a general admission price of $125 and VIP tickets for $250. Despite these prices, the event was absolutely packed. Regardless of whether this was a person’s first or 15th year, they came expecting the absolute best in food and wine, and with all samples included in the ticket price, the full, all-you-can-eat/drink experience was available to all.

The food ranged from cookies and homemade pretzels to buffalo burgers, lamb bites on bruschetta, and steak, while the wine present encompassed the entire spectrum of red to white to rosé (and frozé in one instance). 

Despite the festival’s name, only some of the merchants were from Denver. A myriad of others, such as Shaw Ross Importers based out of Florida, were simply national retailers there to show off their products. 

While companies like Shaw Ross had a big-business feel, there were plenty of smaller, family-run operations, too. Cally Burgett, graphic designer for ICAN Wine based out of Washington state, is a cousin of the owners of the fourth-generation family winery. ICAN was there showing off their unique canned wines that, according to Burgett, “function much the same as a beer can,” allowing wine lovers to take it to the beach, on hikes, and other excursions. The canned aspect of the ICAN brand is obvious, but Burgett, bright, bubbly, and energetic, said her family wanted to put out a positive, can-do message alongside their wine. 

On the food side of things, one of the nigh-hundred vendors present was Urban Farmer, whose website dubs itself “Denver’s Steakhouse.” Attending the Food + Wine Festival for the first time, Chris Starkus, the restaurant’s executive chef, was there personally cooking the food set out for samples. Starkus wanted to stress Urban Farmer’s desire to support Colorado farmers and its restaurant community, as well as its environmental consciousness. The restaurant’s menu tells patrons where the meat is sourced from and what the cows were fed, be it corn or grass. “We’re also bee-friendly,” Starkus said, noting that they even have their own bee farm. 

The massive Grand Tasting featured too many notable food and wine stalls to mention them all, including some that were neither food nor wine, such as coffee and liquor stands. 

Whatever one’s reason for attendance, one thing was certain: the food was heavenly, the drinks were delicious, and the event tents were crowded and noisy. And while the ticket prices were hefty, the turnout was still massive for the 15th year—a great testament to the quality of the event.

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