Steamboat Springs On Saturday afternoon at the Toast of Steamboat Grand Tasting, wine drinkers from across the state rubbed elbows in search of the perfect zinfandel, malbec or chardonnay. Humidity lifted up from the grass on Torian Plum Plaza as the sky clouded, dumped rain and cleared, while festival-goers lifted glasses and danced to the folk rock of Missed the Boat.
An event touted by participating winemakers as one of the better-organized large-scale wine tastings, The Wine Festival at Steamboat enjoyed sizeable crowds in its fifth year, with sold-out attendance at the Toast of Steamboat.
"The only thing I would critique with these guys, I think the locals, if you come here two weeks before the festival, they don't even know it's happening," said Dano Householder, a representative for Wine Source wholesalers who has come to the festival four out of five years and lived in Steamboat from 1984 to 1994.
"But the turnout every year has been fantastic," Householder said, noting that advertisement for the festival on the Front Range is especially strong.
At the Stroll of Steamboat Grand Tasting on Friday afternoon, fans of the fermented grapes passed from a main festival tent on the Routt County Courthouse lawn to the food and wine samplings at restaurants on Lincoln Avenue and Yampa Street.
For some, including Becky Clark of Loveland, the event was an introduction to wine culture.
"They're all new to me," Clark said of the chance to try new wines. "We just came in for the weekend and landed on this."
Dot and Greg Kielian, who won tickets to the festival from KUNC public radio, said they were impressed by the event's simple touches, such as the reasonably weighty glasses used for tasting, as opposed to plastic cups.
"It's probably at the top of the list, so far," Dot Kielian said of how the festival measures up to similar events elsewhere in the West. "It seems more spacious, and the people seem to be managed better."
Alexander Valley Vineyards representative Stewart Vanderberg joked that he favors the event because his business was featured prominently on its Web site. Between explanations of how to make a rose and the specific blend of grapes in his "Sin Zin" red wine, he said the festival's smooth operation makes it one to come back to.
"I think the spread of the different vendors is fantastic, and the clientele definitely seems to be interested in wine and having fun and learning and trying different things," he said.
Sandy Evans Hall, executive vice president of the Steamboat Springs Chamber Resort Association, said the wine festival, combined with the summer's last Triple Crown tournament and other events, made the weekend one of the busiest of the season.
"Town's cookin'," she said.
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